Internet Addiction: Reasons to Wait to Give Teens a Smartphone

With recent studies estimating nearly 40% of 12-17 year olds have smartphones and that they are using the internet via smartphones more than home computers, it begs the question: Should kids be given their own phones?

Re-thinking the Usual Reasons

Kids need phones for safety.

  • Safety and quick communication are important. But with the internet at their fingers tips at any time of day, how safe are they? Unless parental controls are in place on a device, how do you truly know what your children are seeing or who they are talking to? Older generations were just fine before cell phones. And should communication be necessary, odds are kids can borrow a phone from a friend or adult. Another benefit of holding off on giving children a phone: Parents will need to be more aware of kids’ whereabouts, activities, etc., and who they are with.

They’re just using Facebook.

  • Social media isn’t as innocuous as it seems. Adolescents feel pressure to fit in, so they may post things to try to keep up appearances, but ultimately they do not fully understand the long-term repercussions of posting certain pictures, status updates, and tweets. Let’s not forget that social media is the platform that created cyberbullying.

Everyone else has a cell phone.

  • Speaking of fitting in, not having a cellphone may make them seem socially excluded. But in absence of cell phones, kids would need to communicate like past generations used to – by talking in person or making an actual phone call versus texting or “IM-ing” (instant messaging). That is a good thing.

Having a cell phone keeps them in touch with friends.

  • Childhood is a formative time for many reasons. For one, kids and teens are learning how to socialize. But in the age of smartphones with text and messaging capabilities, people – not just children – are having fewer and fewer face-to-face interactions, thus creating more superficial relationships, and a dearth of true, good communication skills.

Just as with cars and other adult responsibilities, smartphones deserve extra consideration. Cell and smartphones need to be thought of more as tools rather than toys, especially when they have internet access. Content that isn’t suitable for children and teens is a click away.

What Age Is Appropriate?

Of course, each case is different. Maturity level and sense of responsibility vary from child to child. It’s up to the parents to decide after considering all the pros and cons. However, not to be overlooked is the fact that the brain continues to grow well in a person’s 20s, and new research shows that the internet and other forms of technology actually rewire how our brains work even after only a few hours of use. If adults are susceptible to these changes and issues of technology, then surely adolescents and teens are, too. Ultimately, it may be a good idea to hold off giving younger children and adolescents smartphones as long as possible.

If an adolescent has begun showing signs that all this technology is affecting his daily life, then a source of help such as outdoor therapy may be a good consideration.

Internet Addiction in Today’s Adolescents  

Troubled adolescents are more likely to have an internet addiction as the internet becomes a source of distraction, escape, or pleasure. As the addiction progresses, a troubled adolescent shows signs of withdrawing from friends and family, waning interest in other hobbies he once enjoyed, increasing physical side effects such as headaches or pains, etc.

Outdoor therapy like that at Pacific Quest gets troubled adolescents away from the technologies that are causing them problems. Outdoor therapy includes organic gardening and horticulture to get trouble adolescents to relax but also give them a sense of self-accomplishment and purpose. Individual and group therapies help troubled adolescents understand the roots of their struggles as internet addiction is more than just excessive internet use. Troubled adolescents that go through the Pacific Quest outdoor therapy program learn to be a kid again while learning life skills to help them deal with challenges and situation in the future.

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