It’s hardly news that teenagers love their smartphones. But has this gone beyond a trend and turned into something more sinister? Are teenagers literally addicted to their devices? This is an important question for parents and anyone who cares about the future of technology and society in general. Are today’s teens turning into smartphone junkies? And, if so, what can we do to overcome this problem?
How Much Time Do Teens Spend on Their Smartphones?
It’s easy to look around or perhaps observe your own children and conclude that they’re “always” on their phones or other mobile devices. The fact is, however, that there’s more than anecdotal evidence to support this. According to a recent study, teens spend 9 hours a day using media. That’s roughly more than half their waking hours! Of course, that does include all types of media, whether consumed on a TV, computer, phone, tablet, or other devices. However, it’s also true that more and more people (of all ages) are using their phones to communicate, search the internet, shop, watch videos, listen to music, and more.
Are Mobile Devices Really Addictive?
People use the word “addictive” rather loosely nowadays. People talk about being addicted to everything from lattes to cookies to even watching cat videos. When asking if something is literally addictive, it helps to understand the science behind addiction. Social media, as well as texting, gaming, videos, and many other activities found on smartphones, is an easy way for people to get a dopamine rush. Dopamine is the chemical in the brain that signals pleasure or rewards. This is what drives people towards drugs, sex, gambling, and other types of entertainment. Within reason, it’s normal to crave experiences that induce pleasure. Addiction occurs when substances or experiences interfere with everyday life. As smartphones and social media sites become so deeply embedded in our culture, there’s mounting evidence that many teens are social media addicts.
Dangers of Smartphone and Social Media Addiction
How much of a problem is smartphone addiction? Some might argue that it’s better for teens to spend time on their phones than taking drugs. Addiction to devices, however, can still pose some real dangers.
Schoolwork: Devices can distract children from studying and homework. Some evidence shows that children do better in school when smartphone use is banned.
Health risks: One of the dangers of overusing technology is that it can lead to a sedentary lifestyle, which is helping to create a childhood obesity epidemic.
Body Image: In some cases, excessive use of social media can cause young people to compare themselves to others and develop eating disorders or poor self-esteem.
Cyberbullying and Predators: There are also risks of spending too much time online, such as encountering cyberbullies and sometimes even sexual predators. While these risks are present for everyone that goes online, the more times teens spend on social media, the more likely they are to run into such problems.
How Can Parents Protect Teens?
Smartphones and social media are a central part of our society. They aren’t going to disappear anytime soon, regardless of risks and dangers. All parents and other concerned adults can do is to learn to open the lines of communication with our children and teenagers as well as learn how to protect them as much as possible.
Stay aware: While teenagers want and deserve a certain amount of privacy, parents also have a right to know what they are doing online. This includes knowing which social networks and websites they access.
Privacy settings: Make sure your teens privacy settings only allow friends and family members to see their content.
Set rules: Make sure that your teen understands the family rules for smartphone use. This includes not using the phone while driving, not meeting strangers from social media in person and not letting social media interfere with schoolwork. Often a family technology contract is a good way to keep this conversation going and to set boundaries from the beginning.
Encourage communication: Look for signs that your teen is a victim of bullying or any kind of harassment online and encourage them to talk to you!
Manage your teen’s smartphone with a trustworthy parental control software that works!
Smartphone and social media addiction are real problems these days. However, by monitoring usage, managing time and communicating open and honestly with them, you can help your teens stay safe and avoid some of the negative consequences that come along with overuse!
Also published on Medium.