Parents aren’t the only ones worried about how much time teens spend on their phones, a new Pew report suggests. Teens aren’t crazy about it either: More than half (54%) think they spend too much time on their smartphones. Girls also tend to think they spend too much time on social media while boys are more likely to think they spend too much time playing video games.
The report drew its results from two surveys in March — one of almost 750 adolescents 13 to 17 years old and one of more than 1,000 parents. The results indicate that some less-than-optimal behaviors are developing around smartphones, which 95% of teens now use. Almost 45% of teens say they often checked their phones for notifications and messages as soon as they wake up. More than 30% of teens say they sometimes lose focus in class because they’re distracted by their phones. And almost half of girls (49%) that age report feeling anxious if they don’t have their phones with them.
But it also revealed a modicum of self-awareness about the perils of too much screen time. A full 17% of teens say they feel happy and relieved when they don’t have their phones with them. More than half (52%) say they have taken steps to ease up on mobile phone use, and even more have attempted to limit their use of social media (57%) and video games (58%). Almost two thirds of parents worry about their kids’ screen time, and more than half have put limits in place.
That’s encouraging, says Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in a Digital World (who was not involved with the study). She says that looking at the effect of media on your life is more important than measuring the quantity. For teens who in a prior era would have spent hours talking on the landline, a lot of time on social media may not be much of a difference. “But if getting on social media or playing lots of video games is having an effect on your mental health, sleep or your relationships, you should think about making some changes,” she says.
While it’s too soon to tell what the effects of carrying around such a highly powered and effective communication-information-entertainment device will have on young minds, not everybody has Heitner’s optimistic outlook. Even some of those who participated in the creation and refinement of smartphones and the apps and websites that feed them have begun to have second thoughts.
However, while the study found that 72% of parents sometimes find it hard to get their kids’ attention away from their screens, more than half of teens say it’s the parents who can be hard to talk to when they are on their phones. And more parents than teens feel obligated to respond to any messages that come in on their phones immediately. Parents are also more likely to be distracted by phones than kids are during the working day.
Heitner suggests that families have a discussion about how to be less distracted in a constructive, non-accusatory way. “Look at the problem of distraction together,” she says. “The most important thing is that nobody feels guilty or defensive.” And if changes are called for, don’t try to be radical, like throwing out everybody’s phones. Perhaps start by plugging in the phone away from the bed. “Just change one small habit,” says Heitner. “All the research suggests that’s the most effective way.”