Constantly Connected: Effects of Internet and Smartphones on College Students

Spurred by the observation that college students are seemingly glued to their smartphones, Kent State University researchers conducted a study of 500 university undergraduate students to determine what effect, if any, smartphone use may have.

The study equally represented freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and the group reported a wide variety of majors. For the survey, researchers recorded students’ daily cell phone use as well as clinical measurements of their anxiety and life satisfaction (the technical term for happiness). Lastly, researchers also looked at students’ school records for their cumulative grade point average (GPA). The results?

Cell phone use showed statistically significant relationships to GPA, anxiety, and happiness. Cell phone use had a negative correlation to GPA but was positively related to anxiety. Findings also showed a positive relationship between happiness and GPA and – understandably – a negative relationship between happiness and anxiety. In layman’s terms, those of the 500 students who reported higher smartphone use had a lower GPA, tended to be more anxious, and have lower life satisfaction when compared to the students who used their cell phone less frequently. (It would make sense that bad grades would make someone feel anxious and unhappy.)

Why did the researchers choose to look at GPA, anxiety, and happiness? Well, they’re all necessary for student success. So, if a student is spending too much time fiddling with her smartphone, then she may be more likely to have lower grades and suffer from anxiety.

The Age of Smartphones and Internet Addiction

Smartphone use is essentially internet use because the internet and the technology used to access it are what give smartphones their computer-like abilities. An important note is that internet addiction is different than excessive internet use. While excessive use can have negative consequences, as shown by the Kent State study and other research, internet addiction presents other unique issues:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Neglect of personal hygiene &/or personal responsibilities, such as work, school, or household chores
  • Loss of interest in other hobbies, etc.
  • Anxiety when away from computers/internet
  • Anger and irritation when internet activities are interrupted

What Can Help – Digital Detoxing, Wilderness Therapy

Some people are able to overcome their technology and internet addiction themselves. This may be especially true when there is mainly a matter of over-use. However, some research is showing that internet addiction is rooted in other issues, such as depression. This means that people, such as troubled adolescents and young adults, are turning to the internet to escape issues that are bothering them. In this case, a simple digital detox, the setting aside of computer and internet technology completely for several days, may not work.

Wilderness therapy may be able to help the young people who have developed an internet or video game addiction because they’re not sure how to properly deal with other issues in their lives. Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program incorporates traditional individual and group therapy into its therapeutic model as well as horticulture therapy. This unique blend of intervention in a safe community setting enables troubled young adults to open up about their struggles.

A wilderness program like Pacific Quest offers young people, like college students, an opportunity to get away from the source of their troubles (smartphones and internet) plus the resources to get help, understand underlying issues, learn how to cope in a healthy way, and develop life skills. The internet – and smartphones – is a fact of modern life. If we know more about ourselves, we can learn to balance technology and be happier and healthier.

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