August 14, 2017 | 52 minutes, 46 seconds
The habits of the average cell phone user are quite astounding: Both kids and adults send more than 110 texts a day, check their phones 150 times per day and 46 percent of them say they could not live without their phones! (1)
Kids are going from simply liking their cell phones to wanting and needing them. Experts call this occurrence the “inflection point,” or the start of a cell phone addiction. Crossing that line into addiction is linked to sleep disturbance, distractions, difficulty focusing, poor social interactions, depression, poor learning and lack of self-esteem.
Taking a child’s phone away is being compared to and associated with the same symptoms that occur from drug/alcohol/nicotine withdrawal. Today’s children are in the middle of massive human experiment… and no one knows where this will go.
Join me as we dig into this very important topic to help our kids, and maybe even ourselves.
In This Article
Podcast Show Notes
According to a New York Times report, both teens and adults check their smartphones 150 times per day (or every 6 minutes), and send an average of 110 texts per day. (1)
For many teenagers these days, texting is passé, so they have upgraded to platforms like Snapchat and Instagram – suggesting that these numbers may not represent actual usage.
Around 46% of smartphone users say that they “couldn’t live without” their phone, and one in three would rather give up sex than their cell phone. (1,2)
Cell phone addiction is an insidious and growing problem around the world.
In a study at the University of Maryland as part of The World Unplugged project, researchers evaluated students from 10 different countries. They found that the clear majority experienced distress when they went without their cell phones for a mere 24 hours. (1)
In another large scale study evaluating more than 2500 college students, 60% of them admitted being addicted to their cell phone. (4)
With 83% of Americans owning a cell phone, let’s face it, they are here to stay.
Learning how to manage the risks, particularly with our children in mind, is one of America’s new challenges.
Studies suggest that excessive online activities are linked to sleep, learning, social, psychological and focus disorders, as well as violence. (2)
A recent Huffington Post article reported the following in regards to teenage girls: (3)
- Over 70% of teens have smartphones, which means they have access to the internet which, in turn, means they have easy access to pornography.
- Most teens are on their phones all the time – in school, in bed at night, when they go to the bathroom, while you are trying to talk to them, and while they are trying to do their homework.
- They are in instant access with each other all the time – living in a perpetual state of staccato interruptions.
- There are virtually no enforceable societal or parental controls short of depriving a child of a phone, which then subjects them to rejection from their real and virtual friends.
- The popularity contests of childhood are online now, and they revolve around how many “likes” you get. A low number of “likes” typically translates into low social status, and can subject you to shaming and bullying. A high number of “likes” translates to popularity and often induces pressure to sustain your status.
More Teen Statistics
- 92% of teens go online daily, and 24% say they are online “almost constantly.”
- 76% of teens use social media (81% of older teens, 68% of teens ages 13 and 14).
- 71% of teens use Facebook, 52% use Instagram, 41% use Snapchat, 33% use Twitter.
- 77% of parents say their teens get distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention when they’re together.
- 59% of parents say they feel their teen is addicted to their mobile device.
- 50% of teens say they feel addicted to their mobile device.
Research shows that teen use of social media goes hand in hand with increased teen depression.
Smartphones and social media activate the same brain centers as gambling, sex, exercise, eating and other addictive behaviors. All of these activities stimulate dopamine in the reward center of the brain. This reward center tends to be highly receptive in teenagers.
Smartphones are, in many cases, used constantly throughout the day. This delivers a constant reward brain chemistry at levels hard to match with any other addiction. Addictive behavior is understood as a habitual drive or compulsion to engage in behaviors, despite the negative consequence.
As a result, kids are experiencing self-esteem and self-confidence issues, all the while lacking in social skills and personal interactions with others. Why strike up a conversation with your neighbor friend or classmate when it is easier and quicker to get a dose of dopamine by grabbing your phone or tablet? (4)
Forcibly removing kids from their online social network has shown to trigger symptoms that are normally associated with drug/alcohol/nicotine withdrawal. According to a study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, “sudden cessation of online social networking may, in some chronic users, cause signs and symptoms that at least partially resemble the ones seen during drug/alcohol/nicotine abstinence syndrome.” (10)
Studies have repeatedly shown that excessive television usage and screen time is associated with early childhood delays in cognition, language, social and emotional delays. This was, in part, related to a lack of parent/child interaction, because one or both parties were distracted by television or online activities. (13)
Studies also show that screen content matters. Switching from violent content to educational or positive content resulted in significant behavioral changes, particularly in young boys.
The golden ticket, however, was the combination of active and positive parenting, along with less negative, inappropriate or violent content. (13)
Studies with adolescents have shown that cell phone abuse can interfere with sleep cycles, such as diminishing sleep time and poor quality sleep. Such sleep concerns were directly related to the amount of cell phone use in the he evening. (5)
Night-time cell phone use may also inhibit the natural production of melatonin, which regulates sleep and detoxification.
Blue light, primarily emitted from LED screens on cells phones and tablets, are the specific ray of light that suppresses melatonin production.
Meta-analyses (combined data from hundreds of individual studies) confirm an association between exposure to violence in media and anti-social tendencies such as aggression. (6)
Studies show that heavy screen time use by preschooler may increase weight, as measured by body mass index (BMI). Researchers suggest that early screen time use may set the stage for further weight gain later in childhood.
While some studies suggest a 2-hour-a-day maximum, other studies suggest that in 2-year-olds, for every hour of screen time there was an increase in BMI.
Most experts are suggesting only one hour a day for children between the ages of 2 and 5. (13)
In one study with 250 college students from Stanford University, researchers found that social media and online activity was directly linked to the students being distracted, less able to filter out distractions, and more likely to be distracted by irrelevant information. (11)
In another study, television and video game use was linked to a diminished ability to pay attention in class, memory deficits and poor sleep, along with a lack of creative imagination. (12)
The results spanned from middle school kids to young adults, and were consistent with either television or video game use.
In the process of researching this topic, I interviewed my six children and what their experience of cell phone use was.
At the time of this writing, my kids are 14, 17, 21, 15, 27 and 29 years old. It’s almost as if they grew up in different yugas, because of the massively different cell phone and technology experience they each had growing up.
It is the generation of kids now in middle and high school that concerns me. I have two in the thick of this technological teenage experiment!
My youngest daughter, who is just finishing middle school, had the most amazing things to say.
The consensus is that technology is here to stay and it is all about finding balance, maximizing the good in technology and minimizing the bad. We cannot live in a bubble pretending it does not exist.
That said, I have some strategies that we have used to help manage our own in-house technological human experiment.
Here are some of my favorites that we use with the two kids still living at home:
- When the kids come home from school, we give them some free cell phone screen time.
- When homework starts, the cells phones are left charging in a different room, like the kitchen or bathroom.
- When they finish their homework, if it’s before bed time, they can check in on their phones until it is bed time.
- No cell phone use during meals, at restaurants or in the car. In certain cases, some exceptions are made here.
- No TV during the school week. In certain cases, some exceptions are made, but they are rare.
- Phones and tablets are plugged in at night in the kitchen or bathroom, not in the bedroom.
- We turn off all of the Wi-Fi connection in the house at 10PM.
- Middle schools, high schools and now some elementary schools give iPads to the students, which makes these rules tricky. Our solution: No social media apps on their school iPad and, of course, parental controls on EVERYTHING. It is surprising how many kids have full access to the internet in middle school.
Break any of these rules and they lose their phone for 24 hours. No argument, no discussion, no emotion. This rule works amazingly well!
Personalize Your Own Family Media Plan
The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a very cool online guide to developing a personalized plan for your family and kids of all ages: www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan.
I would love to hear from my readers on this topic.
I do not claim to be an expert in this area, but I do see this problem regularly in my practice and at home.
Hopefully, this article will help the cause and continue to open the doors of awareness, so that we can find the best solutions to this modern problem and, ultimately, protect our children.