It’s a common trope in sitcoms to see teenagers glued to their mobile. It’s often played for laughs, but new research shows just how widespread – and damaging – it can be for young people to be constantly attached to their phones.
Scientists, however, have identified that teenagers' relationship with their phones is consistent with behavioural addiction.
Here are just some things you can do if your child is addicted to their smartphone.
First thing’s first, you need to know what you’re looking for. “You know your child better than anyone, so think about what’s ‘normal’ for yours,” says Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK. “Do they seem more moody, anxious or withdrawn? Mental health can fluctuate day to day, in the same way physical health does. It can be tricky to distinguish mood swings and the symptoms of a mental health issue, particularly in teens. Having ongoing conversations about their mental health can be a helpful starting point.”
If your child is showing problematic smartphone usage, it can be tempting to confront them with all guns blazing. However, Vandenabeele says this “might put them on edge and lead them to rebuff your questions”.
Vandenabeele advises parents to think about how they approach these tricky conversations, saying: “Simply asking your child how they are is more likely to lead to a more positive and productive conversation. And when they share how they feel, acknowledge it. Be wary of undermining feelings by saying things like ‘social media doesn’t matter’, or ‘there’s no need to worry about that’.”
Banning your child from tech outright isn’t a particularly practical solution, so Vandenabeele recommends finding suitable distractions. “If your child can’t live without their phone and you’re concerned about their mental wellbeing as a result, a distraction technique can give them a new focus and some respite from their online life,” he says. “Something simple, such as reading a book, helping with the weekly shop or to prepare dinner, can show your child there’s life beyond the screen.”
Children learn behaviours from their parents, so it’s important to think about your own smartphone usage – and maybe even get the whole family involved. “Lead by example; having a family ‘digital detox’ at an agreed time each night can be one less distraction to make sure the family gets enough sleep for the next day,” Vandenabeele says.
A3: Scheduling digital detox so that we can unplug from devices and plug into our heartbeats.
In our home, we have enacted a No-tech Sunday policy each week, to give the family time to connect heart-to-heart without any batteries or charing cords. #tlap— BarbaraGruener (@BarbaraGruener) November 26, 2019
If you are particularly worried about your child’s smartphone usage, Vandenabeele advises seeking help. He says: “If you think your child may be showing signs that they are struggling with their mental health, it’s important to seek medical support as soon as possible, as early diagnosis and treatment can help them on the path to recovery and improve long-term outcomes.”