For most teens, using a smartphone or tablet is a part of life they don’t even think about. They use technology for schoolwork, socialization, and entertainment. And while this technology use may be normal, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with it’s own set of issues. One of these issues can be technology addiction. Addiction can come in many forms. People are usually most familiar with substance addictions, not behavioral addictions–but behavioral addictions can be detrimental to an individual’s health just as much as a substance addiction. Smartphone addiction is becoming difficult to ignore as more and more teens show the signs and effects of a clear behavioral addiction. 

As a parent, you may not have thought about addiction in this way yet, but after evidence is presented, it’s hard to not consider smartphone addiction as a potentially dangerous affliction. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your teen can’t go for very long without checking their phone. Or maybe your teen prefers to interact with people through social media rather than getting together with their peers in real life. You may even notice them withdrawing from activities they previously enjoyed in favor of spending time in their room with their tablet. 

When something creates such a need that an individual puts their own life or the lives of others in danger–such as checking social media/texting while driving–it has become more than just an unhealthy habit. If you find that taking away your son or daughter’s phone elicits an angry, stressed out, out of character response, there’s probably more to it than just wanting their phone back.  

Cell phone use in teens can lead to addiction

A recent poll taken by Common Sense Media revealed that half of teenagers believe they may have a cell phone addiction. Nearly 75 percent of teenagers check their phone at least once every hour. That could be compared to the physical need to have a cigarette. No, cell phone use in teens isn’t a drug that alters the actual chemistry of your brain, but many become actively obsessed with knowing what’s going on with friends, family, celebrities, and more. 

When teens receive a “like” or a comment on their social media, their brain receives a little dopamine boost. This hormone produces a happy feeling in the brain, but once the feeling wears off, teens may find themselves craving that little boost again and again. It feels good to receive praise from their peers, so it is easy to see how young people begin to crave more and more. One social media interaction is no longer enough, and they find themselves on their devices more and more to recapture that feeling again. Social media addiction can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or low self esteem. This becomes more problematic when teens view social networking sites as an important coping mechanism to relieve those feelings of stress, loneliness, or depression, thereby creating a negative behavioral loop. 

When an activity–like checking your cell phone–leads to distraction while driving, ignoring others, and losing immense amounts of sleep, it becomes a harmful activity–an addiction, if you will. Many people, adults and teens alike, would have a huge surge of anxiety if you took their phone from them at this moment. Our phones have become our lifelines. We use them to communicate, to work, to navigate, to shop, and basically run our lives off of them. But when does it become too much? It’s hard to know, there’s definitely more research needed to pinpoint when cell phone use in teens becomes harmful to the user.

Tips for kicking a smartphone addiction

In a New York Times article, Nancy Colier–author and licensed clinical social worker–explained why internet and smartphone addictions pose such a new threat:

“The only difference between digital addiction and other addictions is that this is a socially condoned behavior.” 

As a society, we’re normalizing the heavy use of technology–whether it’s interrupting critical social interaction or during dinner or even while driving. Creating boundaries as a family can help set your teen up for success and curb unhealthy technology habits. When teens know what is expected from them, and understand that their parents will hold them to those expectations, they are able to create new behaviors around cellphone use. By taking into consideration the advice Colier offered up in the article, we came up with a few tips on how to help curb your teen’s smartphone addiction more effectively.

  • Create Tech-Free Zones. An easy way to start off is to create and enforce “tech-free” zones or times. For example, at the dinner table or during dinner, make a rule that everyone’s phones get silenced and left in a different room. That means your phone as well. Nothing makes a rule fall apart more than hypocrisy. Creating structure around tech-free time A set time, like during dinner, is concrete and feels like an achievable goal for families. Putting your phone away for a full day may be unrealistic, but everyone in the family can commit to an hour while you’re eating a meal together. 
  • No phones during conversations. It’s not unusual for a parent to feel as if they’re talking to a wall because their teen’s eyes are glued to their phone. You own that phone. You are the parent. Make it clear that during conversations, your teen needs to be paying attention–otherwise you can easily revoke their phone privileges. Again, this goes both ways. If your teen approaches you to talk, set your phone aside or on silent to show them that you are giving them your full attention. By modeling that respectful behavior, we are giving teens a positive example to follow. 
  • Phone free sleep. It is not uncommon to walk by your teen’s room on your way to bed and see the glow of a computer monitor or hear the sounds of texting and viral videos. Healthy sleep habits are crucial to teens’ mental and physical health. A large contributor to not just teen attitude but teen sleep deprivation is the smartphone. Teens with unfettered access to their phones often stay up to unreasonable hours in the night, leaving them with significantly less sleep for school the next day. To curb this, simply keep phones in a basket by your bed or in a safe place. If the rule is that phones must be put up by 10pm, you can begin to set a routine for your teen that can lead to healthier sleep patterns overall. 
  • Follow your own rules. Teens absolutely hate it when they’re told not to do something by their parents, but their parents still do it. This is a perfect recipe for rebellion and push back. If you find it incredibly difficult to follow your own rules, then it may be time to assess whether you could be dealing with a smartphone addiction as well. This is where working with your teen to create boundaries around phone use can be beneficial. If they are involved with making the rules, they automatically have a sense of ownership and investment in those rules. When they ask to keep their phone in their room overnight, you can remind them that they helped create the rules and that you as a family agreed to follow the rules together. 

If your teen is really struggling with a smartphone addiction or other mental health issues, it’s essential to seek out a professional for further guidance. A wilderness therapy program may be the answer to dealing with your teen’s smartphone addiction. By design, wilderness therapy removes all the everyday distractions and technology that surround teens today. Nature is a powerful tool for grounding people, while exposing them to new experiences to give them a better understanding of who they are as a person. At blueFire, we provide the opportunity for experiences, exploration and education which produces real, lasting change your child can bring back home and use the rest of their lives. Our utilization of regular adventure activities, combined with the proven methods of traditional wilderness therapy approaches, make blueFire unique and more complete than a simple wilderness approach. The variety of experiences allows our clients to have a more comprehensive and adventurous experience.

blueFire Wilderness Can Help

Life is a journey. Our comprehensive multi-faceted and clinical approach in the wilderness helps teens and their parents navigate this journey in a positive direction. We believe that through a balance of self-assessment, insight oriented therapy, outdoor living, adventure activities and academic focus these teens will find their true selves. We provide a supportive opportunity for parents and children to re-connect and strengthen their relationship.

What makes blueFire Wilderness Therapy unique? Our strength is how we combine clinical expertise, adventure experiences, academic assessments and a family systems approach. We utilize highly trained staff, cutting-edge technology and the latest research to create the best environment for change. Our wilderness adventure therapy for at risk youth helps teens overcome their challenges to become the best versions of themselves. For more information please call (844) 413-1999.

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