The Wall Street Journal reported recently: “When school starts up in September, a new French law will ban students ranging roughly from ages 3 to 15 from using smartphones anywhere on school grounds [T]he law is one of the most sweeping attempts yet to address growing concerns among parents and educators that a generation of children is growing up addicted to the mobile devices in their pockets.”
This new “addiction” is neither validated by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), nor by the American Psychological Association, yet it is already the talk of the therapeutic town.
In Psychology Today, Dale Archer, M.D., in an article titled “Smartphone Addiction,” argues that part of the addiction is the attendant phobia “as in no- mo(bile) phone-phobia — that rush of anxiety and fear when you realize you are disconnected — out of the loop with friends, family, work and the world.”
Throughout the academic world, there is hand-wringing over the ubiquitous cell phones that distract students and their classes, but most are sympathetic to the alleged power of the cell phone to control its users.
One of the authors of this piece, actually hit by a car in March of 2017 by a texting 20 year-old, found that the attending officer gave her a “warning” rather than even ticketing or charging her with reckless driving. The officer sympathetically said she was “just texting.”
In fact, the APA says it does not in its diagnostic manual list “behavioral addictions, such as ‘sex addiction,’ ‘exercise addiction,’ or ‘shopping addiction’” because, they say, there is not evidence to define the “diagnostic criteria as mental disorders.” In other words, “addiction” does not meet the nosological criteria for disease classification.
This is because addiction refers to a behavior, a central activity in life, mode of conduct, a voluntary activity. The difference is significant. While engaging in activities doctors refer to as addiction may result in cellular abnormalities — smoking and excessive drinking may clearly result in cancer of the lungs and cirrhosis of the liver — the behaviors are not cellular abnormalities (diseases) themselves. Behavior refers to mode of conduct or voluntariness (as in mens rea in the law) and not something involuntary and uncontrollable like an epileptic seizure.
Nonetheless, whenever people become disturbed by others’ behavior — as all normal sentient people must, regarding the cell phone phenomena, including constant, lengthy, use and distractions — they want to label it an “addiction.”
Cell phone use, by anyone, including youth, is not uncontrollable. It is a self-indulgent behavioral activity that is self-reinforcing, and, less mystifying, fun.
Who could have imagined 20 years ago a sometimes-difficult-to-detect classroom activity, accessible to all, would be so much more enjoyable than listening to an English teacher drone on about the Venerable Bede.
Self-assigned “experts” should stop waxing eloquently, but wrongheadedly, about the putative mystical powers of cell phones, and, if we may, with apologies to William Shakespeare:
Even students are at some time masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our cell phones,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings to our id.
If non-adults are using cell phones when they should not be, take the phones away until the underlings learn to use them at appropriate times. If texting while driving, the law-breakers, adults and non-adults, should be prosecuted.
• Richard E. Vatz is a professor of political persuasion at Towson University. Jeffrey A. Schaler, a psychologist, was a professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs and author of “Addiction is a Choice” (Open Court).