When your child was small, they most likely couldn’t go to bed at night unless they had their favorite blanky or stuffed animal. Well, just because they’re “all grown up” doesn’t mean they still don’t have dependencies. Teens today can’t seem to go to bed, or anywhere else for that matter, without their beloved smartphone by their side.
When I was a teenager, my friends and I would go out bowling or to get a pizza or we’d talk on the phone until all hours (Mom: “Make sure you answer the beep [call waiting indicator]!”). We’d actually make eye contact with one another and, you know, talk. But pay attention to the gaggles of teens in malls and other public spaces and they all have their heads down, eyes glued to their phones! It would seem the smartphone is the modern security blanket and no teen wants to be without theirs.
In this way, you could almost classify this dependency on technology as an outright addiction. A strong word for sure, but perhaps one that fits perfectly in this case. The University of Maryland conducted a study as part of The World Unplugged project where researchers evaluated students from 10 different countries to see what would happen when the students had to forgo their smartphone for 24 hours. Their results were eye opening. They found that the majority of students experienced distressed during this 24-hour period.
Another large-scale study involving more than 2,500 college students found that 60% of them admitted to being addicted to their phone.
But this addiction can sometimes lead to unhealthy mental behaviors. For instance, researchers at the Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea found that teens who used their smartphones the most showed troubling psychological issues such as aggression, depression, anxiety and tended to withdrawal more. If we pair this with the research that Facebook use also can increase depression, we could have a potential issue here.
While more research is needed, and while not everyone in the mental health community categorizes cellphone addiction as a real disorder (yet), it is clear that teens are having trouble curbing their own technological desires.
Signs Your Teen May be Addicted to Their Phone
How do you prevent your own kid from experiencing the aggression, depression and anxiety associated with overuse of a smartphone? First, you must recognize signs that there may be a problem:
– They feel the need to respond to everything immediately. They seem unable to resist that urge.
– They constantly check their phone, even when it isn’t ringing or vibrating. This behavior actually has a name and is called ‘phantom vibration’. This is a definite sign that your teen may have an addiction.
– They are disconnected from the real world and ignore what is happening right in front of them.
– They feel anxious and even angry when they are away from their phone.
What You Can Do?
First, try speaking with your teen about their phone use. They may or may not be receptive to the talk, but it’s a good idea to make the effort before you suddenly throw down new cellphone rules and regulations.
Next, set some rules. Understand this will be hard for your teen to accept, so go a bit easy. You may want to start by saying cellphones are not allowed at the dinner table. Of course, you as a parent must follow your own rules. Be mindful of the concept of “extinction burst” as an unwanted behavior is changing – there is more conflict right before the new boundary is accepted. Hold your ground lovingly, but firmly.
Next, you might want to enforce a “no bedtime” rule. Studies have found electronic equipment like laptops and smartphones hinder sleep. Try and encourage your teen to leave their phone in their bag and try some quiet time before bed by reading or listening to music. Many parents take the smartphone at 9PM and return it in the morning. Every teen I see where parents do that complain; however, all who stick with it end up feeling less depressed and anxious. Many teens will protest saying they listen to music on their phone. Cool. You can get an Amazon Alexa device for like $50 and stream music that way. Or they can use this thing called a radio. No, it’s not “on demand” or your favorite playlist, but it does handle the music thing. My own teen listens to the local classical music station at night.
Above all, encourage your teen to start regulating their own behaviors. That’s what growing up is all about. Ask for their input before setting rules but be firm about enforcing them. Be sure to talk to your kiddo about the why. Even if they complain and eye roll like it’s a championship eye-rolling event they will hear you. And when they’re 26 they may even thank you.
If you find you have trouble speaking with your teen, you may want to seek the guidance of a trained therapist who can facilitate communication and offer tools for managing any upsets moving forward. This is something I often do with families to help them find and set appropriate limits on smartphones.
If you would like to talk more about setting limits or anything else related to your teen, feel free to reach out to me at 919-891-0525 today for a free, 15-minute consultation. I would be happy to explore how I may be able to help you. If we are a good fit, appointments may be scheduled for my Wake Forest counseling office or online.