The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. And that’s exactly what US teens are doing in a new poll on smartphone use, with more than half of those surveyed saying they feel “addicted” to their mobile devices.
The poll, conducted by nonprofit group Common Sense Media and published Tuesday, surveyed more than 1,200 teens and their parents in the hope of highlighting the impact media and technology can have on parent-child relationships. In the survey, 50 percent of teens and 59 percent of their parents agreed the teens were hooked on their phones.
Younger children fare little better. Kids between ages 8 and 12 reported spending nearly six hours a day plugged in, while those 13 to 18 clocked in at nine hours a day, according to Common Sense.
Parents didn’t escape criticism, either. Twenty-eight percent of teens faulted parents for checking their phones too often, and 27 percent of parents also acknowledged their own addictive use of mobile devices. Alarmingly, the majority of parents copped to checking their devices while behind the wheel. More than half of the teens said they’d seen their parents do so.
Despite both groups claiming an awareness of excessive mobile device usage, conflict over the devices continues to plague many households. About a third of those polled noted daily arguments over screen time. Ironically, the survey points to many of those arguments arising from a breakdown in communication; 77 percent of parents said their teens seemed distracted by devices even during family time, and 41 percent of teens knocked their parents for similar preoccupation.
“What we’ve discovered is that kids and parents feel addicted to their mobile devices,” said Common Sense CEO James Steyer in a statement. “It is causing daily conflict in homes, and . . . families are concerned about the consequences.”
In a separate review, Common Sense concluded that multitasking with mobile devices impairs individuals’ learning abilities, including their capacity for memorization and effective work habits. In addition, such habits get in the way of face-to-face conversation, particularly handicapping children’s ability to develop empathy.
Steyer added that he hopes the new poll will help equip parents with the necessary information to make responsible decisions about phone use.
Ellen Wartella, director of Northwestern University’s Center on Media and Human Development, said in a statement that the results of the poll should worry parents, but she praised the survey for raising important issues.
“It is a good thing that parents and educators are focused on kids’ social and emotional learning and asking the right questions — many of which we don’t know the answers to yet,” she said. “We need to devote more time and research to understanding the impact of media use on our kids and then adjust our behavior accordingly.”
Isaac Feldberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org