Why Teens Are Using Flip Phones To Dial Up Better Mental Health

by Liz Neporent
January 31, 2023 at 1:04 AM UTC

Gez Z is flipping over flip phones for better mental health.

Clinical Relevance: Using a flip phone with limited functionality can help cut back on screen time

  • Gen Z is embracing retro flip phones with limited functionality to help unplug and engage with what’s going on around them.
  • Studies show that limiting time spent on social media can help reduce depression and loneliness.
  • The rise of smartphone use has coincided with a doubling of teen depression.

Young adults who were born around the same time that telephones became untethered and pocket-sized are now extolling the mental health virtues of the humble flip phone. 

Popular at the dawn of the cell phone era in the early nineties, the foldable clam shell design allows for voice calls but not much else. True, it’s possible to send a text or an email  but only if you can pick up WiFI, and only by arduously scrolling and tapping through a tiny keyboard one character at a time. And some models do permit the exchange of grainy, pixelated images. 

Those limitations are kind of the point, according to young converts.

Users say the advantages of a flip phone’s vintage functionality compared to the technical wizardry of today’s smartphones include: helping them escape the always-on anxiety that comes from instant (and constant) communication; ungluing them from their screens so they can more fully engage with what’s going on around them; disconnecting them from the toxic time suck of social media to help improve their relationships and overall quality of life. 

As the New York Times reported, teens are even forming “luddite clubs” to promote a lifestyle of self-liberation from social media and technology. One member of a club quoted in The Times said, “You post something on social media, you don’t get enough likes, then you don’t feel good about yourself. That shouldn’t have to happen to anyone. Being in this club reminds me we’re all living on a floating rock and that it’s all going to be OK.”

Somewhat ironically, flip phone evangelism is largely spreading through social media, especially on Twitter and on TikTok, where flip phone unboxing and bedazzling videos have become a trend.

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However it happens, studies support the idea of limiting screen time. One 2018 trial in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that college students who cut back to fewer than 30 minutes of social media daily reported improved well-being and fewer symptoms of loneliness and depression. It’s worth noting that the rate of depression among teens doubled between 2004 and 2019, the same timeframe smartphone and social media usage went mainstream. 

The average American checks their mobile phone 63 times a day and spends more than five hours daily staring at their phone screen, according to the website, techinjury.com. More than half of that time is dedicated to social media. So for as little as $20 a pop, a flip phone could be an economical and effective way to curtail phone usage. It’s certainly a  strategy worth considering.

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