Is Your Teen Addicted to Their Phone? Strategies to Help Them Break Free

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: Is Your Teen Be Addicted to Their Phone? Here’s How to Tell

Written by: Marybeth Bock

“Sweetie, can you help me put away the groceries?”

I’ll be there in a minute, Mom – I’m just checking my Instagram.”

“Hey guys, it’s time for dinner, come to the table.”

Hang on a second, I’m watching these Tik Toks.”

“You better get going or you’ll miss the bus.”

Yeah, yeah, I’m comingI gotta finish this text real quick.”

Do these exchanges sound familiar to you?

How many times a week do you find yourself asking your teen to put away their phone? And how many times do they totally ignore you because they’re engulfed in their phone?

You may be surprised to learn that today’s teenagers check their phones on average about 150 times each day.

That might seem excessive, but it turns out most adults are obsessed with their phones, too. Teens spend about 5.7 hours on their phones every day, just a bit more than adults who are logged on for about 5.4 hours per day. 

In other words, we get it.

We know what it feels like to have that strong, magnetic pull toward our smartphones and the instant gratification we get from having access to the plethora of on-the-spot information 24/7.

I mean, seriously… haven’t we all felt that panicked feeling when we’ve misplaced or lost our phone? It’s like losing a piece of ourselves.

The difference is, teenagers today grew up with a cell phone in their hand. They don’t know life without it.

Here Are a Few Stats About Teens’ Cell Phone Use:

  • 59 percent of parents feel their teen is addicted to their cell phone
  • 78 percent of teens check their cell phone at least hourly
  • 72 percent of teens feel an urgent need to immediately respond to texts
  • 44 percent of teens believe they spend too much time on their cell phones
  • 77 percent of parents feel their teen gets distracted by their cell phones, including failing to engage with family
  • 30 percent of both teens and parents claim to argue about mobile devices and cell phones on a daily basis
  • 44 percent of teens claim they use their cell phones at the dinner table

From texting their besties and keeping up to date on what all their friends and acquaintances are doing on social media to using it to wind down after a long day by scrolling through posts and videos and staying abreast of the latest news and shopping – teens use their phones for everything.

For many teens, their phones are quite literally their lifeline. However, some parents feel their teen’s “lifeline,” may have turned into something far worse… a full-blown addiction.

Is Phone Addiction a Real Thing?

Having a smartphone within arm’s reach 24/7 is now so commonplace that we even have terminology that labels our cell phone fears.

There’s nomophobia: the fear of going without your phone; textaphrenia: the fear that you can’t send or receive texts; and who hasn’t felt those freaky phantom vibrations: the feeling that your phone is alerting you when it really isn’t?

But there does remain debate among medical and mental health professionals about whether problematic cell phone use is genuinely an addiction or the result of an impulse control issue. (We have to remember that it’s normal for teens to have challenges with impulse control, due to their still-developing brains.)

Also, many medical experts continue to be reluctant to assign the word “addiction” to anything other than habitual substance misuse. However, the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the handbook used in the medical community to diagnose mental disorders) has stated that “Internet Gaming Disorder” is a condition warranting more clinical research before it might be considered a  formal disorder” and that general internet use, especially the use of social media apps, is being studied further as it relates to addiction and mental health. And for good reason.

The Journal of Youth and Adolescence recently found that “girls who started using social media at two to three hours a day or more at age 13, and then increased that use over time, had the highest levels of suicide risk in emerging adulthood,” said the study author Sarah Coyne.

Among boys, however, no pattern emerged. One reason why, Coyne’s team theorized, is that both social media and young girls tend to focus on the same thing: relationships. Boys – not so much.

According to experts, there are some significant similarities between cell phone overuse and other behavioral addictions, including:

  • loss of control – when a teen has difficulty controlling time spent on their phone.
  • persistence – even when they try, they can’t seem to stop.
  • tolerance – the more time they spend on their phone, the more drawn they are to spend even more time on their phone.
  • severe negative consequences stemming from the behavior – including missed deadlines or having a car accident due to texting/phone use.
  • withdrawal – feelings of irritability and anxiety when their phone is taken away.
  • relapse – picking up the habit again after periods of avoidance.

What is Happening in Our Teen’s Brains that Makes Them Constantly Want to Check Their Phones?

We all know that teenagers (and adults, too) use their phones for social connection. (The pandemic only made our kids’ desire to connect via their cellphones even more prevalent.)

What we may not realize is that the “rush” our kids get from interacting with a friend on their cell phone or scrolling through the latest TikTok videos or Instagram gives them a hit of dopamine – the “feel-good” chemical in their brains – which makes them want to do it all the more.

And app developers are counting on that behavioral drive to keep our kids constantly checking their phones. Some apps even withhold and release reinforcements such as “likes” and “comments,” so we receive them in an unpredictable pattern. When we can’t predict the pattern, we check our phones more often.

Teens are definitely at the greatest risk for addiction-like behaviors. In fact, studies show that cell phone use peaks during the teen years and then gradually declines. Excessive cell phone use among teenagers is so common that 33 percent of 13-year-olds report never turning off their phone, day or night. And the younger a teen acquires a phone, the more likely they are to develop problematic use patterns. 

If You Think Your Teen May Be Addicted to Their Phone, Ask Yourself These Questions:

Do they reach for their phone the second they are bored?

Do they wake up multiple times a night to check their phone?

Are they anxious or mad when they can’t access their phone?

Has intently focusing on their phone caused them to have any kind of accident or injury?

When they try to self-limit phone time, do they relapse back into old habits quickly?

Are you overly concerned about the amount of time they are on their phone every day?

Steps You Can Take to Help Your Teen Break Free from Their Phone

Talk to Your Teen About the “Why”

Maybe they’re constantly checking their phone because of friend drama or worries about online bullying. Or perhaps it has become their way to escape from the world. Make a point to have a mental health check-in with them once every once in a while when you’re both phone-free and relaxed. If they can express what’s truly bothering them or what’s prompting them to incessantly check their phone, it may help bring their actions to a more conscious level which can reduce their need to compulsively text, post, or swipe.

Stop Distracting Push Notifications

Have them change settings on their phone to stop push notifications and alerts, so they aren’t constantly bombarded and distracted. Encourage them to eliminate some apps from their phone that are the main culprits. 

Establish Limits

Set limits regarding when and where your teen can use their cellphone in the house. Keep them out of bedrooms at night and establish a family phone charging station someplace like the kitchen so sleep isn’t disrupted. Consider putting parental controls in place if the situation warrants it. 

Model Good Phone Habits

Be sure you never check your phone while driving or during family mealtimes. We can’t expect our kids to adopt healthy phone habits if we’re not setting a good example.  

Replace the Habit with Other Activities or Interests

Help your teen develop hobbies that feed their soul. Replace some of their gaming and social media time with activities like art or music, volunteering in your community, hiking, running, or new interests like yoga or meditation. 

If your teen’s phone use seems especially problematic and is contributing to excessive anxiety or depression, you might want to consider cognitive behavioral therapy or a digital detox program. Both can be very effective to help your teen reclaim a sense of control over their phone and their life.


Sarah Coyne, PhD, professor and associate director, school of family life, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; Alecia Vogel-Hammen, MD, PhD, clinical instructor and research fellow, department of psychiatry, division of child and adolescent psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis; Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Feb. 2, 2021

About Marybeth Bock:

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


If you enjoyed, “Is Your Teen Addicted to Their Phone? Here’s How to Tell,” you may also enjoy reading:

Is Your Teen a Night Owl? Why it’s Wreaking Havok in Their Life and How to Help Them Get More ZZZs

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1 comment

Donovan July 25, 2022 - 4:19 pm

This is why my 3 kids (11,12 & 14) don’t have phones and they hate me for it. Every single one of their friends have phones. I’m the only one resisting and it sucks, but I’m not giving in.


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