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Cell Phone Addiction

Teens, children and young adults today have grown up in an age where mobile phones, iPads and other forms of personal media tech is fairly ubiquitous. The thing that is most concerning with this trend is that many of them are admittedly addicted to their devices. However, whether or not they recognize their dependence, it is a troubling trend that leads to more than just wasted time.

Cell phone and media addiction is currently an epidemic in America. Even more troubling, recent studies show constant cell phone use has a negative impact on long-term brain development and is responsible for a prevalence of symptoms that include self-harm, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Cell Phones: Pornography is Just a Click Away

Cell phone addiction is officially classified as a behavioral disorder. When a young person’s mobile device usage crosses the line into addiction, it prevents them from participating in real-life activities and will eventually begin to impact other areas of their lives, including school, friends, family, and other responsibilities.

Even more concerning is what having a cell phone gives access to; virtually anybody of any age has the ability to access psychologically damaging content, such as pornography. The harm that can befall a child who is exposed to pornography is more than just anecdotal.

In young people addicted to media, and especially pornography, studies show substantially decreased gray matter in the brain. This results in a reduced ability of the individual to experience pleasure from normal, everyday activities, as there are fewer neurons and lower neuro-connectivity in those parts of the brain that feel pleasure. As time goes by, the teen may seek out increasingly deviant images to satisfy their craving. If this escalation continues, it may result in the teen putting themselves in harm’s way, or could potentially lead them to hurt another.

The Same study cited above showed that adolescent boys who consumed pornography on a daily basis showed great interest in deviant sexual behavior, and stated the wish to act out what they were seeing in real life. Were these fantasies to be acted upon, there is the potential for great harm to be inflicted, both on themselves and others.

Sexual content in media is nothing new. However, with the rise of the internet and more recently, streaming technology, it is more accessible than it has ever been in the past. While previous generations had to access pornography through adult-only venues such as book stores, theaters, and the like, even the most hard-core images are literally just a click away. In addition, much of it is free, making it even easier for anybody who is so inclined to “stumble upon” images that would cause great harm to an impressionable teen.

And what if the images upset them, as so often is the case? In this scenario, the risk exists that simply viewing these images will lead to extreme anxiety and depression that impacts all other facets of their lives.

Treating Media and Cell Phone Addiction at Its Source

While we know that pornography addiction in adults leads to decreased satisfaction and an inability to perform sexually in their real-world relationships, for a teen, it can have a devastating effect on their normal development, physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Once a pornography addiction takes hold, it is much more difficult to address. It is a much more effective strategy to focus on treating the cell phone and media addiction itself, which is often a precursor to more dangerous and harmful online media.

Teens and young adults today consume more media than ever before, and so has spawned a new generation of media addicts. On average, an American teenager spends about seven hours a day on their devices, watching videos, playing games, texting, or engaging in social media activities. The unfortunate reality is that it is getting increasingly more difficult for parents and teachers to manage this behavior because cell phones themselves are everywhere. Children have access to them and often have their very own, starting from a very early age.

Like an addiction to drugs or alcohol, cell phone addiction can be very difficult to stop. It is obsessive, it is compulsive, much the same as a physical drug addiction, and can progress to the point where it is affecting the teen’s ability to function in their day-to-day life. Obsessive use of cell phones can quickly get in the way of a teen’s natural development, as it impairs their ability to live in the real world.

Statistically, more than half of today’s teens recognize that they are addicted to their phones, but they also can’t imagine being parted from it. Interestingly enough, and even amid the current opioid and synthetic drug crisis, teenage drug and alcohol use are on the decline. Some experts surmise that the stimulation young people receive via their cell phones could be the new epidemic, replacing substances as their “drug of choice”. Even though it’s not a drug, the results can be just as deadly.

Teens who are addicted to their phones tend to engage in obsessive behavior on social media; that is to say, they are not communicating directly with each other, they are more focused on what others are posting, on commenting on others’ activities, or posting items that will get them more followers or likes. The attention becomes addictive. Non-attention is unbearable. It can quickly become malicious and can lead to psychologically damaging or even life-threatening situations.

Symptoms of cell phone addiction can include:

  • Anxiety or inability to pay attention when the cell phone is taken away. Outward manifestations can include nausea, sweating, headaches and shaking.
  • Weight loss: eating becomes secondary to being on their phone at all times.
  • Weight gain: with a greater propensity toward eating junk food, weight gain, and poor nutrition are possible.
  • Interrupted sleep patterns: insomnia, sleeplessness, forcing themselves to be awake so as not to “miss” anything. 62% of teens say that they use their cell phone after bedtime, and it’s not unusual for them to stay up all night so that they don’t “miss anything”. Keeping text alerts or other notifications on wakes them up, preventing them from sleeping through the night.
  • Anxiety and worry: this can be connected to what’s happening on social media or with regard to what they think they are missing out on. If a child is the target of others’ negative social media attention, this can lead to fearfulness and withdrawal from life.
  • Isolating: withdrawing from friends, family, and normal social activity can lead to depression and generalized anxiety.
  • Aggression and anger: with regard to the use of their phone, especially when they are denied access for any reason.

Taking the Phone Away is Not the Answer

While you may think that taking the phone away would solve the problem, it is more likely that it will have the opposite effect, exacerbating the anxiety, and driving the teen to desperate measures in order to re-connect. Being separated from their phone may feel to them like it’s the absolute end of the world.

A teen who is addicted to their cell phone will always find ways to get their fix. They may purchase new or used phones, reactivate old phones, or use their friends’ phones. They may maintain multiple social media accounts and block parents or authority figures so that their activities can’t be traced. Rest assured, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Constant Connection Fuels Anxiety

You may have tried myriad tactics to pry the cell phone out of your teen’s hands, but the reality of it is, you may not be able to police their behavior completely, and certainly not 24 hours a day.

Constant connection fosters anxiety, fueling the need for them to compare themselves to others in an unhealthy manner. If they are always judging their lives against what their peers, or even celebrities, are getting up to, they will never be satisfied with their own lives and may turn to extreme behavior in order to prove something, either to themselves or to others.

This can lead to dangerous acting-out behavior, such as we have seen much of in recent years. Performing dangerous stunts and filming or live-streaming themselves, sharing nude photos, or posting damaging and hurtful images of their peers are just a few of the activities that can and do occur.

Danger Lurks in Dark Corners of The Internet

Cell phone addiction can open portals to very dark behavior, such as sexting, and can even lead to sexual or emotional blackmail, based on activities conducted online without any thought to the potential consequences. Shaming and bullying are just some of the results that can ensue, but there are worse examples. At its most extreme, this has resulted in suicide or even homicide. At the very least, it can ruin what should be the most exciting and carefree time in a child’s life.

The internet can also be a smokescreen for malicious intent, and kids who are addicted to being so connected are the most vulnerable of all. Online predators have been known to groom and lure unsuspecting young people into a world that can only be described as hellish, and the fact of the matter is, it often happens when their parents are under the same roof, sometimes sitting in the next room.

There is hope, however. By treating cell phone addiction for what it is – a behavioral disorder – it is possible to reverse the damage and prevent permanent damage, both to the brain and to the psyche.

Peaks Recovery Centers in Colorado Springs, Colorado

When extreme responses don’t work, a long-term treatment program may be necessary in order to re-program the young brain to enjoy living life again. Little by little, it is possible to regain a sense of normalcy, and for the teen to find joy in activities that require real social interaction – unenhanced by the internet. If your child is addicted to their cell phone, or if you suspect they may be accessing pornography or other harmful media online, call Peaks Recovery Center today. Our age-specific, gender-specific programs have helped many a young adult recover from drug, alcohol, behavioral and dual-diagnosis dependencies, and we’d love to talk to you more about how we can help.