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Cell phone addiction and young kids: Your child is likely at risk

What makes kids addicted to phones instead of just into phones? Crossing a line from liking being on a phone to having a cell phone addiction can occur when the phone starts to have a negative impact on a child’s life with depression, aggression, anxiety, social withdrawal, suffering grades, and poor sleep. Cell phone addiction is increasingly and overwhelmingly common and your child could be one of the many suffering from this affliction.

Thankfully, cell phone addiction is also a highly treatable condition. Once you recognize the signs, you can get help. If your kid could be addicted to phones, we’ve compiled helpful information below on signs, stats, and advice.


Cell phone addiction: A compulsion

Lots of kids will be drawn to as much screen time as you allow. The games, notifications, and texts give them hits of dopamine, a hormone that gives them a happy feeling. It can understandably be addictive. However, not all children who are exposed to screen time become addicted, so what is the difference between liking screen time and being addicted to a phone? The answer is compulsive behavior.

Does your child seem to be constantly checking for new texts, social media posts, or notifications? Is she not able to stop playing a game? Is he always worried about losing battery or having a charger? Is she always lost in her own world with headphones in? The difference between addiction and not is when these behaviors happen so often that it interferes with your child’s daily life and he can’t break away.

Cell phone addiction can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, worse educational results, self-harm, and poor sleep. It can also lead teens to use cell phones while driving.

How many kids addicted to phones are there?

There have been several studies that have determined this number to be between 25% and 50% of teens.

A study published in 2019 looked at 41 studies published between 2011 and 2017 and concluded that 23% of children have “problematic smartphone usage” that leads to negative mental health effects.

A 2016 report by Common Sense Media found that 50% of American teens “feel addicted” to mobile devices. The same survey found that 59% of parents believe their kids are addicted to their devices. The same survey also found that 78% of teens check their devices at least hourly.

A Pew Research report from 2018 found that 95% of American teenagers have smartphone access. It found that 9 out of 10 teens go online multiple times per day: 45% use the Internet “almost constantly” while 44% use the Internet “several times a day.”


Cell phone addiction warning signs in kids

Some possible warning signs of cell phone addiction in kids could include:

  • Withdrawal-like symptoms when you don’t allow her to use her phone (the shakes, sweating, headache)
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety, like constant worry about where his phone is
  • Self-isolation from people in the real world
  • Anger and aggression over wanting to use her phone constantly
  • A need to use his phone even when watching TV, eating, or doing any other activity
  • Excessive urgency to get to her phone

What can I do to help my child with cell phone addiction?

  • Don’t let him use his phone in bed at night. This had very negative effects on sleep hygiene.
  • Take phone breaks with your teen. Don’t use your phone in front of her either and be present with your time with her.
  • Put his phone in a special place during family time and give it back after screen-free time spent together.
  • Install an app that sets screen time limits.
  • Give her other opportunities to get dopamine and engage her mind fully to distract her from being bored without her phone, like sports, clubs, or other hobbies.
  • Practice reading together.
  • Talk openly (but don’t lecture) about the pros and cons of phone use.

Kids addicted to phones? Here’s what to do

Try the steps above first, but you can also enroll your child in cognitive behavioral therapy for cell phone addiction. As always, checking in with your pediatrician is an important first step whenever you’re concerned, especially if your kid is showing any of the warning signs or symptoms like depression that could be a sign of something else going on.

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