Teens and Cell Phones: What You Should Know

Brooks Michael's picture
By Brooks Michael on March 26, 2018

Does your teen spend hours every day on her cell phone?

Does she spend more time on the phone than she does interacting with others face to face?

If so, she—or he—is not alone.

The average teenager is said to spend about seven hours a day texting, talking, checking social media, playing video games and using apps.

Some teens check their email and social media obsessively throughout the day or become upset when they can’t.

Their brains are responding to their phones in an addictive way–releasing dopamine when alerted of a new text message.

Health professionals fear that many are in fact addicted.

Not Present in Their Life

There are, of course, benefits to giving teens cell phones. They can check in with you or use them in an emergency.

Calls and texts with friends can be a bonding experience. And being able to find necessary information on the Internet is a valuable skill.

But many kids spend so many hours a day on the phone that they aren’t being present at home or school or in everyday life.

This in turn is affecting their brain development. Child psychologists have found that teens today are more easily distracted and have shorter attention spans than their parents.

Because our brains don’t fully develop until age 25 or 26, too much technology can greatly affect the developing teen brain.

Psychologists also say that teen social development is lagging, with more teens displaying aggressive tendencies and a lack of empathy.

Here are some of the other potential dangers linked to excessive cell phone use:

  • Emotional problems
  • Obesity
  • Loss of sleep
  • Bad grades
  • Less time spent on extracurricular activities
  • Poor conduct in school
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bullying
  • Exposure to violent or sexual content
  • Sharing inappropriate photos that will haunt them later in life

And there’s another dark side: One in seven kids has been sexually propositioned online, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Taking Action

This is where you come in. Talk to your teen about all these risks, and know what she’s up to online.

Learn how to use the apps your teen uses and know the passwords.

It’s also OK to set limits. Decide how much time she can spend on her phone each day, and hold her to it.

My own opinion is that one to two hours a day on the phone is enough, but you may differ. And don’t start them too young—a good age to begin is 13.  

In addition, there are positive steps you can take. Make sure your teen:

  • Has time for reading and hobbies
  • Spends face-to-face time with friends
  • Has opportunities for sports or other healthy physical activities

Also talk to your teen at dinner (no phones allowed!), and be a good role model by limiting your own cell phone use.

Finally, please don’t let your teen sleep with their phone. I speak to hundreds of teenagers each year, and most of them admit they don’t get enough sleep because they stay up with their phones.

No one said it was easy being a parent, especially today when so many online temptations beckon.

But teenagers can adapt to living without phones, and be happier as a result.

What could be better than helping your teen to engage in life, connect with others and fully develop herself?

Brooks Michael is an adolescent health educator for Carilion Clinic’s Adolescent and Student Health Services. Learn more about Brooks and her work with teens.

Are you concerned about your teen's emotional health? Learn more at 10 Warning Signs of Depression in Teens.