Can your child be addicted to their phone? It may seem like it at times. Their eyes are glued to the screen, barely looking up as they walk through the house, begrudgingly giving you a one-word answer to your question. They get uptight with the mere suggestion that they put the phone down. They have a fear of missing out (FOMO) on important happenings with their friends. And now, during the pandemic, they need their phones even more, to connect with friends.
I’ve talked to many parents who are concerned that their teens are addicted to their phones. They are worried that their children won’t develop the interpersonal skills necessary for face-to-face interactions. Parents are worried that their kids spend too much time on social media and not enough time on their schoolwork. They are having a hard time communicating with their adolescents.
The majority of teenagers have smartphones. According to The Pew Research Center’s 2018 survey, 95% of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one. Forty-five percent of teens say they are online on a near-constant basis, and another 44% say they go online several times a day. That means that 9 in 10 teens go online multiple times each day.
In a 2016 Common Sense Media poll of 1240 parents and kids from the same household (620 parents and 620 kids), 50% of teens felt addicted to their phone, and 59% of parents thought their children were addicted to using their mobile devices. Seventy-two percent of teens felt the need to immediately respond to texts and social media notifications, and 78% of teens checked their phones minimally once an hour. Fifty-two percent of parents stated that their kids spent too much time on their phones, and 50% of kids agreed.
What the Experts Say
The above statistics may suggest that your teen can be addicted to their phone. However, the American Psychiatric Association has not yet included phone or internet addiction as a mental disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Your teen’s obsession with their phone may cause problems in the household, but it’s not considered an addiction because various factors come into play.
Making phone or internet addiction an actual diagnosis is a complicated task. Most teens use their phones for almost everything. It’s challenging to sort through the positive and negative aspects of their usage. They may be researching a topic, planning their school assignments, or interacting with classmates about a group project. They could also be enjoying some downtime by listening to music or streaming their favorite show on Netflix. On the other hand, they can be looking at inappropriate content or compromising their safety and privacy by going to certain sites.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that screen time be limited to no more than two hours per day of high-quality programming or content. Screen time includes phones, computers, and television. Social media use should be included in this time limit, but homework time on the computer and video chats need not be.
But are those recommendations realistic for parents of teens? How is it possible to monitor your teenager’s phone usage when they are out with their friends or at their extracurricular activities? How can the two of you come to a reasonable consensus when your teen seems to have to immediately answer every text or comment on their friend’s social media images?
The pandemic has complicated the issue even further. Kids have become even more dependent on their phones. They have used their mobile devices to stay connected with their friends and as a means of escaping the monotony and boredom of being isolated with their families.
Ways You Can Help Your Teen
- Foster open communication and be prepared to spend quality time together without accessing digital devices. Think about activities you can do together as a family, like riding bikes, going for hikes, watching movies, or playing board games.
- Develop a Family Media Plan together that includes screen-free zones, device curfews, screen-free times, and usage agreements. Make an agreement not to use phones during mealtimes or set aside certain phone-free times on the weekends.
- Use the Media Calculator developed by the AAP to help your teen schedule their daily activities and calculate the actual time available for phone usage.
- Discourage your teen from using the phone while doing homework unless it’s integral for completing an assignment. It’s often helpful to turn off the notifications or put the phone on do not disturb.
- Prohibit your teen from using the phone an hour before bed and from having it overnight in their bedroom since the light can cause sleep disturbances.
- Make sure you adjust your smartphone usage so that your teens realize that it is an important issue that applies to the entire family and not just to them.
- Use parental control settings to set limits on usage, using apps like Apple Screen Time, Google Family Link, Norton Family Premier, Kaspersky Safe Kids.
Smartphones are continuously getting more advanced and have become an integral part of our daily activity. Your kids have grown up using their mobile devices for educational, social, and entertainment purposes. Your teens may not be addicted to their phones, but they use them in many different aspects of their lives. You need to set ground rules for using their phones responsibly, and you need to model the same behavior. Smartphones and technology are here to stay, so it’s necessary to teach your kids how to use smartphones smartly.