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50% of Teens Are Addicted to Their Mobile Devices, Says Least-Surprising Study Ever

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Newsflash: Teenagers are addicted to their mobile devices, now more than ever. More at 11!

(Okay, okay — I know what you’re thinking right about now: Tell me something I don’t know.)

The truth is, if you’re the parent of a teen — heck, if you’ve even seen a teen — you’re more than familiar with the state of oneness they’ve achieved with their mobile devices. Sure enough, according to a new report from Common Sense Media, 50% of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices.

But admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right? Eh, maybe. We don’t really know whether “mobile device addiction” is a problem. Addiction to “connectedness” isn’t the same thing as an addiction to porn or online gambling. If you audit your teen’s cell phone or tablet use, you probably see many of the same sorts of things I do when I audit mine: texts to friends, Snapchats to friends, Facebook messages to friends, Instagrams of friends — this is what friendship looks like in 2016. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of teens say texting is the most common way they connect with their closest friend. No wonder those buzzes and chimes are irresistible.

And what about the impact on family life? Nearly 80% of parents and 70% of teens told Common Sense that device usage definitely causes family conflicts. (I can easily account for that discrepancy, BTW. My teen cannot hear 10% of all device-related conflicts because he is wearing headphones attached to said device.)

That little factoid is yet another non-surprise to parents of teens, but let’s be honest: Beyond the obvious issues we nag them about — i.e. Don’t look at your phone when you’re walking in traffic. Don’t look at your phone when Grandma is talking to you. Don’t look at your phone when I am asking you for help with my phone — we’re not entirely sure why we’re wringing our hands and watching the clock and declaring”phone-free time.” Well, except that we feel uneasy about the increasing amounts of time our kids spend disconnected from us and plugged into a world we can’t quite see.

At my house, this often comes up on a Sunday afternoon when I realize we’ve spent yet another weekend “together,” but really apart. The kids often do a delightful impression of me jumping out of my seat and yelling, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS FAMILY? EVERYBODY PUT AWAY YOUR PHONES AND COME HERE RIGHT NOW! WE ARE WATCHING A MOVIE TOGETHER!” But something tells me that pre-digital parents felt their teenagers slipping away into their own worlds, too.

The report does suggest that all this device use can lead to some pretty serious problems, such as internet addiction, lack of focus, and lower empathy. The data isn’t definitive, however, so day-to-day parenting really does rely on a watchful eye and a general sense that we ought to do something to hold back the technological tide. The Common Sense report makes the usual recommendations — you probably already do your best in most of these areas, but it’s a good reminder.

Here’s a little advice, based on my own report card:

Declare tech-free zones and times.

We don’t do phones at the table, at concerts, when we have guests, or whenever it would be rude. Kids leave their phones in the family charging station overnight. We’re good on these. But I don’t see any mention in the report of the effectiveness of phone detox as a behavior modification tool: Teens can’t live without their phones. That’s convenient, because I can’t live with certain particularly teenagery behaviors! What a wonderful world we live in, when we can solve any rebellion with those three little words: “Hand it over.”

Check the ratings.

According to my kids, they were the only grade schoolers who couldn’t play Call of Duty and the only middle schoolers who never saw The Walking Dead. Now I have a high schooler who melts into his movie seat when I say “NOPE” after every rated R preview. You decide what’s best for your family. The point is to know the score, so you don’t accidentally take your 6-year-old to Deadpool. Common Sense Media rates movies, games, TV, books, apps, and websites from both parents’ and kids’ perspectives, plus they have actual common sense which I find exceedingly rare. I’m a long-time fan.

Talk about it.

The conversation may go something like this:

You: “What are you doing?”

Your kid: “Looking at my phone.”

You: “Looking at what on your phone?”

Your Kid: “Nothing.”

You: “Then what are you doing with your thumbs?”

Your kid: “It’s a text.”

You: “Who are you texting?”

Your kid: “You don’t know them.”

You: “What’s their name?”

Your kid: “Why do you care if you don’t know them?”

You: “Because then I will know them.”

Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it’s important. Keep asking until you find out how your kids are spending their device time. (Trust, but verify.)

Help kids understand the effects of multitasking.

The report also found that many teens think they can do their homework with three screens going and no ill effect. This is a very tough battle for today’s parents because — SURPRISE! — kids now need screens to even do their homework. It’s getting impossible for even the snoopiest mom to tell the difference between legitimate online work and surreptitious time wasting, so at our house we’ve taken a results-oriented approach: Get the homework done however you want, but if you’re not getting it done right (and Mommy knows thanks to your online grade reports, updated daily), we’re going to be spending some very painful time together every afternoon, my darlings.

Walk the walk.

This one has to do with role-modeling. I try, but I gotta tell you, teenagers are very well-acquainted with the meaning of the word “hypocrite” and love nothing more than spotting one. Ouch.

(We’re almost done here, but BRB. I gotta go feed the pretend kitty cats that live in my phone.)

Seek expert help if needed.

I’m not an expert, I’m just bossy. So let’s all put an extra dollar in the future-therapy kitty today, exercise a little more common sense, and hope for the best.

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