The results of a new study on teens and their cell phone use will not surprise anyone that has been around an adolescent in the last ten years or so. Parents know all too well that the two are typically not far apart.
A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center found that 88 percent of teenagers, ages 13 to 17, have or have access to a cellphone, and 91 percent of teens go online from a mobile device at least occasionally.
"I have not worked with any parents who do not allow their teens to have access to a phone," said Denise Berotti Tuckruskye, a clinical psychologist at the Developmental Disabilities Institute in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. "It seems all parents appreciate that phones allow teens to contact them easily if there are any problems."
Having the ability to contact their parents if something goes wrong is probably the top reason parents allow their child to have a cell phone in the first place. However, with that purchase you may also notice the loss of your child’s attention and desire to hang out with the family.
Kids aren’t usually using the phone to actually talk to each other; they are more likely to be texting, reading and posting on social media sites. That’s where phone use can get tricky and addictive. Texts and website posts can be positive or extremely negative – depending on someone’s mood or psychological makeup.
What can parents do if they are concerned about the amount of time their teen is spending on his or her phone? One thing is to not pretend that you don’t have a say in what your teen is allowed to post and the amount of information they can give out online as well as the amount of time they spend on the phone when they are home.
Experts suggest that parents stress the use of smartphones and social media in moderation. Beyond that, there are tactics parents can use to moderate their teens' phone use without cutting them off from the digital world entirely.
For instance, "some families I work with restrict phone use until their child's homework is done," Tuckruskye said.
Another option is so-called "interval training," suggested Sandra Bond Chapman, a cognitive neuroscientist who directs the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas in Dallas.
For this, teens would spend 30 minutes doing homework without any disruption and then 30 minutes where they're allowed to check their phones.
This is not easy. Teens naturally go through a stage where independence and rules can quickly become a battleground. It takes patience and the right approach (sometimes many different approaches) to help them understand why constant cell phone use can be a problem.
Cell phone and computer use before bed has been shown to cause sleep difficulties in children as well as adults. Left to their own devices, young adults are likely to use their phone in bed and keep it close to them while sleeping, according to analysis of a National Sleep Foundation survey, published in 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Research has shown that this can lead to sleep complications.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics in December 2016 found "strong and consistent evidence of an association between the access to or the use of devices and reduced sleep quality, as well as daytime sleepiness."
Jenna Glover, director of psychology training for Children's Hospital Colorado, suggests that parents limit their teen’s use of cell phones- especially before bedtime.
"Teens should have specific times a day where they have access to their social media accounts, but also tech-free time at home," Glover said.
Others, however, contend that how much time teens spend on their phones is less important than the effect phones are having on the youths.
A recent study from the University of Michigan found that the way children use their devices was a stronger predictor of emotional or social problems tied to screen addiction.
"What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity," said lead author Sarah Domoff in a university news release. She is now an assistant professor of psychology at Central Michigan University.
For instance, does screen time interfere with daily activities? Does it cause family conflicts? Has it become the only activity the teen seems to enjoy?
Those are just a few of the ways unhealthy use of phones and similar devices can lead to problems with relationships or conduct and with other emotional symptoms, Domoff said.
The combination of time teens spend on the phone and the content being seen and produced is where parents can have an impact. One conversation isn’t going to convince a child that there may need to be some changes made in their phone use. It’s an ongoing dialogue that needs to happen with families in a positive, educational and helpful way. In some situations, professional counseling may be needed.
The study was published online in November 2017, in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture