Encourage social contact and etiquette

Excessive use of smartphones does not indicate an “addiction” or “obsession”, said some counsellors and psychiatrists.

Ms Jayanthi Manohar, a counsellor at the National Addictions Management Service, said: "An addiction is present when compulsive use is involved and where that leads to significant impairment in the individual's domains of life.

"We have not seen cases that present purely with smartphone addiction. We do, however, see cases of excessive Internet use in which smartphones are among the gadgets that enable such excessive use."

Consultant psychiatrist Brian Yeo, 53, said one of the reasons why those who use their smartphones excessively cling to their gadgets is because they do not want to feel lonely.

Said Dr Yeo: "Smartphones have moved on to be more than just a phone - it can keep people in contact with large groups, it is a storage device and also serves as a camera, among its many other functions.

"So unfortunately, it has become a normalisation of life where it seems like if you are not part of it, then you are out of it."

When asked if there is a way to get people to use their phones less, he said the draw must be towards the other direction. He said: "We should tout the advantages of face time, social contact and etiquette so as to encourage people to engage in more face-to-face interactions."

Mrs Karen Quek, 54,a parent of two sons in their 20s, said her children used to be very engrossed with their phones during mealtimes.

"They seemed to be in their own world and it felt like they were not there with you. I was very angry because it was very impolite and disrespectful," the administrative manager said.

She laid down the rule about five years ago, saying there should be no phones while eating.

She said: "They complied and they don't use their phones during meal times anymore, unless when it is for something urgent."

Ms Jayanthigave some tips on how to guard against excessive use:

  • Recognise the pattern and frequency of usage
  • Set clear boundaries on usage and keep to them. For example,not using it during a meeting or dinner
  • Listen to family or friends because they can recognise warning signs
  • Engage in healthier activities to relax or to cope with stress
  • Maintain a balanced lifestyle. Dedicate time to eat, sleep and exercise
  • Avoid using it as the preferred choice of communication. Make the effort to have face-to-face meet-ups instead.