Innovation

Smartphone Addiction May Affect 50% Of Teens; When Constantly Connected Kids Need A Digital Detox

Digital Detox
A new survey finds teenagers have a hard time leaving their phone alone for more than an hour. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

Teenagers are often spotted with necks angled downward and eyes averted from the world around them, gazing onto a window opened up to social media platforms, apps, and text messages. Today, their thumbs fly over the screens of their smartphones with unprecedented frequency, causing a team of investigators from Common Sense Media to study what effect it was having on teens growing up.

The researchers surveyed 1,240 parents and teens between ages 12 and 18 to track how smartphones affect their lives and relationships with one another. Half the teens felt they were addicted to their mobile devices, and nearly 60 percent of parents agreed.

"Technological addiction can happen to anyone," connectivity expert Holland Haiis, wrote in her book Consciously Connecting: A Simple Process to Reconnect in a Disconnected World. "If your teens would prefer gaming indoors, alone, as opposed to going out to the movies, meeting friends for burgers or any of the other ways that teens build camaraderie, you may have a problem."

Despite whether or not parents thought their children were addicted, 66 percent felt their teens spent too much time on their mobile devices, and 52 percent of teens agreed. Seventy-seven percent of parents felt their children became distracted by their devices at least three times a week and another 36 percent said it’s so bad they argue with their children on a daily basis over the use of devices. Nearly 80 percent of teens admitted to checking their phones every hour and another 72 percent said they felt the need to respond to texts and social media messages almost immediately.

According to Pew Research Center, the survey’s findings are not unique. Because anyone can have access to the online world anytime and anywhere, today’s teens must filter more distractions than ever. In 2015, the Center found 92 percent of teens admit to going online daily and another 24 percent say they go online “almost constantly.”

When It’s Time For A Technology Time-Out

It could be that there is no official diagnosis for what appears to be an addiction to mobile devices since the smartphone phenomenon is relatively new, but that might change. To test your teen, try taking their phone away for a few hours each day. The Common Sense Media survey found 37 percent of teens very often or occasionally try to cut down time spent on their mobile device without encouragement from their parents. But for those who don’t or feel anxiety when they are cut off, the Child Mind Institute recommends parents intervene. But be wary, parents who take away devices as a punishment may experience some resentment.  

“To adolescents, the social network and contact with friends is the paramount developmental task and focus,” said Dr. Beth Peters, a clinical psychologist in Westminster, Colorado who specializes in teens and families. “When you remove a teen’s lifeline to their friends, there will be a major emotional backlash, a breakdown of the parent-child relationship.”

Instead, give your teen limits for the entire family to follow. Establishing concrete rules that don’t change depending on circumstance, but are instead instilled for each family member across the board, creates unity. Parents can start by making dinner a sacred time with no cellphones allowed. It gives everyone the opportunity to unplug and converse in-person.

Allowing online communication to be a dominant force in a teen’s life could set them up to face difficulty interacting with others one-on-one in person. Teenage brains are still developing, making it critical to nourish their cognitive growth with healthy social skills sets. The bottom line is: when children are given a mobile device they are vulnerable to abusing them. Parents are responsible for setting appropriate limits over how much time online is appropriate.

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