Smartphone addiction among teens linked to controlling parents


Adolescent smartphone addiction is a growing problem worldwide. Many teens in Asian countries have smartphones and Internet addiction is common. Smartphones offer the ability to call, send text messages, and use the Internet while on the go, and have changed the way people communicate worldwide.

Smartphones have advantages and disadvantages, some of which are unique to teenagers.

Some advantages include:

  • Safety: Teens and parents can stay in touch, emergency communication available, built-in cameras can be used as deterrents in some situations.
  • Useful apps: Some applications (apps) can be downloaded that promote personal growth, health and education.
  • Connection: Smartphones provide teens several ways to maintain relationships with far-away family, friends and supportive others.
  • Less boredom: Apps, games and the Internet may occupy spare time that might otherwise be spent on harmful activities.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Distraction: Looking at a smartphone screen can be a dangerous distraction while driving, walking, etc.
  • Unbalanced lifestyle: Smartphone use has been associated with teenage depression, anxiety, poor sleep quality and decreased daily functioning.
  • Time distortion: Distortion in time perceptions while using smartphones leads to excessive use in teenagers.
  • Bullying: Smartphones provide an opportunity to bully others with cowardly ease, and cyberbullying has been associated with suicidality
  • Other dangers: Smartphones pose a danger of exposure to online predators, exposure to electromagnetic radiation, underdeveloped interpersonal skills, spiritual growth retardation and physical deconditioning.

Smartphone addiction

Smartphone addiction has not yet been clearly defined, as it is a relatively new and unprecedented problem. The closest definition in the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the proposed criteria for Internet gaming disorder, categorized as a “condition for further study.” However, dysfunctional smartphone use generally becomes obvious fairly quickly when things start falling apart. Teens and their parents usually know when a problem exists. Based on the DSM-5 criteria for an Internet gaming disorder diagnosis, some possible symptoms of smartphone addiction include:

  • Preoccupation with smartphone
  • Irritability, anxiety or sadness when smartphone taken
  • Spending more and more time on smartphone
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back use
  • Loss of interest in other ways of spending time
  • Poor performance or lost friends/opportunities due to smartphone use
  • Likely to have parent(s) with smartphone addiction

Parents and smartphone addiction

Many factors determine which teens are at risk for cellphone addiction and which are not. Like any other addictive behavior, genetic, environmental, spiritual and other factors likely combine to determine susceptibility. Excessive parental smartphone use not only could have a negative effect on parent-child relationships, but can set a bad example as well. Parental style also appeared to influence teen behavior in a sample of Korean youth.

Professors Mun Doo-sik and Choi Eun-sil at the Catholic University of Korea in Seoul recently examined teen susceptibility to smartphone addiction. The professors reportedly surveyed over 700 high school freshmen and sophomores about their cellphone use, and about their feelings and perceptions on their parents’ parental style. The survey yielded some very interesting results.

Controlling parents had children with less self-esteem and more smartphone addiction. Receptive parents had children with greater self-esteem, less smartphone addiction and more independence. The authors speculated that smartphone addiction could be a demonstration of rebellion against overbearing parents. Females were reportedly at greater risk for this type of addiction.

Getting help for smartphone addiction

Smartphone and Internet addiction is common, growing and dangerous in many different ways. During adolescence, academic and extracurricular performance affects future opportunities unlike any other time in life. Parents usually buy smartphones for their children for safety reasons and do not expect them to become a problem, but sometimes they do.

More research is needed, as well as diagnostic criteria for this disorder. However, the problem usually becomes obvious when attempts to curtail use fail. Like other addictive disorders, severity of impairment and negative consequences generally worsen with time without intervention. Prompt and comprehensive treatment is recommended to address symptoms and resolve any underlying problems. Treating smartphone addiction frees teenagers to engage in more fulfilling activities that lead to true happiness and lifelong balance.

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About the author

Dana Connolly, Ph.D., 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.

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