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Op-Ed: Existence of cell phone separation anxiety calls for big changes

Early cellular phones were expensive luxuries. Today, even children have them. And, instead of just using them for communication, we now use them as digital planners, data storage, and portable entertainment devices. It is not uncommon to be in a waiting room where everyone, children included, are glued to their cell phone screens. Texting while driving has become a nationwide scourge on the roadways…despite texting itself being a relatively new innovation.

The omnipresence of cell phones has become a national irritant. In cars, drivers ignore the road to talk or text. In restaurants, patrons yak loudly and ignore their friends and guests. In schools, students focus on their digital entertainment devices rather than the subject at hand. Many of us complain about poor cell phone etiquette…but then breach good etiquette ourselves only moments later.

Unfortunately, a new condition may have entered the lexicon: Cell phone separation anxiety. According to TIME, researchers at the University of Missouri have found that people separated from their cell phones suffered from “elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety – alongside poorer cognitive performance.” That’s right: Being separated from our cell phones turns us into desperate, fumbling galoots.

Virtually anyone who has misplaced their cell phone doesn’t need a university study to confirm this. Ignoring everything else, often including our dignity, we search frantically for the phone until we find it. As a high school teacher, I have seen cell phones control student behavior in ways comic and tragic. Nothing can push a student’s buttons like something affecting their cell phone.

Threatening to confiscate a student cell phone can lead to a full-on teenage hissy fit. Unfortunately, the researchers have suggested that the cure for cell phone separation anxiety is to not separate students from their phones, but rather allow them to keep the phones on them to avoid hindering their cognitive performance. Basically, society should cave and allow cell phone addicts to cling to their phones.

Instead, we should be looking to fight the addiction itself. Before “cell phone separation anxiety” becomes a real thing, we must resolve to keep ourselves from being helpless without our portable technology. Our parents did it. Their parents did it. We won our independence, won on the beaches of Normandy, and landed a man on the moon without clinging to our cell phones.

George Washington never searched desperately for a signal. Abraham Lincoln never sent a text. Dwight D. Eisenhower never played Angry Birds. Neil Armstrong never nursed a Candy Crush addiction. Kids read books and played outside.

If cell phone separation anxiety is real, we must finally admit that cell phones are creating a problem. Though a powerful tool, they must be limited. We cannot easily control our addiction to them.

As a teacher, I wholeheartedly support cell phone bans in K-12 schools. As a parent, I support not giving children cell phones before driving age. I think cell phone producers and providers should design apps and controls limiting youth access to gaming and texting. Though my high school seniors groan when I suggest that school districts should require all student cell phones to have an app limiting texting and gaming time based on their GPA, I feel that most parents would wholeheartedly support the idea.

Cell phones are getting away from us, like a virus. We must treat now rather than later, lest we become totally overwhelmed. In fact, I think I will turn off this computer and read a book…

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