Teens use smartphones mostly for social media, YouTube viewing, and internet access. With social media comes gossip, comparison, and problematic content.


Teens use smartphones mostly for social media, YouTube viewing, and internet access. With social media comes gossip, comparison, and problematic content.

What is Smartphone Addiction?

Smartphone addiction falls under the category of a process or behavioral addiction. This addiction harms mental health, relationships, and replaces healthy activities. Smartphones are designed to capture and keep attention through dopamine-producing activities. Smartphone overuse is similar to other behavioral addictions like gambling, shopping, pornography, exercise, , or any other activity  that becomes unhealthy when overdone. Because of the many ways smartphone activities distract us, it is easy to quickly grow dependent on them and develop an addiction.

Why teens want smartphones

Teens don’t use smartphones the way adults do, nor do they want them for the same reasons. Teens want smartphones to fit in, be popular, and be like their peers. They want access to social media, texting, and gaming. They do not want smartphones for the Calendar app, GPS, or because they want to call a parent when soccer practice is canceled. Many adults use smartphones as tools for convenience while teens use smartphones for entertainment or as toys.

Smartphones are difficult for adults to manage, but they are even more difficult for teens. A smartphone is a powerful mini-computer in your teen’s pocket that comes with all the risks of creating multiple addictions: internet addiction, social media addiction, gambling addiction, video game addiction, and porn addiction just to name a few. 

Researchers describe addiction as an intense desire or irresistible activity that has a negative impact on daily life and results in anger or irritability if a substance or activity isn’t available. It is not surprising that teens are struggling with smartphone overuse. Many feel separation anxiety if they do not have their smartphones with them. The more they use it, the more they come to depend on it and need to use it.

Signs of Smartphone Addiction

Process addictions involve repeated excessive use. They have the same characteristics of a drug or alcohol addiction: continued use despite negative consequences, inability to stop, and a craving for more. Like every other digital addiction, smartphone addiction can be difficult to recognize. Here are some warning signs to be aware of:

  • Preoccupation. Checking the phone constantly and keeping it with you at all times.
  • Increased use. Use is steadily increasing over time and becoming more necessary for the user.
  • Withdrawal. Anger, anxiety, and depression are experienced when the phone is taken away.
  • Inability to stop. You have made unsuccessful attempts to limit time spent on the device.
  • Harming relationships. Relationships, grades, or jobs are suffering due to excessive smartphone use.
  • Deceit. Lying about use to parents, changing passwords, and creating secret accounts to cover up overuse and activity on the phone.
  • Escape. The phone becomes the go-to activity when a child becomes anxious, lonely, and bored. It is used as a way to escape from problems. 

What causes Smartphone Addiction?

Smartphones are convenient mini-computers with 24/7 access to the Internet, music, videos, social media, and much more. They are interactive—not passive—meaning they require something from the user. Here are a few of the many factors working against the user when it comes to smartphone addiction: 

Dopamine. Smartphones are designed to stimulate a chemical response in the brain which delivers dopamine every time a user responds. Even the detail of the color of the apps is designed to trigger an emotional response from the user. 

Ever-present access. The portable, easy-access nature of smartphones feeds the addiction process—you can never escape it. 

Persuasive design. Attention engineers are working hard in the background to get and keep the users’ attention. Like slot machines and video games, smartphones provide novelty, intermittent rewards, and colorful visual content. Smartphones make teens feel as if they are missing out if they don’t have one. 

Why is Smartphone Addiction a problem?

Parents often feel like their kids are safer with a smartphone in hand. But, the truth is, smartphones can make kids less safe.. 

Texting and driving: A third of teens admit to texting while driving, an activity which significantly increases the risk of crashing. Smartphones pull a teen’s attention away from the road, increasing the amount of time it takes to notice a roadway hazard.

Sleep disruption: Notifications and vibrations from smartphones prevent teens from getting enough sleep. They stay up late to respond to texts, scroll on social media, or to game. The light from smartphones delays the release of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Research also suggests that the mere presence of a smartphone is distracting, especially to young minds.

Anxiety and Depression: Teens are in a mental health crisis. One-third of teens have an anxiety disorder and one out of five have contemplated suicide. There is a direct correlation between smartphone use and anxiety and depression. Depression doubled among teens in the last decade and almost 25% of girls experienced major depression in 2019.

How do you prevent a Smartphone Addiction

The best way to prevent smartphone addiction is to not give your child a smartphone. Here are a few other prevention tips:

Focus on in-person relationships. It is a myth that smartphones make our teens more social. Instead, they increase isolation and anxiety and can make them regress in social skills. Make it a priority to plan regular in-person gatherings with their peers in your home. Increasing in-person social interactions will help your teen develop a strong identity, build confidence, and practice leadership skills. 

Practice life skills. Too much time on technology easily replaces time spent on life skills development. Executive functioning skills like organizing, planning ahead and problem-solving are learned by doing everyday chores. These skills are not learned on a smartphone. 

Strengthen family attachment. Spend more time together as a family doing group activities. This will be much easier without the distraction of smartphones. 

How can you treat a Smartphone Addiction?

As with any addiction, the treatment starts with removing access. Smartphone addiction is no different. 

Replace the smartphone with a non-data phone. When you consider the adolescent window of development, choosing a non-data phone over a smartphone is an excellent solution. No longer will teens have the distracting internet in their pockets 24/7. This option comes with great advantages such as the ability to focus more time on school, relationships, and healthy activities during a time in development when they are programmed to reach their highest potential. Forty-eight months of high school smartphone-free is a short period of time to give your teen a great opportunity to get ahead. 

Detox. The ScreenStrong 30-Day Digital Detox offer a plan for parents to remove screen activities that have become toxic for teens. 

Community support. Change is hard and takes a community. Parents who join the ScreenStrong community find success. With the help of like-minded parents,  ScreenStrong Families become successful in living a  ScreenStrong Lifestyle. When teens focus on non-tech hobbies and building relationships with other ScreenStrong teens, they are happier and healthier. 

What is the best age for a smartphone?

Many parents mistakenly believe that the age of 13 is a good time to give their child a smartphone. Thirteen is usually the minimum age listed to sign up on social media sites. But 13 has nothing to do with age-appropriateness for digital media consumption. 

This age is about privacy and data collection, established by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) law in 1998. This law prohibits companies from collecting data and personal information from users under the age of 13 without parental consent. If the child lies about his or her age, the data can legally be collected and the companies can avoid a $42,000 fine per violation as long as they list 13 as the minimum age requirement.

Why 13 is the worst age for a smartphone

Thirteen is one of the most dangerous ages to hand over a smartphone because it is a  volatile developmental stage. Thirteen-year-old brains are going through puberty where the desire to take risks  is high and impulse control and judgment is low. Their prefrontal cortexes aren’t completely developed, so teens can’t manage the distractions or  temptations that come with smartphones. These skills take time to develop. 

Many parents believe that eighth grade is the best age to give a child a smartphone due a variety of factors:

  • Parents are worn down by the child begging for the device
  • Parents believe their child must be technologically prepared by having a device in the teenage years
  • Parents are drawn in by peer pressure from both adults and teens
  • Parents are confused by the age requirement on social media sites 
  • Parents are not up to date with current research on developmental science


Parents mistakenly think that the clock is ticking and that they have to hurry up and teach their eighth graders to use smartphones, resist temptations, and build willpower. Parents think that digital mistakes and first time porn viewing should happen at home. But science says that virtue begets virtue and spending time engaged in healthy activities will increase the odds that your teen will develop healthy habits. . 

What's Next?

When you know better, you do better. We have more research around digital addictions than we ever have before. We know that all these digital addictions can be easily prevented. Research is conclusive: smartphones are too risky for teenagers. There are wonderful screen-alternatives that come with very little risk. ScreenStrong can give you the answers, community, and support you need to raise  happier, healthier kids. It’s time to stand up for kids, stand out from the crowd, and be ScreenStrong.

Disclaimer: This information is not a replacement for the therapy or treatment center necessary to help an at-risk or addicted child. If you feel like your child will potentially do bodily harm to you, himself or herself, you need to seek professional help.

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