This is what happens when you take phones away from teenagers

This is what happens when you take phones away from teenagers

This is what happens when you take phones away from teenagers

Teens are trying to put their phones down.

More than half of teens are worried they spend too much time on mobile devices and are making efforts to stop, according to a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday. The survey of 743 U.S. teens found that teenagers sometimes react strongly when their phone is taken away. Roughly four-in-ten teenagers said they feel anxious when they leave home without their cell phone and more than half (56%) associate the absence of their cell phone with at least one of these three emotions: loneliness, being upset or feeling anxious.

More worrying perhaps, these feelings are similar to those associated with withdrawal from addictive behavior. Addiction specialists say teenagers suffering from depression or anxiety often use smartphones as a coping mechanism rather than learning to sit with their emotions and developing relationships. That can create a Catch-22 when they seek solace from the same device that prevents them from processing their emotions.

Heavy smartphone users can’t go 10 minutes without their phone before suffering from anxiety, according to a 2014 study published in the journal “Computers in Human Behavior” and coauthored by Larry Rosen, professor of psychology at California State University and author of “iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us.” Rosen says most people can’t go an hour without getting anxious if their smartphone is taken away.

Parents are also feeling anxious, but for different reasons. Some 65% of parents of teens are worried their child is spending too much time in front of screens and 57% have set restrictions, Pew found. But teenagers say they’re trying to cut back. Some 52% of teens say they are cutting back on phone use, including limiting time on social media (57%) and video games (58%).

Smartphones are shortening attention spans in young people

Recent studies have shed light on the negative effects social media and nearly constant phone use is having on teens. The average 12th grader now spends six hours a day online, including two hours on social media, two hours surfing the internet, and two hours texting, a study published this month in the journal of Psychology of Popular Media Culture found.This is likely having an adverse effect on the attention spans of young people, Jean Twenge, author of that study and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said.

It could also be causing broader cultural shifts, including teens taking more time to accomplish “adult” milestones like sex, drinking, and working a job for the first time. The number of teenagers who tried alcohol between 2010 and 2016 dropped to 67%, down from 93% for teenagers between 1976 and 1979. The number of teens who had engaged in sexual activity by the end of high school also dropped by 12% between 1994 and 2016.

“Using digital media often involves very quick switching between tasks, often every few seconds, at the most every few minutes,” Twenge said. Reading books and magazine articles requires more sustained attention. Thus young people may be getting less practice at media activities that involve sustained attention.”

Establishing “no-technology zones,” like banning phones at dinner or at bedtime are “crucial” for teens, Michael Burns, co-founder of Zift, a platform that provides data and tools to parents seeking to limit screen time for their children, said. “Help your teen understand the risks and potential harm that overexposure to technology can have,” he said. “Their environment influences their development and if our teen’s environment is primarily technology driven, it can impact them both cognitively and socially.”

More consumers are attempting to regain control over time spent on technology — and companies are trying to help them. In August, Facebook FB, -0.04% announced new tools to help users monitor and reduce their usage of apps like Instagram and Facebook. The company said it worked with mental-health experts to create tools that will tell users how much time they spend on each app and allow them to self-impose limits that block them from using the app after a certain number of minutes or hours. Apple AAPL, +0.05% and Google GOOG, +0.37% have also unveiled similar tools to help consumers keep track of the hours they spend on iPhones and Android devices.

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Kari Paul

Kari Paul is a personal finance reporter based in New York. You can follow her on Twitter @kari_paul.

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