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Published: Sunday February 12, 2012 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday May 24, 2013 MYT 10:24:51 PM

Marital issues among problems caused by smartphone addiction

PETALING JAYA: Five youngsters sit around a table, having a drink. But none is talking to another. Instead, all have their eyes glued to their handphone, either texting or surfing.

These are smartphone addicts. And the addiction has rung in a whole host of problems.

Parents complain of how the gadget has come in between the family, with children “talking” more to their phones than to their parents.

Spouses, meanwhile, complain of straying partners, who get into affairs after a phone-relationship.

MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Seri Michael Chong said he had received reports of many cases of marriages hitting the rocks because of over usage of smartphones.

“Women have come to me to seek advice on action that could be taken against the third party.

“Most of these women discovered the affairs after seeing their spouses spending a lot of time on the phone, and on checking found SMSes and e-mail to other women,” he said.

There are other problems, too. Many children hooked on smartphones, texting and online chatting may be unable to handle real life. And there are health issues, too.

According to a report from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, as at September 30, 2010, there were 33,250,177 handphone subscriptions to a population of 28,326,500.

The report also stated that while the majority of handphone users are content with having just one handphone (71.5%), there are users who hold two (23.9%) or even more than two phones (4.6%) of the total mobile phone subscribers.

Clinical psychologist Serena Sinniah said over-dependence on the smartphone could cause a strain in a relationship when the users were “hooked” to the gadget while with friends and loved ones.

“Being preoccupied with your smartphone when you are with other people can send the message that they are not all that important,” she said. “It also stops you from responding to non-verbal signals and this could lead to a communication breakdown.”

Serena said youths tend to be more comfortable talking about sensitive issues with their parents via text messages.

She said smartphones in this case were a social tool that helped youths determine their identity and status among peers.

However, she added: “Because less time is spent nurturing friendships on a face-to-face basis, these social networks may be unstable and temporary.

“This might lead to a false sense of security and control, and youths might not learn how to effectively deal with difficult situations in their relationships,” said Serena.

“And this could in turn cause a decline in their social skills as they grow to adulthood.”

Family counsellor Yvonne Lee said people who used smartphones frequently risked ruining their relationship with loved ones as they usually gave too much attention to the virtual world.

“If you are constantly texting or taking calls when you're with someone, the person you are with might be offended because you are connecting with someone else instead of communicating with him or her,” she said.

Lee said parents “hooked” to smartphones might also not be able to handle problems that crop up within their families as they found comfort in texting or chatting online instead of talking things out with their spouses or children.

“Prioritise the time spent with your loved ones. If someone tries to contact you while you are with your family or friends, you can always reply to the text or return the call later,” she said.

Lee said she has counselled spouses who were having marital problems because one partner had formed an emotional attachment with someone else, leading to an “emotional affair”.

“It is easy to turn to someone else for comfort when you are having problems at home by chatting with another person on the Internet using your smartphone. But spending so much time talking to someone else, especially in times of crisis, can easily lead to an emotional affair' with that person,” she said.

The attachment could lead to a physical affair as the spouse may feel that the other person was more understanding than his or her partner, Lee said.

Meanwhile, consultant ophthalmologist Dr Wong Jun Shyan said focusing one's eyes too long on the small phone screen could cause eye strain.

“Also, we tend to hold our phones closer to our eyes than we would a book. As a result, we blink less and get dry eyes,” he added.

Related Stories: Phone junkies 60% in poll say they can't live without their phones Ministry plans study on smartphone overuse

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