It’s no secret that smartphone usage is on the rise, in fact approximately 81 percent of Americans own a smartphone.  Not only that but, the average smartphone user spends nearly 3 hours per day on their smartphone.  To some, this may not sound like that big of a number, but assuming the average adult spends 8 hours a day at work and 8 hours a day for sleep, that leaves 8 hours for free time.  That means that the average person spends 3 out of 8 hours of leisure time on their cell phone or a whopping 37.5% of the time.  If that still doesn’t alarm you the average screen time for teens is much worse.  The average teenager spends approximately 7 hours and 22 minutes on their phone per day.  While smartphones certainly do have their benefits, we are using them astronomically too much and their effects are even more impactful on youth.  

The Positive Effects of Smartphones

You’ve likely already heard plenty about the negative effects of smartphones and how they are taking over society, but there are many benefits to smartphones as well.  Here are just a few ways that smartphones can be beneficial to teens in particular:

  • Improves communication and connection.  In many ways, smartphones are a great tool to stay in touch with people, especially if you live far away.  Smartphones can help teens make and maintain connections if a friend or family member is not as close anymore.  
  • Helps with organization.  Now with mobile apps, you can set reminders, write important dates on the calendar, keep track of your schedule, and write notes all on your phone.  This can be extremely helpful for teens to keep track of school, work, or other responsibilities.
  • Help in Emergencies.  Smartphones can be essential tools in the case of an emergency.  They are a quick and easy way to get in contact with someone if you are in need of help.  Additionally, tracking services allow you to see others’ locations in the event that someone is missing or in a bad situation.
  • Provides a wealth of access to information.  If used in the right circumstances, there are many ways smartphones can be beneficial to students.  Educational apps, online learning platforms, and even educational videos are all great tools to improve learning that smartphones grant teens access to. 
  • Resources for health and wellbeing.  Many smartphone apps provide health information and support about a variety of health issues.  There are apps that offer mental health support and can even set reminders to get up and move or to drink more water.  

The Negatives of Smartphone Usage 

Of course, we can’t talk about the positives of smartphone usage without discussing the downsides.  A study from UNC Healthcare researched the effects of excessive smartphone usage due to the recent pandemic, as many of our interactions became virtual.  The results found that using smartphones, especially in excess, can affect the way our brains operate.  The study found that smartphones can have negative impacts on our social and emotional skills.  Basically, the more time you spend interacting online the less time you spend interacting in person.  This makes it more difficult to establish strong connections and loses the richness of conversation.  

Also, smartphones can make our brain “lazy”.  Because we have an endless encyclopedia of information right at our fingertips it has made us less patient with learning and conversation in real life.  The more we rely on getting our information through internet sources, the less work and processing our brains actually have to do.  Smartphones exacerbate this issue as we can now take the internet with us anywhere.  

Smartphones pose a risk for our brain health and overall wellbeing and these impacts can be particularly harmful to adolescents, as their brains are still in development.  When you become addicted to your smartphone it can create a chemical imbalance in the brain which can lead to anxiety and depression in young people.  Additionally, teens addicted to their phones show higher rates of anxiety, depression, impulse control problems, and sleep disorders than their peers.  

How to Spot a Smartphone Addiction

If you’re concerned about your teen’s smartphone usage it might be helpful to look for some key signs.  If your teen experiences multiple of these symptoms, it may be helpful to monitor your teens smartphone usage before it becomes problematic.  Common signs of smartphone addiction in adolescents include:

  • Frequently switching between multiple devices and platforms (social media, texting, gaming, etc.)
  • Anxiety or extreme reactions when separated from their smartphone or device (this can translate to constantly worrying about where they last placed their phone)
  • Impatience, restlessness, or inability to focus at school or other times where they are separated from their phone 
  • Sleep disturbances  
  • Increased social challenges (withdrawal from friends, family, or regular activities)

How to Help Smartphone Addictions  

It’s important to encourage and teach your teens how to moderate their own cell phone usage.  Have open discussions about the pros and cons of smartphones so they understand where to draw limits with their devices.  Here are a few things you can do to help your teen moderate their screen time.

  1. Educate.  It is important that your teen is aware of why you’re asking them to reduce their screen time to best see lasting behavior change.  The earlier your child learns why spending too much time on their phones or other devices can be harmful, the easier it is for them to avoid this behavior.  
  2. Set limits.  Be sure to set boundaries and limits on smartphone usage.  This could be a simple rule like no phones at the dinner table.  It is also helpful if the rules apply to the whole family as well, that way you are able to monitor your technology use as a family.
  3. Check-in.  Now our phones are actually able to monitor our screen time for us.  Take time to check in and be sure your teen is sticking to their cell phone limits, also be sure to check in on yourself!
  4. Establish screen-free zones.  Along with setting boundaries, establishing times and situations where screen-time is not allowed or not appropriate is important.  Meals, social outings, family gatherings, and school or work are all examples of places where smartphone use may be inappropriate or may negatively impact relationships.

Seven Stars is Here to Help

Discover Seven Stars is a treatment program for teens with neurodevelopmental disorders.  We combine residential treatment with adventure therapy to create an effective treatment program for adolescents, struggling with emotional or behavioral issues as a result of their neurodevelopmental disorder.  At Seven Stars, we strive to provide our students with the skills to live healthy and productive lives.

For more information about how Seven Stars handles smartphone use in teens, contact us at 844-601-1167.           

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