These days it seems like every teenager you see is glued to his or her phone. For parents, it can be incredibly annoying. You never feel like they’re paying attention to anything you say. However, is it truly harmful beyond being just annoying? Some doctors think it is, while others say that social media has an important role to play in a teenager’s development. We’ll explore these two points of view, then we’ll discuss whether your teenager’s use of the smartphone has gone beyond normal and become an addiction. Finally, we’ll discuss a few things that you, as a parent, can do to get the smartphone use around your house under control.
So, what are the real dangers of smartphone addiction? The most common concern is that teenagers aren’t learning important aspects of face-to-face or non-verbal communication. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect, worries that this is the first generation of teenagers who will find it awkward to talk on the phone or have face-to-face conversations in real time. Dr. Steiner-Adair also says “Our capacity to listen and hear the tone of voice, the feelings behind the spoken word or text, is one of our most essential human tools for communicating and connecting.” If you only communicate with text messages, how would you learn how to interpret these nuances in verbal communication?
There are also those who think that smartphones and social media play an important role in modern teens’ social development. Today’s teens tend to have very structured lives — both inside and outside of school. According to Dr. Danah Boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New England, social media allows teens to mingle and interact without the presence of authority. While this may sound frightening to parents, Dr. Boyd says it gives teens the opportunity to develop their own identity among their peers. Dr. Alice Marwick (co-director of Fordham University’s McGannon Center for Communication Research) says “Teens use the internet to experiment with things. They try on identities, they posture, they perform. And many of those things, when parents take them out of context, may seem problematic—when they’re posting profanity, slang, selfies—but when you actually see what the young person is doing, they’re experimenting with an identity, which is a very typical and healthy part of adolescent development.”
No matter what your stance is on the developmental benefits or dangers of smartphone use, just about everyone agrees that, once users show signs of actual addiction, they’ve reached a point where they should get their smartphone use under control. Here are a few signs that smartphone use has become a problem:
- Weight loss
- Isolation from friends and family
- Symptoms of withdrawal when the phone is taken away
If you’ve noticed your child displaying some of these symptoms, you’ll need to help them get their smartphone use under control. As with any addiction, it won’t be easy. Fortunately, there are several things you can do at home to try to help.
Limit the times when your adolescent child is allowed to use social media at home
- Monitor your child’s phone activity. Of course, tell them that you’re doing it
- Ban phone use during dinner time. This is a time for your family to catch up
- Ban cell phone use in certain areas of the house. For example, you can ban phone use outside of common areas
If none of these measures help, it may be time to talk to a therapist or enroll your child in a program that specializes in these types of disorders. Outback Wilderness Therapy’s Unplugged Program, for example, is specifically designed to help troubled teens break out of the cycle of electronic addiction so they can re-connect with family and friends and get their lives moving in a positive direction.