A-Z Teen Health Glossary

Teen Cell Phone Addiction Treatment

Teen cell phone addiction treatment is usually referred to as a behavioral disorder, characterized by a teen’s obsession with their smartphone. While most teens own a smartphone, a smartphone or cell phone addiction is characterized by excessive smartphone/cellphone usage, causing distress and harm in a teen’s life. Activities that a teen may be addicted to include texting, watching videos, social media, video games, and more.

Excessive cell phone use becomes cell phone addiction when cell phone engagement occurs to such a degree that it causes negative effects in other areas of their lives, including school work, family relationships, and other responsibilities, and yet still doesn’t elicit a change in a teen’s behavior. If it seems that they cannot effectively control their urge to use the phone – regardless of how they use it – they may be struggling with a cell phone addiction.

What Does Teen Cell Phone Addiction Look Like?

  • Constantly online, even during private moments, and during conversations.
  • Texting and/or calling in class, while speaking with someone else, or in inappropriate places/moments.
  • Using the phone late into the night, watching videos/playing games.
  • Avoiding schoolwork and homework by being on the phone all the time.
  • Retreating to the phone screen whenever in distress or while being addressed.
  • Incapable of functioning rationally without phone, feeling a sense of loss when it’s left at home or taken away.

Signs of Cell Phone Addiction

teen cell phone addiction treatment

Irritability & anxious behavior

teen cell phone addiction treatment

Sense of loss without phone

teen cell phone addiction treatment

Social anxiety

teen cell phone addiction treatment

Lack of focus

teen cell phone addiction treatment

Struggling at school

What Causes Cell Phone Addiction?

Stress – teens might show strained relationships and have trouble at school or at home due to their phone use, but these factors may have existed before they began excessively hiding themselves behind the screen, and they may have contributed to the teen’s unhealthy use of their phone. When faced with stress and no clear way of resolving the situation, teens turn towards activities that they have unconsciously identified as effective coping mechanisms, including the escapism of their phones.

Addictiveness – phones can be addictive because of the media they give teens access to. There are millions of mobile games, dozens of popular social networks online, and teens can enjoy a plethora of written and visual entertainment media through their small screens. Because there’s quite literally never an end to it, teens are incentivized to keep consuming. And when there’s so much data that you can’t ever see or experience it all, it’s critical to have some sense of balance between when you should focus on getting things done, and when you can spare the time to have a little fun and relax. Teens struggle with such balance and can easily fall for the addictiveness of online media.

Mental Health – some teens may turn towards their phones as a form of escapism to hide their emotional pain, either because the activities they enjoy on their phone provide them with a sense of relief through some form of temporary pleasure, or because they feel emotional anguish when confronted with real-life situations and challenges, and are unable to adapt to or overcome said situations. Any significant stress in this direction may, in fact, push them further to use their phones as a way to hide.

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teen cell phone addiction treatment


a day may be how often a teen checks their phone – during a vacation


of teens say their own phone use worries them


of teens under 18 believe too much time spent online is a major problem that they face, with many being online for 9+ hours a day

How Can I Help My Teen with Cell Phone Addiction?

Help them prioritize – it’s fine to use your phone as much as you please, as long as you get everything else done first. Teens are prone to using their phones during school, while attempting chores, and even at work. This breeds a lack of focus and attention to what they’re doing, and a lack of proper discipline or the development of any work ethic in some teens. Help them create a schedule they can live with, wherein they complete what they set out to do within a certain timeframe, and then have time to do whatever else they want within their free time – and monitor their activities during their working timeframe, if possible.

Identify effective coping mechanisms – it’s understandable to want to run away from the things that stress us out, especially when we don’t see an effective way of solving our problems just yet. Even adults struggle with effective coping mechanisms, and often just turn towards quick and short-term solutions as well. However, the earlier a teen starts with problematic coping behavior, the harder it becomes to break the habit and turn it into something healthier. Help your teen pursue a potentially healthier outlet for their struggles and frustrations.

Encourage them to meet friends or just be outside – while it is true that the world is changing, it’s unlikely that we’re going to stop meeting people out in real life anytime soon. Digital recluses may become an increasingly worrying phenomenon, but the majority of healthy people continue to live their lives meeting others and having social interactions out in real life, in countless different places. Your teen should be no different, and should spend some more time away from their screen, making real-life experiences.

How Teen Cell Phone Addiction Is Treated

Cell phones are not a drug, but technology is rapidly changing the way teens are growing up, and it seems to be affecting them negatively in more ways than science is able to catch up to. Teens lose hours and completely destroy their chances at productivity through their phones, especially when they often prioritize looking at a screen first thing in the morning and last thing before they doze off at night. Treating a cell phone addiction requires therapy, time away, and depending on the potential underlying symptoms and causes, medication.

Distance and Abstinence

You might think it cruel or unusual to separate a teen from social media in these years of online culture, but some teens simply need the time away from their phones to effectively recalibrate their lives, sort their priorities, and make the progress they need to make to learn how to handle a phone to begin with. Too many teens get access to online media and cell phones far too early and find themselves overwhelmed by the possibilities and left defenseless to advertising and marketing directly targeted at them, to make them consume endlessly and needlessly from a young age. Meanwhile, apps and online products are specifically designed to maintain engagement and create an addiction. Time away from the phone – and limited time on the computer – is crucial in the first few months.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy effectively helps teens separate themselves from their actions and reflect on how they have been behaving, allowing them to identify addicted behavior and see how their relationship with technology has negatively affected those around them, and themselves. From there, therapists can help teens identify solutions that help them better manage the thoughts and feelings that drive them to reach for their phones, offer effective alternatives, and find ways to stop themselves from being distracted during times of focus, or when they need to sit down and get something done.


Cell phone addiction may be a sign of anxiety or depression, or it may even exacerbate existing symptoms and reveal an underlying diagnosis. If a teen is diagnosed with a mental disorder, medication may help them combat the roughest of their thoughts and feelings, while working with mental health professionals can help them find ways to adapt to their condition without relying on their phones to escape reality and waste time.

Helping Teens with Cell Phone Addiction at Paradigm Malibu

The first and primary thing we address in teen cell phone addiction treatment is to put in place intentional limits and structure around the teens’ cell phone use.  Even if teens are initially resistant to these limitations, we find that within a short time, they experience relief from this distance and feel less pressure to always be available.

Changing the Habit

Along these lines, even just a few relatively small and simple changes to the teens’ cell phone habits can help them to begin reforming healthier habits in their cell phone use, as well as gain insight into how their previous cell phone behaviors have negatively affected other parts of their lives. By separating them from their phones, we also work hard to provide them with a plethora of options for spending their time. We don’t keep them cooped up in rooms – at Paradigm, teens have access to a number of amenities depending on location.

Working with Therapists

Beyond a teen’s cell phone activities, an equal if not more significant aspect of teen cell phone addiction treatment is for therapists to work with teens to recognize what exactly might lie behind all the phone use. This may be something as simple as a relationship between the stress of school work and the effectiveness of disappearing into a game or into social media, or something more complex, such as a teen experiencing symptoms of anxiety and using his/her cell phone to hide.

Regardless of the ways in which cell phone addiction is related to other areas of the teens’ lives, we want to be extremely thorough and careful in these evaluations, making sure that we recognize any co-occurring disorders that may exist.  To this end, cell phone addiction treatment may just be one aspect of a teen’s overall treatment plan, depending on what other struggles the teen is having.

“ Our 16-year has been struggling with anxiety and severe depression and seemed stuck. We felt we had nowhere else to go. After 40 days, I feel like we've gotten our daughter back! It’s been an amazing experience. She now has tools, perspective, improved self love and a resilience we haven't seen in two years. “

– Rebecca J.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Cell Phone Addiction

Is using a cell phone too much actually a problem?

Because cell phones have become such a dominating force in our culture, it might seem strange or even naive to label it as an “addiction.”  But a problem is a problem. Smartphones are ubiquitous for teens, and many teens cannot fully engage with their friends and much of society without internet access. However, if teens are more dedicated to checking their phones and preoccupied by being constantly present in online, there is a good chance that other things in their life are suffering because of it. Furthermore, some teens who dedicate more of their time to communicating through the internet than face-to-face are missing out on critical opportunities for learning normal human social behavior.

How much cell phone use is too much?

It’s hard to quantify how much is too much, when many teens are checking their phones anywhere from 80-300 times a day and are often nearly always online. Rather than set a time limit, judge your teen’s connection to their phone based on how it affects their behavior. A normal, well-adjusted teen who manages their responsibilities yet still spends a lot of time online may not be something you generally have to worry about. Similarly, if your teen is going through an erratic or emotional time, their phone may not necessarily be to blame – it could be something deeper, a problem with a friend, relationship struggles, issues at school, cyberbullying, or more. For many kids, the problem isn’t the phone – it’s the lack of knowledge when it comes to coping with many of life’s complicated struggles, especially in these crucial and formative years.

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