New Poll: One of every two teens feels addicted to their mobile devices

As a doctor, I believe that while there is a true clinical internet/video game addiction, we must be careful about using the term addiction loosely. I explain here in this recent Washington Post article:

"For serious cases, she agrees that Internet addiction is a real problem. But for the kid who just won’t put her phone down during dinner? Calling her an addict may do more harm than good.

“We should be careful to stop using the word ‘addiction’ so kids can have an internal sense of control,” she said. “They have to know that the device does not control them.”

 A new report from Common Sense Media titled “Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy, and Finding Balance” points to the potential controversy of taking an addiction view of everyday technology use. The key is to find balance both in our perspective on technology use and our actual use of it.

The Common Sense report includes results of a poll of 1200 teens and parents on their feelings, use and response to their mobile devices. Much of the poll’s results echo what we found from our work on SCREENAGERS, namely that both teens and parents recognize the strong pull of technology in their daily lives. In the results of the poll, one of every two teens reported they “feel” addicted to their mobile devices and 60 percent of parents “feel” their teens are addicted.

As I noted above, the parents and teens connection of the term addiction with their feelings about their device use is not grounded in the clinical definition of addiction as it pertains to Internet Gaming Disorder, or IGD. I touch on some of the specifics of IGD in SCREENAGERS.

All that said, the poll results do reflect some behaviors that, again, could use some balance. They include:

  • Distraction: 77% of parents feel their child gets distracted by his or her devices and doesn’t pay attention when they are together.
  • Conflict: One-third of parents and teens (36% and 32% respectively) say they argue with each other on a daily basis about device use.
  • Risky behavior: 56% of parents admit to checking their mobile devices while driving and 51% of teens see their parents checking/using their mobile devices when driving.
  • Compulsion: 72% of teens and 48% of parents feel a need to immediately respond to texts, social networking messages and other notifications from their mobile devices.

These themes of distraction, conflict, behavior and compulsion also run throughout SCREENAGERS interviews of teens, parents and experts. Interestingly, some of the solutions to these issues come from teens themselves. One group of boys puts all devices in a pile on the center of the table whenever the get together so that they stay focused on each other instead of their phones. This self-awareness, which also comes through in the poll, speaks well to the emotional intelligence of the SCREENAGERS generation. At the same time that they feel drawn in by their devices, they are also seeking ways to disconnect from them.

Delaney Ruston, MD