Is Your Child A Phone Addict?

When socially minded Apple investors recently challenged the iPhone maker to address phone addiction among child users, many parents took note, asking themselves if their child is a smart-phone addict.

The concern is real. As cell phones have proliferated among teens—a 2015 Pew Research Study found that 73% of kids ages 13 to 17 had a smartpone or access to one—children have taken on potentially troubling behaviors:  A recent article in The New York Times cites research from Common Sense Media showing that half of teens “felt addicted to their devices”; “78% checked their devices at least hourly”; 72% felt compelled to “respond immediately to texts, notifications, and social media messaging.” The article goes on to explain,

Although there is currently no official medical recognition of “smartphone addiction” as a disease or disorder, the term refers to obsessive behaviors that disturb the course of daily activities in a way that mirrors patterns similar to substance abuse.

Red-Flag Behaviors

Parents trying to assess the line between abusive and acceptable phone use are often baffled because these devices are being used for personal, social, and academic purposes, sometimes all at once.

So what’s obsessive and what’s appropriate? Ana Homayoun, author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World, offers the following guidelines in The Times article, Is Your Child a Phone “Addict”?:

Here are some questions to ask: Does your teenager’s mood suddenly change and become intensely anxious, irritable, angry, or even violent when the phone is taken away or unavailable for use? Does your teen skip or not participate in social events because of time spent on the phone? Another red flag is spending so much time on a smartphone that it affects personal hygiene and normal daily activities (most notably, sleep). Lying, hiding and breaking family rules to spend more time on a smartphone can be cause for alarm…

What Now?

If you think your child’s phone habits have crossed the line from appropriate to obsessive, Homayoun contends that parental involvement is likely necessary to reverse the situation. “Creating daily and weekly offline time as part of the family routine is helpful, and finding a way to have a once- or twice-yearly extended period of time off — at a summer camp or outdoor expedition without Wi-Fi, or on a family trip — may provide the reset teens need to break negative habits.”

Homayoun also advocates monitoring use over time, “rather than a single evening or weekend,” and using technology to help with tracking. Many phones and plans come with parental settings to help monitor usage. In addition there are a number of apps available to limit access to certain apps by time of day.

For more information, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers a helpful guide to media use for parents of children of all ages.

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