Her iPhone is just as present at family dinner as she is. He Snapchats constantly, even when you’re visiting grandma. That's just family life in the 21st century, right? Or is your teen's constant connectivity a bigger problem? According to a new study, half of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices.
For the study, Common Sense Media, a media and technology education non-profit, surveyed more than 1,200 parents and teens to see how personal devices affected home life and relationships. They found that though teens feel “addicted” to technology, they’re doing surprisingly well handling the pressures of maintaining a digital lifestyle and one IRL. Though teens and their parents disagree a lot on screen time limits and when it’s OK to be on mobile devices, the overwhelming majority of families—kids and parents—agree that technology doesn’t affect their relationships. In fact, some feel like it even helps them to connect better.
Surprising, too, is how aware teens are of the effect the internet has on their lives. The survey found that more than half of teens feel they spend too much time connected, and a third of them at least make a conscious effort to cut this time down.
So if teens can be attached to their phones but still handle daily life, are they really “addicted”? The study says maybe not—there is no clinical definition of “internet addiction” and experts are wary of using this label to describe a scary amount of time spent on the internet, which might just be the effect of an increasingly connected world. Teens could just be calling it addiction since they’re becoming increasingly aware of how much the internet rules their lives. What might be more apt is calling teen’s usage “problematic”: that the compulsion to check text messages or Instagram every other minute might not get in the way of not basic self care, but acknowledging that it does interfere with focusing on homework, sleeping, activities, and social well-being.
The best way to keep it from turning into a big problem? Parental modeling. Make sure you’re showing your kids how to be connected in a healthy way—that means no phones at the dinner table or while driving, and weaning yourself off Facebook, too. Also communicate about media usage early and often (make sure you’re giving your child, not your iPhone, full attention while you talk!). Feel like your teen’s media technology usage is creating problems either in their relationships, mental health or at school? Talk to your family doctor or another emotional health professional for help.
Need help practicing what you preach? Here, 8 social media rules every parent needs to know.