Does your teen…
- check their social network feeds even before they get out of bed?
- text their friends on the way to school?
- immediately hop onto social networks after getting back from school?
- monitor their phone for updates right up until bedtime?
- seem to spend every free moment playing on their smartphone?
If you said “yes” to any of these, there’s a good chance that your teen is addicted to the digital world and not inclined to give up their access anytime soon. Of course, there are a few other telltale signs as well.
The fear of missing out
Teens (and plenty of adults) tend to panic when they’re separated from their smartphones.
This problem is sometimes known as “FOMO”, or the “fear of missing out”.
Even if they haven’t received any message updates in hours, they still tend to feel like a new message could appear at any time … and this can lead to them completely ignoring the rest of their lives while they wait for the latest tweet from a friend, or celebrity you’ve never even heard of.
The four big dangers of app addiction
App addiction has several major problems associated with it, and together they can have a huge impact on your child’s future.
- It distracts teens from more important activities. It’s one thing if they’re honestly not interested in some event they’re at, but almost 70% of teens have admitted to checking their smartphones while driving. They are so worried that they’re going to be missing out that they actively put themselves in danger - and that’s a pretty bad decision even in an age group known for not having the ability to make good judgments.
- It blocks the development of other skills. Teens may become experts at using technology - and that can of course be a good thing! But the risk of app addiction is missing out on learning other life skills like how to socialize with other people, how to truly pay attention when others are talking, or even the physical skills of getting up and moving around.
- It can encourage teens to take relationships online. It's not uncommon for teens to live out their relationships via their phone. But keeping their dating lives out of your view can make them vulnerable to online predators or abusive boyfriends/girlfriends.
- It can lead to an unhealthy focus on appearances. Like many of us, teens carefully curate the content they put on their social media accounts, trying to present themselves in the best light possible. This can include friending or de-friending people based on their social status. Basically, it’s the digital equivalent of school yard behaviour, but with a lot more ways to manipulate the results.
- It can make them unsatisfied. As teens compare themselves to the lives they see other people leading, the disparity between their life and the perception of how others are living can damage their self-esteem and make them feel their life isn’t “good enough”. This is FOMO rearing its head again.
Helping your teen beat their app addiction
If your teen is suffering from app addiction, it could be time for an intervention.
Depending on their age, here are some things you can do to help your teens break out of this cycle of obsession and misery.
Limit the time they spend online: One of the most effective ways of combating app addiction is simply taking away their access to it. Programs exist that can lock up smartphones and computers at a certain time, preventing teens from accessing content longer than you want them to. It also forces teens to try other things to combat the inevitable boredom.
Stick to one major social network: Talk to your teen about the social networks they are on. They'll probably want to be on all of them, but they may not be a good idea. A few minutes every hour on several different social networks can quickly add up to a lot of time, especially when teens start trying to have a major presence on each one. It’s much easier to avoid addiction if they’re only dealing with one network.
Offer Them Alternatives: Teens who are heavily involved - physically and emotionally - in offline activities find it far easier to put their phone down. Don’t just take their phone and leave them hanging - give them something else to do with their time. Hang out. Take them for a coffee. Do something fun that they're interested in!
Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a freelance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics.