50% of Teens Think They're Addicted to Smart Phones

A 2016 poll conducted by the highly trustworthy Common Sense Media revealed that a whopping 50% of U.S. teens believe they are addicted to their cell phones. And not only do 4 out of 5 check their phones at least hourly, but nearly 3 of 4 feel the need to respond to messages immediately. Parents have a unique opportunity to support a healthy relationship between their children and their phones.

Scroll to read the article or click the button to consult with a doctor specializing in kids and technology addictions

What Our Experts Are Saying

Insights and recommendations from the doctors and subject matter experts in the Modern Parent Project community!

What to Do?

Our recommendations for Modern Parents

Should I introduce a phone usage agreement?

Yes. Establish clear phone usage agreements with your children beginning with his/her very first phone. If that ship has sailed, it’s never too late to establish them.

Should I invite my child to read this article?

Yes.  Invite your child to read this article and to share their thoughts. It could lead to some valuable discussion about their perception of the line between moderate and excessive.

Should I watch for signs of addiction?

Yes.  Watch for signs that your child may be becoming addicted to his/her tech devices. If s/he is choosing solitary time on devices over real interactive experiences and is struggling to abide by your family’s usage agreement, there may be a problem. If you see these signs, it’s definitely best to consult with an expert.
Dr. Bill Bercaw

Co-Founder, The California Center for Healing

What NOT to do?

Our recommendations for Modern Parents

Do as I say, not as I do?

Don’t use your mobile devices in ways that run counter to the agreements you are expecting your kids to honor. For example, if they see you checking your phone at the dinner table after hearing an alert, you’ll lose credibility and possibly their compliance.

Should I accuse my child of being addicted?

Don’t accuse your child of being addicted to his or her phone. Even if you are pretty sure that’s the case, a softer, non-threatening approach is more likely to lead to a productive conversation.

Should I dismiss my child's feelings?

Don’t minimize the enormous social pressure to be constantly connected electronically that our children face. It’s like nothing we parents have ever experienced. We are in a position to validate the challenge this pressure presents while remaining consistent and clear with our boundaries around acceptable usage behavior.
Dr. Bill Bercaw

Co-Founder, The California Center for Healing

Half of teens think they’re addicted to their smartphones

A poll conducted for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents, teachers and policymakers negotiate media and technology, explores families and technology addiction.

50% of teens and 27% of parents feel they’re addicted to their mobile devices

Nearly 80% of teens check their phones hourly; 72% feel the need to respond immediately

BY Kelly Wallace, CNN (article)

I don’t have teenagers yet, but watching my 8- and 10-year-olds spend endless amounts of time on iPads during spring break makes me worried about the day — hopefully years from now — when they have their own devices.

A new poll that confirms just how much teens depend on their phones gives me even more to worry about.

Fifty percent of teens feel they are addicted to their mobile devices, according to the poll, which was conducted for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping children, parents, teachers and policymakers negotiate media and technology. A larger number of parents, 59%, said their teens were addicted. The poll involved 1,240 interviews with parents and their children, ages 12 to 18.

“Technological addiction can happen to anyone,” said digital detox expert Holland Haiis, who describes technology as “the new 21st century addiction” 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.”

How many teens are truly addicted to their devices and the Internet? It is difficult to say. A 2011 review of 18 research studies found that Internet addiction might affect between zero and 26% of adolescents and college students in the United States, according to Common Sense Media. And, while Internet addiction is viewed as a public health threat in other parts of the world, it is not yet a recognized disorder in the United States. After reviewing all the existing research, Common Sense Media concludes that more study is needed to determine how real digital addiction is, and what the signs and consequences could be.

Whether it is an addiction or not, two-thirds of parents — 66% — feel their teens spend too much time on their mobile devices, and 52% of teens agree, according to the poll.

‘Teenage zombies’ consumed by phones

Nearly 80% of teens in the new survey said they checked their phones hourly, and 72% said they felt the need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages. Thirty-six percent of parents said they argued with their child daily about device use, and 77% of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention when they are together at least a few times per week.

Parents have a problem, too

Parents might complain about the amount of time their teens spend on their phones, but they admit they have their own difficulties when it comes to unplugging.

Twenty-seven percent of parents feel they are addicted to their mobile devices, while nearly the same number of teens, 28%, believe their parents are addicted, according to the poll.

Sixty-nine percent of parents check their devices at least hourly compared to the 78% of teens who say they do that, and nearly half, 48%, of parents feel they need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages. More than half, 56%, of parents admit checking their mobile devices while driving and nearly the same number, 52%, very often or occasionally try to cut down the amount of time they spend on devices.

GG Benitez, a mother of three, said that as the founder and chief executive officer of her own public relations firm, she feels the pressure to always be available due to the fear of losing any potential press opportunities for her clients.

While she is often praised by her clients and her family and friends for her “immediate response” to texts, emails and social media posts, she said this constant need to be connected can be taxing. Yet, even when she tries to stay off her phone in the evenings for at least one hour, she has a tough time.

“I had taken my son to a movie, and he turned around to me and said, ‘Are you serious, Mom? We are at the movies and you are still on your phone?'” said Benitez, who has a 10-year-old son and two daughters, ages 11 and 22.

Haiis, the digital detox expert, said one way to try to curb an addiction to digital devices is to resist endless hours of surfing the Internet. “We have constant access to new information and this is alluring, intriguing and exciting, but without setting limits for yourself, it’s a slippery slope,” she said.

She also said to limit posting on social media to three to five times a week, if possible, which will make you more specific about what you post and will lead to less time spent looking at other people’s posts.

And, when you are at home and feel the urge to reach for your device, go outside, take a walk or exercise, she said. “The dopamine in our brains is stimulated by the unpredictability that social media, emails and texting provide,” said Haiis. “It’s a vicious cycle and in order to break that cycle, you need to find the same unpredictability and stimulation which is out there if you are exercising. You never know what’s around the bend when out for a jog, bike ride or walk.”

Benitez, the public relations executive who finds it hard to stay off her phone, said she has taken steps to curb her own digital addiction, such as setting aside the phone during mealtime.

“I have consciously made the decision to be more ‘present’ and will place the phone on silent and away from my vision, but not without the anxiety that I may be missing something important,” she added.

She also hopes in the future to try to “shut down” at a decent hour when it comes to work, but isn’t quite ready to take that step yet. For her friends and family who have become accustomed to her immediate responses, she has thought about sending them a text telling them that she is going to try to reduce her phone addiction and asking them to be understanding if she doesn’t respond within her normal two seconds.

“I think,” she said, “that by explaining to everyone around me why I may not be my ‘usual self,’ that it will lower my own anxiety of feeling the need to be so responsible.”

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