We’ve all been there — you’re trying to have dinner with your family at the dinner table, but your teen is immersed in their cell phone the entire time! You tell your teen to get off the phone and spend time with the family, only to be greeted with a smirk as they merely ignore you…still staring at their phone. You may not know this, but smartphone addiction is very real.
According to the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, approximately 50% of the teenage population is addicted to their smartphone and guilty of overusing, misusing or abusing their device.
This may seem alarming, but the good news is that there is something that you can do to help them. It’s time to discuss a major digital diet that can help curb your teen’s appetite for their phone.
First, we must recognize the problem
There are signs that can’t be ignored that will help to reveal whether or not your teen is addicted to their smartphone.
Does your teen spend hours on their phone, even while watching television or spending time with family? Does your teen lose it when they see they only have 10% battery life left on their phone? Does your teen wake up and grab their phone, only to go to bed later that night while staring at their smartphone screen?
If you can answer yes to these questions, then you probably have an addicted teen who feels they simply can’t live without their phone. Phone addiction is becoming as prevalent as gambling addictions. “Smartphones are the world’s smallest slot machines,” said Dr. David Greenfield, a technology addiction expert.
“Every once in a while you get a reward…a piece of information, a text, an email, an update…something comes through that you find salient or pleasurable, but you don’t know when you’re going to get it, what it’s going to be and how good it’s going to be,” Dr. Greenfield continued as he shared the comparison of a smartphone and slot machine addiction. Each action produced by a smartphone is seen as a little reward that “triggers a dopamine release” which controls the pleasure centers in our brain.
Additionally, smartphones allow instant gratification of a teenagers growing desire to seek. “If you want to talk to someone just send them a text and they will respond right away. If you want to find something out, just google it and get the information you seek right away. This is instant and creates an expectation,” said Dr. Susan Weinschenk, author of Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google.
How to break cell phone addiction
Kicking an addiction is never easy, and it won’t be any easier for your teen. If you are on the path of helping your teen to break free from their addiction to their smartphone, simply use their technology to help. There is an app called BreakFree that serves as a monitor for how many times the screen is unlocked, how many hours are spent on the phone, and shares which apps are used the most. BreakFree even ends each day with an addiction score that will reveal how often the phone was used throughout the day. Sometimes you must show teens the problem, rather than tell them.
Another way to help your teen break away from their desire to remain permanently attached to their smartphone is to remove their phone from their room at bedtime. It will send them through temporary withdrawals, but it will be for the best in the end. Many teens stare at their phone rather than turning off their brain at bedtime. Unfortunately, this refusal to put away their phone at bedtime places their brain in a situation where it still thinks it is daytime and should be active.
Finally, place your teenager on a digital diet by keeping a schedule of when they can use their phone. By cutting out specific times of the day for phone usage, you will help your teen to better control their desire to pick up their phone every few seconds. If your teen knows that they will have 20 minutes to use their phone, they will be more selective on what they pay attention to when certain messages come through.
Smartphone addiction isn’t pretty, but it can be helped. By helping your teen through phone scheduling and smartphone monitoring apps, you will begin to see a difference in your teenagers’ behavior, cell phone usage, and their productivity. Don’t take their smartphone addiction too lightly, either. Like any addiction, if not placed under control, it can get out of hand fast.