The Teen Phone Obsession Epidemic: What Parents Should Know

May 6, 2024

It isn’t uncommon for parents of teens to hear the saying that raising kids is one of the most challenging jobs they’ll ever have. The reason for this is because we never know for sure what they’re thinking, what they’ll do next, or how they’ll react to certain situations. 

Their behavior is both an anomaly, as well as a concern and this doesn’t stop regarding their phone use. What happens when parents believe their kids are addicted to their cell phones? Do you think yours is addicted to theirs? It could become a problem, and warning signs could begin presenting themselves. 

Phone Addiction Statistics 

According to The Pew Research Center, 59% of individuals between the ages of eighteen and thirty-three are texting while driving. The same study indicates that 50% of those between the ages of thirty-four and forty-five, Gen Xers, and 29% of baby boomers are also texting while driving.  

The Pew Research Institute also issued a report in 2015 indicating that 73% of thirteen to seventeen-year-olds had access to or owned smartphones, and 24% of those teens said they were online almost all the time. 

Nineteen teenage boys participated in a study at the Korea University in Seoul where brain imaging was used by the researchers. These boys were diagnosed with smartphone and internet addiction according to these findings. 

When looking at nineteen boys who were not addicted, the boys had a significantly higher level of GABA. GABA is a neurotransmitter that inhibits neurons in the cortex. They also experienced lower levels of glutamate-glutamine, which is a neurotransmitter which helps the brain’s signals become energized. 

Reasons for Phone Addiction Concern 

Common Sense Media conducted a study in 2016, and at least half of the teenagers indicated they felt they were experiencing phone addiction. Nearly 78% of those teens stated they checked their phones hourly with at least 72% of them indicating they felt pressure to respond immediately to notifications, social media messages, and texts. 

Parents like the idea of staying in constant contact with their teens, but it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. When teens are subjected to a continuous stream of information beyond that of what parents are providing, they develop a feeling called fear of missing out—FOMO. It’s that feeling that drives them to want to remain connected all the time and respond immediately when their phone goes off. This obsession will soon begin disrupting daily activities and will start mirroring substance abuse behaviors. 

teens addicted

Questions to Ask to See if Cell Phone Addiction is Present 

  1. Does your teen get upset, anxious, or aggressive if their phone is taken away or they can’t use it?
  2. When social events come up, will your teen skip them so they can spend time on their phone instead?
  3. Have you noticed changes in your teen’s hygiene habits because of their phone use?
  4. Is your teen losing sleep because of how much screen time they’re getting?
  5. Does your teen break family rules or lie so they can use their phone more often?

Answering, “yes,” to one or more of these questions is cause for alarm. 

How to Help Teens Curb Their Addiction 

Self-regulating is a challenge for teens unless a parent or another adult provides them with guidance. It’s helpful when schools don’t allow cell phone usage, but that’s not always the case. The first step is to limit phone usage at home to no longer than two hours. Some teens report to using their phone up to eight hours daily, and this is when things become problematic especially if they’re experiencing online bullying. 

When parents set clear expectations for their teens, and lead by example, they’ll begin seeing positive results of their efforts. It’s important to understand, however, the beginning will be difficult. Teens will not want to limit the amount of time spent with their devices. 

The extreme need to keep a constant connection with their social media, texts, and other online activities will not go away overnight. With that in mind, it’s up to parents to remain patient and diligent. 

Final Thoughts 

Phone addiction is a treatable condition and, with help and support, it’s possible to overcome. Under some circumstances, the need for residential treatment arises. If this is the case, support from centers like Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center is the optimal solution. Not only will your family receive the help necessary to work together to help your teen overcome this addiction, but you will all also learn proactive measures to help prevent this from occurring again. 


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