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06-09 Cellphone addiction poses dangers for teens

Cellphone addiction poses dangers for teens

Cellphones are causing problems for American teenagers and at least half of them realize it.

Half of teens in a recent poll by Common Sense Media (CSM) felt addicted to their cellphones. Almost 80 percent checked their phones hourly and 72 percent felt pressure to respond to messages immediately.

Distracted driving

Over a third of parents said that cellphones lead to arguments with their children. Sixty-nine percent of parents also look at their own phones every hour and 56 percent reported looking at their phones while they drive.

Children learn by example, so if more than half of parents are distracted while driving, it is not surprising that teenagers are, too. Another recent study conducted by the American Automobile Association found that 60 percent of teen driving accidents were related to distracted driving. The study also points out how it takes an average of 27 seconds for drivers to refocus their full attention on the road after looking at or doing something else while driving.

Excessive cellphone use behaviors

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, includes internet gaming disorder in the context of a behavioral addiction to technology. Cellphone overuse may or may not be a clinical addiction but does seem to contribute to overall life dissatisfaction. Teens may show the following behaviors as a result of excessive cellphone use:

  • Depression
  • Social anxiety
  • Poor school performance
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Hostility
  • Preoccupation with phone access
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Relationship problems
  • Sneaking time on the phone

“The seemingly constant use of tech, evidenced by teens immediately responding to texts, social-networking posts, and other notifications, is actually a reflection of teens’ need to connect with others,” according to CSM researchers. Ironically, this behavior results in further isolation from friends and family, just as other behavioral and chemical addictions do.

What they don’t do can hurt them

The problems associated with teen cellphone addiction are not so much caused by what they are doing (with the exception of cyberbullying) but what they are not doing. Neglected sleep, exercise, homework and healthy activities result from too much time spent on electronics. Social development slows and healthy relationships suffer, placing teens at risk for drug and alcohol addictions.

Like other addictions, risk of death from auto accidents and other negative consequences worsen over time without intervention. Turning off cellphone service for a period of time is always an option, but many parents want their children to have phones for safety reasons. Starting a conversation may be a good first step.

About us

Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a leader in the treatment of adolescent behavioral health addictions and compulsions including teen cellphone addiction. We also treat teen mental health problems, substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions. Our programs integrate state-of-the-art neurocognitive treatments with alternative approaches like experiential therapies, while promoting healthy lifestyle habits and lasting recovery into adulthood. To learn more about specialized programs at Sovereign Health, please call us at our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group, where she translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education. The Sovereign Health Group is a health information resource and Dr. Connolly helps to ensure excellence in our model.  For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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