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06-27 When cell phone addiction causes family struggles

When cell phone addiction causes family struggles

More than one-third of families argue daily about teen screen time.

That’s according to Common Sense Media’s recent survey of more than 1,200 U.S. parents and adolescents on technology and family tensions. Like any other addiction, the single-minded attention toward using electronic devices is becoming all-consuming for increasingly more adolescents, affecting mental health development and straining family dynamics.

The survey

The research polled 620 parents and 620 kids and found commonalities upon which both sides agree. Nearly the same percentage of parents and adolescents agree the teen is addicted to his or her mobile device. Virtually the same number agree the battles over cell phone usage are daily.

The division begins as it relates to responses about communication and undivided attention. A reported 72 percent of teens feel they need to respond immediately to texts, notifications and social networking messages, no matter where they are, or with whom. Almost 80 percent of parents say their children don’t stay “present” during quality time throughout the week.

Face-to-face interaction isn’t the only family life aspect suffering from cell phone addiction. Procrastination and inattention to tasks, empathic concern, even the institution of consequences and rewards are confounded by the advent of, and obsession with, electronic devices.

Discipline going downhill

Empowering Parents reports some practical problems moms and dads are encountering with punishments that take away electronics. Kids need the internet for homework and utilize phones for communication with their parents.

Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist. She describes the dilemma to also be an issue of options.

“The trouble with all these screen-based items is that if you restrict the use of one, as you’ve probably already found out, your child will just shift over to another venue. In your child’s head, he or she is saying, ‘No cell phone? Fine. I’ll use my computer. No computer? Fine. I can text. Or watch TV. Or zone out on video games.’ The truth is, they’ll find almost anything to do instead of doing whatever it is you want them to do.”

Devine reminds parents to exercise wisdom when restricting devices; and remember to offer screen time as an established privilege for completion of required tasks.

“Keep one screen-time privilege matched to one behavior – don’t let her earn it back, then take it away for some other infraction. Focus on one or two behaviors you want to see change, tie each one to specific screen-time access, and let your kid earn that privilege each and every day.”

She encourages that this is not bribery, rather a practical approach to guiding a youth to achieve his or her best. It doesn’t matter if the child bought the devices with his or her own money, Devine says parents can remain firm: its mom or dad’s home and mom or dad’s rules.

How to de-escalate from abuse to use

Addiction is a brain disease hinged on access. Behavioral compulsions are not about the outlet; instead they boil down to control. A strategic plan for mitigating cell phone addiction and restoring active participation of a child in one’s home is making electronic device access contingent and bringing impulse control to heel.

  • Instill media-free zones and times, such as no devices in bedrooms or at meal times
  • Supplement individual screen time with engaging together in screen time: parent and child, looking at the same screen
  • Model behavior by putting down one’s own phone or device
  • Investigate options for connectivity control, which helps avoid tug-of-war over a device
  • Change the family’s internet password daily as an indirect method of engaging the child in earning screen time

Cellphone addiction can be a tricky problem to work with but thankfully parents don’t have to deal with this issue alone. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego is specifically tailored toward rehabilitating teenagers 12-17 who have various addictions and mental health disorders. Call our 24/7 helpline for details.

About the author

Sovereign Health Group staff writer Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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