My teen always tells me her most interesting daily facts right before lights-out time. One night last week she says, “Mom, did you know teens are addicted to their cell phones but in Japan it’s an actual addiction?” After she tells me about the funny video from Japan that I really should watch, I share news of the recent Common Sense Media report that found 50 percent of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices.
We laugh about that fact that 27 percent of parents also say they feel addicted to their mobile devices; in our house, I’m the one who has the hardest time ignoring my iPhone.
It seems I’m not alone. For the report, Common Sense polled more than 1,200 parents and teens with the goal of discovering how the saturation of mobile devices in family life plays out in homes and child-parent relationships. One notable finding: teenagers’ feelings of stress and anxiety surrounding phone usage.
“We throw around the word ‘addiction’ pretty freely, but I think there is a real problem forming with kids feeling like their phones control them,” says Caroline Knorr, senior parenting editor at Common Sense Media. “We found that 72 percent of teens feel the need to respond immediately when they get a notification. That’s a pretty big deal because we know that, as humans, we are not good at multitasking and switching focus.”
It’s not just teens either; 48 percent of surveyed parents feel they have to answer emails and texts immediately and 69 percent say they check devices hourly.
“The internet is so integral to our everyday lives, as are our smartphones. The concern is less about the amount of time spent on devices, and more about how that time looks in the context of a full day, week or school year,” says Knorr. “If a kid is really into social media but is getting good grades, plays sports and spends time with family and friends, there probably isn’t anything too worrisome going on. It becomes cause for concern when other activities and responsibilities start falling by the wayside.”
Wait — is Knorr talking about my inability to prepare dinner in a timely manner due to my own mobile device addiction? Yes, I’m often a horrible example for my teen and she’s watching my every move. Thank goodness she’s mostly up in her room — attached to her bed, hand clasped around her iPhone — and not watching me.
But, of course, that's not a great long-term solution. Knorr says setting realistic family rules starts with taking a hard look at my own device habits (gulp). She recommends the following for limiting adult cell-phone usage:
- As soon as you get in the car, the phone goes away. The glove compartment or the trunk are both great storage options.
- Use your device’s settings to help filter what comes through in real time. Turn off push notifications for apps you don’t need 24/7, put your phone on do not disturb mode when you are offline and create VIP lists for contacts whose calls or emails will set off an alert.
- Instead of responding to everything that comes through, decide if it really requires an immediate response. If it does, let your kids know so they understand why you’re taking that call or writing that email or sending that text.
- When you set rules for the family, make sure you follow them as well!
Of course, once my screen time is under control, it’s time to ponder my teen’s mobile device usage.
“We know that screens are a daily reality in kids’ lives; they need them to do their homework, connect with friends, learn about their interests and play,” says Knorr. “We encourage parents to stress less about screen time minutes and more about how that time is being used and for what.”
Look at how screen time plays a role in your family’s life over the course of several weeks. Notice any worrisome patterns or habits? Also try device-free zones, says Knorr, and consider creating a family media agreement (Common Sense provides an example).
Most importantly, realize that technology isn't all bad. It often brings us together, from family movie and game nights to simply talking about what we each saw online. Even talking about this study with my teen was a highlight and I’m looking forward to watching that video from Japan with her someday soon.