Addiction Health Technology

5 Signs Teenagers Are Addicted to Their Smartphones

By Jon Rumens on 01 July 2022

Tech addiction is tough to identify. We live in an era where everyone is buried in tech for school, work, and downtime. With many people spending five hours a day or more on their phones, how can you tell when smartphone use has gotten out of control?

Difficult though it may be to identify a problematic relationship with tech, it’s important. Teenagers’ over-dependency on their phones suffer from many social and mental health ailments. In this article, we look closely at tech addiction and how to spot it in your teenager.

Children and Technology

Children growing up now are in a difficult position regarding their relationship with technology. In specific settings, they are encouraged to use it often. Many schools hand out laptops or iPads on the first day and use them in lieu of school books or paper and pencils. 

Much of the homework they get is also digital. Oh. And we just came off a two-year period where children all over the planet went to school in their kitchens or home offices in front of a screen. 

On the other hand, there are serious repercussions that come from an overreliance on tech. Children should be carefully monitored to ensure they aren’t developing a dependency on their devices.

Smartphone Addiction

But isn’t everyone addicted to their smartphones? If you are reading this at a restaurant, or while standing in a long line (which would be mildly ironic) it’s easy to understand why you feel that way. The chances are that yours is not the only face fixed on a blue screen. 

But no. There is a difference between using your phone a lot, and becoming addicted to it. Smartphone addiction in teenagers is common and dangerous. Below, we highlight five warning signs that signify your child has developed an addiction to their smartphone.

Separation Anger

An easy indicator of smartphone addiction is separation anger. If your child becomes immediately moody and irritable when they can’t use their phone, it signifies that something about their relationship with tech needs to change. 

Of course, you can’t necessarily gauge this with one or two occurrences. Parents of teenagers know that sudden irritability isn’t precisely unusual and that sentences like Get off your phone and come eat dinner with your family, are liable to set off most teens. 

Monitor their feeling about being separated from their phone over a period of weeks. If they are consistently irritable not just at the moment of separation but also during the entire time they spend away from their phone, it probably means they are overly reliant on it.

Poor Sleeping Habits

Children with smartphone addiction often do not sleep well. One reason may be that they stay up late into the night on their phones and other devices. This is a warning sign, but not necessarily the warning sign. 

Smartphone addiction links directly to heightened levels of anxiety and depression, which then cause insomnia for many people. If your child regularly complains of being unable to sleep even when they want to, it may be a sign that something more serious is happening.

Constant Use

An obvious warning sign. When your child is constantly using a device, it is a potential indication of a problem. Though this warning sign is very on the nose, it can also be challenging to monitor. How can you tell if your child is on their phone in the normal way that all teenagers are or if something more significant is happening?

Try to look at how they are using their devices. Do they scroll when they are bored? Or is the phone constantly fixed in their hand? Do they check their social media feeds during idle time, or are they switching from website to game, to tablet, to phone, with no downtime?

When their behavior develops a quality that you would describe as “frantic”, it’s a good indication that the way your child is using social media is not normal.

Restlessness, Irritability, or an Inability to Focus Without Their Phone

When your child feels anxious or uncomfortable without their phone, it is another indicator that they might be addicted. Consider going on an outing with your child and instructing them to leave their phone at home. If they protest this requirement, it is not in and of itself an indication that they have a problematic relationship with technology. 

However, if they seem anxious or uncomfortable for your entire trip, it may be a sign that they are emotionally dependent on their phones.

Social Difficulties

Finally, children with a dependency on tech usually suffer from social difficulties. This may take several forms. For one thing, high levels of social media use are associated with feelings of jealousy, anxiety, and depression, all of which can dampen or prevent social connections. 

Children’s over-reliance on their phones may also fall out of sync with the qualities that allow meaningful social connections. You’re probably reading this article because you’ve gotten to the point where it is difficult to even speak with your child. 

The chances are good that things at school aren’t much different. If your child struggles with social connections, it is a strong indicator that they are suffering from smartphone addiction.

Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health

An overreliance on social media and smartphone technology links directly to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Teenagers are particularly susceptible to suffering these symptoms. 

Limiting your child’s digital access is a great first step toward improving their mental health. However, there are also many additional teenage mental health resources out there.

Monitor It

If you are concerned with your child’s smartphone use, consider monitoring it and setting up limitations. Most smart devices allow you to establish screen time break periods. During these hours, the phone can only be accessed for emergencies. 

Some also allow you to monitor access to specific websites, such as social media. These limitations allow your child to complete schoolwork without getting sucked into a Facebook wormhole. 

You can also take a granular look at how much time they spend on their phones and where it is all going. Most experts recommend that people spend two hours or less on screens daily. 

Ideally, your child will be falling beneath this benchmark. Higher numbers don’t necessarily signify addiction, but they do suggest that a lifestyle change might be needed. 

In most cases of addiction, total abstinence is the usual recommendation. Unfortunately, that isn’t an option with tech. Your child needs access to the internet, and they are at a good age to develop tech skills that could be useful in future employment. 

Your job, difficult though it may be, is to make sure that the relationship remains healthy.

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