If your teen is like most, he or she might seem glued to their smartphone. Nearly three-quarters of teenagers use a smartphone, and because these phones are capable of not only calling and texting but also going online, posting to social media, and using a wide variety of apps, they have become, quite literally, computers that fit in a pocket. What’s not to love? Well, your teen’s smartphone might be impacting his or her mental health. Read on to learn about teen smartphone addiction and what you can do about it.
Teen Smartphone Addiction
When you think about an addiction, your thoughts might turn to substances, such as alcohol and drugs. However, teens (and adults) can also become addicted to their smartphones. A smartphone offers immediate gratification: If you want to know the answer to any question, you can do so with a few taps of your fingers. This instant knowledge and constant contact with others can become addictive.
While a teen smartphone addiction is not likely to get your teen killed or mixed up with the wrong crowd the way an alcohol or drug addiction might, there are still ramifications.
First, any type of addiction can lead to spending too much with the object of the addiction and not enough time on schoolwork, friends, after-school jobs, sports, and other activities that teens are often involved with.
Secondly, it’s likely that your teen will find that other activities seem boring because they don’t offer an instant gratification the way the phone does. This can just perpetuate the problem.
Smartphones and Sleep
Teens are notoriously sleep-deprived; circadian rhythm changes during adolescence has many teens staying up too late and having trouble getting up early for school and other obligations. You can enforce a time for lights-out, but if your teen is still checking his or her smartphone well into the wee hours of the night, they’ll miss out on needed sleep.
In addition, the blue light that a cellphone creates can disturb sleep even when they’re not using it. Good sleep hygiene includes limiting the use of electronics an hour or so before bedtime. This will allow your body to sense that it’s time to wind down and release melatonin, the hormone that makes you ready for sleep. Because the light of the phone (or a television or a computer monitor) can disrupt melatonin production, your teen might find it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Social Media and Comparisons
When you look at social media (such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter) it’s easy to think that your friends and the people you follow have wonderful, stress-free lives. Sometimes even adults need to remember that people only post what they want others to see. Your teen might not realize that their friends are not posting the boring or unpleasant parts of their lives, and this can lead to a lot of inaccurate comparisons.
When your son or daughter scrolls through their social media feeds on their phones, they see friends and strangers on vacations, at the beach, getting pedicures, hanging out with friends, and doing other fun things that your teen, undoubtedly, also does. Your adolescent might not consider, however, that those photos are only a second in time: People don’t tend to post photos of themselves sitting around the house, bored. They also don’t post images of them arguing with parents or not being allowed to take the family car on a Saturday afternoon. This can frustrate your teenager and might even lead to depression.
Smartphones and Cyberbullying
Another problem that a phone can exacerbate is that of cyberbullying. With so many apps, teens have lots of different ways to communicate with friends. This can be both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, teens can talk not only with their current friends but also with others who share their interests. On the other hand, interactions via social media and apps can rapidly spiral into cyberbullying and cyberstalking.
To help prevent cyberbullying, it’s a good practice to keep an eye on interactions that your teen is having through social media. Also, set some ground rules for the use of various apps and sites. For example, have your teen agree to friend or follow only people who they know personally. They should report any bullying issues to you immediately and block the perpetrators. Teens also must know that they cannot give out their personal information to strangers or agree to meet them in person under any circumstance.
Physical Impact of Smartphones
Finally, teen smartphone addiction can have a physical impact on teens, which can lead to mental health effects. For example, the following conditions can be caused or exacerbated by sitting in one position too long while looking at a screen:
- Eye strain
- Neck pain
A lack of physical activity is another culprit when it comes to health issues. Being too sedentary can lead to weight gain, hypertension, and other serious health concerns. There’s even some evidence that using a cellphone too much or too often can lead to an increased incidence of brain tumors.
Dealing with problems such as overweight, obesity, or chronic pain can lead to depression and anxiety. These mental health conditions can lead to even more isolation and more dependence on the phone. This creates a vicious cycle that can be difficult to get out of.
Have a series of conversations with your teen about your concerns when it comes to teen smartphone addiciton. Don’t be afraid to set limits: Enforce rules about when the phone can be used, when it needs to be put away, and what they can use it for. For example, many families decide that no one can use their phones during dinner, during family outings, and after a certain time at night. There will likely be pushback from your teen, but as a parent, you need to be aware of the issues that over-dependence on a smartphone can cause and take the necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of any of these problems.