Increasing Number of Teens are “addicted” to their Phones

by Matt Klassen on May 16, 2016

smartphone-addictionMore than alcohol or drugs, it looks like the new pox on teenagers is something that most of us have within 5 feet of us right now: smartphones. Earlier this month Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that provides education and advocacy to families regarding technology and media usage for children, released the findings for a new poll on mobile device usage and family conflict. While the study did find that there was little correlation between device usage and long-term familial conflict, it did find that of the 1,200 parents and teens surveyed, half of teenage respondents indicated they “feel addicted” to their mobile devices.

Granted these teens were self-diagnosing, but I happen to think that if device addiction is bad enough that a teenager is willing to self-assess and then admit that fact, well 50% may be significantly lower than the reality.

In fact, smartphone addiction is spreading rapidly across the developed world, as more and more people come reliant on smartphones to effectively function, that reliance quickly turns into all out dependence, leaving many feeling anxious or unsettled when their mobile companion is out of reach. The problem now, of course, is that unlike other problem areas for teens, there are no rules or regulations surrounding device ownership, meaning teenagers will continue to be exposed to something that truly could be dangerously addictive for them.

Now to be fair, smartphone addiction stands as part of a much larger category of technological addiction, including Internet addiction, gaming addiction, social media addiction and device addiction, and all of them are presenting problems for teens around the world.

But the problem here, more so than elsewhere in the developed world, is that we’re surprisingly slow in realizing the dangers of our technological devices, particularly how they change the ways we interact with each other, how we handle crises, how we act, and, most importantly, how we think. For many, adults and teenagers alike, the ubiquitous presence of digital communication has meant losing the ability to relate to others in person or even carry on an extended voice conversation. Simply put, our devices change us, sometimes for the better, often times for the worse.

Now as the Common Sense Media study has found, nearly 80% of teens say they checked their phones at least hourly, and 72% noted that they felt an immediate urge to respond to texts and social networking communication, and it is exactly that sort of compulsion that can be a sign of a growing smartphone addiction.

Not only that, but the study found that about 1/3 of parents say they argue with their teens over smartphone use, and 77% of parents say that family time is often interrupted or inhibited by children distracted by their devices.

But here’s the thing folks: monkey see, monkey do. Having spent many years studying sociology, what I’ve come to realize is that the damaging or destructive behaviours we see in our kids are often times learned, meaning that as worried as you might be that your teen is addicted to his/her phone, best to check your own digital habits first and go from there.

Given that words like “phubbing,” (ignoring human interaction in favour of your digital device) and Nomophobia (No-Mobile-Phone-Phobia) have already entered into our lexicon means that smartphone addiction isn’t just a teenager problem, it’s a human problem, and as parents the best thing we can do to prevent smartphone addiction is to understand how our devices change us, and then proceed to set limits on our own device usage, using that as a springboard to introduce limits on our teens’ device usage, and then working with them to find ways to mitigate the destructive potential of their favourite gadgets, and also know that there’s help if perhaps it’s already too late to intervene.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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