Parent’s Guide to Teenage Smartphone Addiction

Parenting a teenager represents a challenging responsibility. Teenagers already deal with their bodies and brains trying to keep up with their raging hormones. If you throw technology into the mix, you’re bound to experience some conflicts, not the least of which deals with addiction.

We worry about our kids becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs, and other substances. But addiction doesn’t just involve ingestible substances. Addiction involves interactions among brain circuits that either nature or nurture may trigger and aggravate.

A person may suffer an addiction to a substance or a behavior. Any type of addiction represents a medical disease that will respond favorably to treatment.

What Exactly Is Smartphone Addiction?

Technological advances certainly benefit society, and the smartphone is no exception. Our smartphones replace our watches, alarm clocks, address books, and more. Many people rely on their smartphones for security or to get urgent messages. Parents feel comforted if their teenager possesses a smartphone in case of an emergency or to check in.

But when does a smartphone become an addiction? Using your phone for occasional entertainment doesn’t represent a problem. However, if your teen turns to their phone to deal with anxiety, depression, or even boredom, that may point to a smartphone addiction problem.

Another sign of addiction involves how your teen acts if forced to go without their phone for a while. Someone experiencing addiction will most likely display stress if they need to try and function without their phone.

Smartphone Addiction Resources

Teenage Smartphone Addiction Statistics

Many people alive today remember days when cell phones did not exist. Today’s teenagers don’t know of a world without cell phones or smartphones. For most teens in developed countries, smartphones were always part of the day-to-day routine. The recent statistics below give some insight as to why smartphone addiction became and remains a problem:

  • Ninety-five percent of American teenagers own or have access to a smartphone.
  • Forty-five percent of the teens with smartphones remain online constantly.
  • In 2018 teens between the ages of 13 to 18 who possessed a smartphone did so primarily to pass the time. Only 37% used their phones to connect with others.
  • On the positive side, about 30% of the teens used their Smartphones to learn something new such as a different language.
  • Unfortunately, 11% of teens use their phones to avoid human interactions.
  • Sixty percent of teens would rather spend time with their friends online than see them in person.
  • And the problem with teenagers dealing with smartphone addictions will no doubt continue as approximately 45% of American pre-teens also possess smartphones.
  • Over half of American teenagers admit to feeling addicted to their smartphones.
  • Seventy-two percent of teens feel the need to respond immediately to texts and social media notifications.
  • Approximately 78% of teens check their devices at least hourly.

Why Are Teens Susceptible to Smartphone Addiction?  

Regarding the nature versus nurture debate, both genetics and environment play a significant role in teens and smartphone addiction. For many, their DNA makes them more susceptible to addiction than others.

But when a teen lives with a parent with an addiction problem, whether it manifests through alcohol or smartphone usage, that will most likely impact their use or attitude toward the behavior or substance. Many adults of all ages also admit to obsessive or addictive behaviors when it comes to their smartphones:

  • Seventy-one percent of Americans check their phones in the morning before they do anything else.
  • Over half of us claim we’ve never been without our phones for more than 24 hours.
  • Sixty percent of Americans take their phones into the bathroom with them.
  • Thirty-five percent of Americans use their phones while driving.
  • And nearly half of us admit to feeling addicted to our smartphones.

It’s not surprising our teenagers suffer susceptibility to smartphone addiction. As previously stated, teenagers who suffer from anxiety and depression are prime candidates for smartphone addiction. The recent COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated mental health issues for many, especially teens.

Signs Your Teen Might Have a Smartphone Addiction

It’s important to note that the smartphone represents a significant technological advancement and now holds a prominent place in society. Teens naturally view the smartphone differently than someone who remembers the only available phone bolted to the kitchen wall long before internet access existed.

Additionally, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not officially define smartphone abuse as an addiction but as a behavior disorder. Still, the widely recognized problem with smartphone abuse is often referred to as an addiction, sometimes called nomophobia or the fear of being without one’s phone.

Though smartphone usage may represent a part of everyday life, whether you define it as a behavioral disorder or an addiction, below you’ll find some of the signs that indicate your teen may face a problem:

  1. Neglected hygiene routines- Abandoned hygiene practices may become apparent if your teen doesn’t shower or appears disheveled or body odor becomes apparent.
  2. Falling grades due to reduced study time- Even if teachers insist on no smartphones in the classroom, obsessing over their phones during designated homework time will cause their grades to fall.
  3. Disrupted sleep patterns- Screen time of any kind does not represent a good idea when preparing for sleep. If the teen becomes involved in interactions with others online, that will further disrupt their sleep.
  4. Unexplained mood changes- Moodiness and emotional instability usually occur during the teen years. But if it seems to increase suddenly, it may involve smartphone addiction.
  5. They are withdrawing from family events and routines- If your teen doesn’t participate in dinner conversations or would rather stay home with their phone rather than attending family functions, that indicates a problem with smartphone addiction.
  6. A feeling of anxiety without the use of the phone- If the response to restricting smartphone usage is one of angst, it may indicate a problem.
  7. A need to immediately respond to messages- Needing to respond to text messages and social media notifications also represent an extreme action.
  8. A demonstration of violent or abusive behavior if unable to use their Smartphone- If your teen becomes physically or verbally abusive due to losing phone problems, that most assuredly indicates a problem.
  9. Continuing destructive behavior even after they admit to a problem- If the teen admits to addiction or obsessive behavior and refuses to curtail the behavior, they most likely need intervention.

Additional Resources

Impact of Smartphone Addiction on Mental Health

Addiction clearly demonstrates the connection between the mind and body. Sleep deprivation, negative dietary changes, and poor hygiene will certainly adversely affect a person’s physical health.

Smartphone addiction or abuse may also negatively impact a teenager’s mental health. Research claims smartphone usage does not cause mental health problems. But smartphone abuse instead represents a symptom that the individual already possesses mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. However, getting back to the mind/body connection, staying awake for hours at night, checking or playing on your smartphone leads to insomnia which in turn leads to depression.

Smartphone Addiction and Mental Health Resources

Preventing a Smartphone Addiction or Abuse Problem Concerning Your Teenager

Much of parenting involves setting a good example. If you check your smartphone constantly or let it keep you awake, you will also suffer adverse effects. Your children will also most certainly take note of your behavior and mimic it on some level.

We all thought it adorable when the toddler would babble into the play Fischer Price telephone. Smartphone abuse doesn’t carry the same novelty, and a three-year-old with a play cell phone constantly in their hand would not provide the same levity as the play phone with googly eyes.

In addition to monitoring your personal smartphone behavior, start educating your older children early about how to use a smartphone responsibly to their advantage.

What To Do If You Think Your Teen Might Be Addicted to Their Smartphone

First, you may want to check whether your teen’s smartphone obsession falls under cultural norms. Remember, a smartphone may also represent a tool that helps your teenager with school and social life. But, if you do see signs of abuse leading to physical, mental, or emotional health problems, consider the following:

  • Educate your teen on the virtues of owning a smartphone. Introduce them to apps that may help with homework or staying organized. Let them know the importance of the smartphone to keep in touch, especially if an emergency occurs.
  • Set family boundaries, such as no phones at the dinner table. Turning phones off an hour before lights out also makes sense.
  • Communicate with teachers to see if they require no phones during class time.
  • Of course, it makes sense to conduct all these steps before problems become apparent.

Remember that smartphone abuse could indicate a mental health issue. If your teen demonstrates anxiety and stress that smartphone abuse exaggerates, you may need to follow up with medical and counseling appointments.

Tips

  • Frame your discussions about smartphones with your children in a positive light. Let them know you realize the potential for good before reviewing the warnings and rules.
  • Especially with pre-teens, check the security settings on the phone to avoid dangerous surfing or potential cyberbullying situations.
  • Put a limit on the amount of cellular data allowed. Encourage your teen to use data services only in an emergency.

Resources

To view the problem of smartphone addiction and abuse through a more positive lens, consider this: More than four billion people own smartphones, but only about six percent would fall under the addiction or problem behavior category. Still, if your teen displays signs of physical or mental health concerns caused or made worse by smartphone usage, you will want to address the problem promptly.

Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.