How can you tell if your child’s reliance on smartphones and other mobile devices is normal when you have no frame of reference for childhood smartphone use, and when society has completely reorganized itself around mobile device use within your lifetime? Here’s some important information about children and smartphone use, and some tips on how to deal with potential smartphone addiction in your tween.
How Tweens Are Using Smartphones
It’s important not to approach the idea of smartphones and mobile devices as automatically bad. After all, they are an integral part of your tween’s social life and an important communication device. And, if current trends continue, they’ll also be an important part of your child’s adult life. It’s likely they’ll be expected to have and use a smartphone or other mobile device in their professional life later on. Learning to handle these devices now can be a helpful thing for their future.
On the other hand, too much of a good thing can always be dangerous. Some experts believe that smartphone use may be replacing drug and alcohol experimentation and addiction in teens due to a correlation between falling rates of tweens and teens who report drug use and rising rates of internet use. And while that may sound positive, experts also caution that it affects the brain in a similar way to using drugs.
How Much is Too Much?
Smartphones may be relatively new, but the signs of addiction tend to be somewhat consistent whether the addict is using chemicals or pixels. Your tween may be experiencing smartphone addiction if they exhibit some of these signs:
- Using the smartphone to alleviate anxiety, depression, or other negative feelings;
- Preoccupation with the smartphone to the detriment of grades, friendships, and other activities;
- Withdrawal symptoms like anger, depression, irritability, and restlessness when the phone is taken away.
Smartphone use may also cause physical symptoms of addiction:
- Eyestrain from too much digital viewing;
- Neck pain from hunching over the phone;
- Sleep disturbances and fatigue thought to be caused by the light from cell phone viewing after dark.
What Should Parents Do?
If you suspect your child is addicted to their smartphone, your first instinct may be to remove the device entirely. That is an option, and it may be appropriate for some children. However, smartphones are part of modern life, and it’s unrealistic to expect your child will never use one again. Therefore, it may be advisable to treat smartphone addiction less like a chemical addiction and more like a food addiction. That means teaching your tween to moderate themselves.
Set boundaries for smartphone use. You may want to limit your child to a certain amount of time on their smartphone each day, or to designated times of the day, or both. It’s also important to keep an eye on what they’re doing and limit online activities that your kids spend an unhealthy amount of time on, like social media sites or games.
Parental control software can help you set and enforce healthy boundaries on your tween’s screen use. The Screen Time app is a great tool for achieving this and more. To get an idea of how it works, try it for free.