A Look at Teens’ Relationships With Their Cell Phones

Dangers and emotional consequences teens pay for "likes" and so-called friends.
Teen obsession with social media and smartphones is dangerous and addictive.

Anderson Cooper recently hosted a CNN Special Report: “#being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens,” the result of a two-year study tracking and interviewing 200 eighth graders and reviewing 150,000 of their social media posts. Even though I am current on the issue of social media and teens, the special was highly educational for this mom of four. 

It’s no secret that teens love their phones. But what you may not know is that their brains can’t really tell the difference between the hug from their mom and the familiar buzz of a new text, post, or photo arriving just in the nick of time. They get a dose of dopamine either way. This is why they easily check their phones more than 100 times a day, according to the study, so they don’t miss a juicy piece of news. 

Like putting a ton of bricks in their school backpack, this “lurking” turns out to be exhausting and stressful for the teen brain, causing their cognitive load to increase to an unhealthy point. They simply can’t afford to waste the energy processing it all as their brains become overloaded; they need to spend that energy on school and on face-to-face, in-person relationships. Plus it’s depressing to constantly be evaluated in the social hierarchy. Even adults aren’t able to handle it all. I’m so thankful that no one is judging my life 24/7 to see if I am keeping a clean house, wearing the right thing and having a perfect hair day. (I think I may have dirty dishes in the sink right now!) It is exhausting to be on display 24/7, and for a child, that level of stress leads to depression. To top it off, aside from the gossip and posts about nothing, the internet world is full of profanity, sexting, porn, drugs, and bullying. We know that this mixture of social poisons is not a good choice for our kids either. So what is a parent to do?

Don’t throw in the towel or give up! Managing it all may not be as daunting as you think. Here are two of my favorite quotes from a story related to the CNN study:

"Help them steer away from it because it's really hard for them to do it on their own," said Marion Underwood, a child clinical psychologist with the University of Texas at Dallas and one of the two experts who collaborated with CNN on the study. She’s also dean of graduate studies and a professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Jay, a 13-year-old who participated in the study, said social media is addicting — but her grades went up once she put her phone down more often: "A lot of kids are going to be like, 'She's talking gibberish. I can totally multitask,' and that's what I thought until I put my phone away and I'm the happiest person I could be right now."

Check back as we dive into the subject of social media over the next few posts. We will discover the ups and downs of kids being on social media and offer some fresh, simple solutions that you will love.

For today, go find your kids, put their phones in a basket on the kitchen table — and turn them off so they don’t hear the buzz — and find something else to do for an hour. Bake something with them. Read a book to them, even if they can read on their own. Go for a walk, go out for yogurt or just go outside and play! Even your older teens need time with you to decompress from their full-time jobs of checking their phones. Remember that they may be 13, but they are still kids–and attaching to you instead of their phones is far more important for their development and will make them happier in the long run!

In the meantime, check out these links to stories related to the CNN special on #being13:

"Why some 13-year-olds check social media 100 times a day"

"Parents: Here's how to stop the worst of social media"