“Cell phone addiction” may refer to a compulsive and excessive reliance on mobile devices that causes negative consequences in various aspects of life.
Doctors do not formally recognize cell phone addiction as a mental health condition. However, some studies suggest children and teens may experience an overwhelming preoccupation with cell phones.
This preoccupation may lead to an inability to control or limit phone usage, even in situations where their use is inappropriate.
It may cause them to neglect their responsibilities and relationships and exhibit restlessness and anxiety when unable to access their phones.
This article explores how to recognize possible cell phone addiction in children and teenagers. It also offers tips for helping them overcome an overreliance on mobile devices.
Research from 2017 involving university students in Korea found the average smartphone usage was around
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Experiencing one or two of the below may not indicate problematic smartphone usage. However, if a person displays several of these behaviors consistently, it may indicate an issue with overreliance.
Excessive device usage involves a pattern of spending prolonged amounts of time on a smartphone. This may be to the detriment of other activities or responsibilities.
Some children and teens may experience physical symptoms from excessive phone use, which often includes long periods in positions that are not good for their posture.
These physical symptoms can include:
Neglecting other activities
A child or teen may neglect hobbies, sports, or social interaction to spend time on their phone, even when those activities are things they previously enjoyed.
This may involve constantly checking and updating their social media accounts and prioritizing online interactions over face-to-face ones.
They may also not complete their homework, chores, or other obligations due to excessive phone use. At school, overreliance on a smartphone may lead to:
- a deterioration in grades
- an inability to concentrate
- reduced academic productivity
A child or teen may feel compelled to respond to notifications immediately and experience distress when unable to engage with social media. As a result, they may exhibit the following when their phone is unavailable:
They may even experience interrupted sleeping patterns due to feeling like they need to check their phone for updates.
A child or teen may become secretive about phone activities. In some cases, this can include hiding phone usage or being defensive when asked how much time they are spending on their phone.
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- Impaired social skills: Excessive smartphone usage can hinder the development of crucial social skills, causing difficulties with face-to-face interactions, empathy, and effective communication.
- Reduced academic performance: Spending too much time on smartphones may hinder academic performance and diminish interest in learning.
- Sleep disturbances: Looking at screens before bedtime may cause changes in sleep patterns, difficulty falling asleep, and reduced quality sleep. This may lead to fatigue and limited alertness the following morning.
- Emotional and mental well-being: Excessive smartphone use can negatively impact a child or teen’s emotional state. It may contribute to feelings of loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem. Excessive exposure to social media can also lead to unhealthy comparisons and a negative body image.
- Increased risk of cyberbullying and online dangers: Spending excessive time on a smartphone exposes children and teens to potential hazards, such as cyberbullying, online predators, and inappropriate content.
Research in this study suggests an association between increased phone usage and the risk of childhood obesity. It also suggests poor posture while using smartphones can lead to musculoskeletal problems.
Helping a child or teen with cell phone addiction may require a supportive and proactive approach.
- Establishing open communication: This may be key when dealing with a child or teen’s cell phone use. It is important to build trust by allowing them to express concerns and listening without judgment to their perspectives, experiences, and feelings about their phone habits.
- Setting clear boundaries: Establishing clear guidelines and rules regarding cell phone use may include limiting social media use or screen time to 1–2 hours per day or keeping phones out of the bedroom.
- Being a role model: Modeling healthy phone habits may help children and teenagers improve their own smartphone usage. It can also encourage healthier interactions with caregivers.
Encouraging healthier behaviors
The article also recommends that parents and caregivers encourage and support the child or teen to engage in the following:
- Alternative activities: People can try providing the child or teen with engaging alternatives to cell phone use. Participation in physical activities, hobbies, and social interactions can promote a well-rounded lifestyle.
- Healthy habits: This may include helping the child or teen establish habits such as getting enough sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, and engaging in regular physical activities.
- Face-to-face connections: People can encourage the child or teen or engage in social activities and build real relationships with friends and family through face-to-face interactions.
If a parent or caregiver is having difficulty providing this support or a young person’s smartphone overreliance is severe, they may also seek assistance from a mental health professional who specializes in addictive behaviors in children or teens.
Recognizing an overreliance on cell phones in children and teenagers is essential to provide support and intervention.
Key signs of problematic patterns include excessive device use to the point of social isolation, neglecting responsibilities, reduced sleep, and more.
By fostering open communication, setting boundaries, and encouraging other healthy activities, adults can help young individuals develop healthier relationships with their phones.