Not so many years ago, Cellular phones were a luxury. They were large, costly (the first cell phone sold for just under $4000 in 1983), and something typically reserved for business people, celebrities, or those with significant disposable income. Keep in mind that $4000 40 years ago equates to a little over $10,000 today. Flash forward to 2020, in the singular service provider from 1983 has multiplied into just under a dozen cellular service providers, dozens of cellular phone options and alternatives on the market, and a multitude of cell phone plans in packages designed to appeal to everybody from adolescents and teens, to senior citizens and retirees.
Due to the ease of access today, it is not uncommon to look around at a restaurant or even when walking down the street and see pretty much everyone (including those not much older than age 5 ) wandering around with a cell phone in their hand. Cellular technology has infiltrated restaurants, the corner store, school hallways, and even the local library at a staggering rate. Cellular technology has made interactions with friends and family easier; however, it has opened up the world to near-instantaneous news coverage and removed the need for physical interaction among people.
Today’s adolescents and teens have a challenging and complex relationship with cellular technology and many other forms of tech. At school, students of all ages are expected to use technology both within the classroom and at home as a means of completing, researching, and submitting homework assignments. Handheld devices are also used as a quick and straightforward way to manage their social lives in their presence on social media platforms. Older students, including college students and teens, tend to lean towards cellular technology to help manage schedules, appointments, and assignment due dates over the use of a traditional paper calendar. Some teens turned to cellular technology to keep up with family, friends, and loved ones but also as a way to interact socially and reduce stress. Given the important role that technology seems to play in teens’ lives, it is not unreasonable to note that the rate of cell phone addiction has grown exponentially in the last decade.
Is Cell Phone Addiction A “Real” Diagnosis?
If you look at the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM-IV), you will not find cell phone addiction as an official diagnosis. However, it is natural for parents to wonder if their teen’s attachment to their cell phone qualifies as an addictive behavior for which therapy such as that provided at Beachside might be beneficial. While there is no official diagnosis at this time, research has shown there are a few common teen personality traits commonly associated with Internet or technology addictions. Both of these addictions, which have an official diagnosis, are closely linked to a smartphone or cellular phone addiction. You can look for some common traits, including reduced self-esteem, altered dependence on reward (this happens when 18 becomes dependent on rewards associated with technological devices instead of natural rewards such as hobbies or enjoyable activities), and increased fear, worry, or shyness. Of course, some of these traits are natural in teens, but it is important to note if their presence is new or increasing.
Teen Cell Phone Addiction Data
As a parent, you may be wondering if your concerns about your teen’s cellphone use are merely paranoia. A 2016 survey conducted by Common Sense Media showed that parents might indeed have a good reason to worry about their kids. The survey results showed that over 50% of teens “feel addicted” to mobile devices, and nearly 60% of parents reported they believed their kids were addicted to their devices. The same survey conducted in 2015 indicated an overwhelming 72% of teens felt compelled to respond to social media messages, emails, texts, and other notifications immediately, and an overwhelming 78% of teens check their devices at least once per hour. The same report also showed that more than 95% of teens have a smartphone! Because many teens use their cell phone for several reasons, both personal and academic, it may be more useful as a parent to monitor less on counting the time they spend online and focus more on how the device is being used when considering whether or not your teen has a cell phone addiction that may require treatment at a facility such as Beachside.
Recognizing Cell Phone Addiction in Your Teen
Because cell phone or smartphone addiction does not have official diagnostic criteria in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the medical and mental health communities have recommended following the diagnostic criteria for substance abuse and compulsive gambling as a starting point. Again, problematic use of cellular devices can be evaluated as a behavioral disorder similar to problem gambling or addiction. Therefore, treatment criteria can be developed for use at a teen treatment center.
Suppose one uses problematic gambling, substance abuse, or other behavioral disorders as a diagnostic guideline. In that case, there are specific potential symptoms they would want to look for in a teen who may have a cellular phone addiction. The most significant challenge for using these diagnostic criteria is that they are present in various addictive and behavioral disorders. Therefore, pinpointing cellular phone addiction as the root cause may be problematic. However, examples include your teen’s use of their cell phone becoming excessive to the point that it causes conflict within the family, difficulties in school or with emotional and cognitive functioning, and withdrawal from family and friends. Other things you may notice is that your teen may start exhibiting classic symptoms of addiction, which can include continued use of their phone despite known harmful effects, changes in sleep patterns, irritability when they cannot use or access their phone, increased anxiety if their technology is taken away, or an increase in phone use to achieve satisfaction (reward) instead of turning to a healthy coping mechanism such as time with friends or family.
Therapy Options for Cellular Phone Addiction
There are several circumstances in which cellular technology can be beneficial for teens, including enhanced connection with peers, assistance with academic needs, and calendars or apps to remain organized and on task. However, several studies show cellular phone addiction can have detrimental effects on your teen’s mental and physical health as well. Therefore, if you are concerned about your teen’s cell phone use, seeking treatment for their addictive behavior may help to improve their overall mental and physical well-being. In addition to “at home” treatments and changes such education (about healthy cellular phone use), establishing use limits and screen-free time, and ensuring cellular phones and other technology are not taken to bed at night; there are also more intensive treatment options you may consider if such changes do not work.
Although cellular phone addiction is a relatively new concept, long-standing treatment models used in treating other behavioral and addictive disorders have shown success at various teen treatment centers. One such treatment is outdoor therapy.
What Is Outdoor Therapy?
Outdoor therapy programs (also called Adventure therapy or Wilderness therapy) are unique alternative therapy programs that promote using the healing power of the outdoors as a part of recovery. Outdoor therapy combines nature, exercises, and community with traditional evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive-behavioral therapies) and recreational activities. Outdoor therapy helps teens overcome behavioral disorders, addictive disorders, and other mental health conditions through recreational activities and wildness activities. Outdoor therapy is often conducted in group or family settings, which helps teens break away from their cellular phones and the isolation it sometimes causes to learn how to communicate better, and function in social environments without the assistance of cellular phones or technology.
In addition to outdoor therapy, teens at Beachside seeking treatment for cellular phone addiction will participate in other types of traditional treatment programs such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and individual process therapies. Although there is a limited body of research addressing how these treatment models impact cellular phone addiction specifically, decades of studies prove how evidence-based treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy are highly successful when used in the treatment of addiction and other behavioral disorders. Given the similarity of symptoms for cellular phone addiction and other addictive behaviors, it is believed that a similar treatment program (based on similar treatment models) could help your teen identify and alter the adverse behaviors feeding their addiction.
When parents are glued to their phones or other technological devices, teens are bound to learn or at least believe that it’s appropriate behavior. If you are concerned about your teen’s use of cell phones and wondering if their behavior is indeed a cell phone addiction, it is important to take a moment and look at the rules you have laid down for your family members concerning cellular phones. It is essential for you as a parent to model and adhere to those boundaries as well to help your teen overcome their addiction. This becomes increasingly important after your teen returns home from treatment and looks to family and friends as role models or as support systems for appropriate behavior.
If you are concerned that your teen’s cell phone use is indeed an addiction, and it is beginning to adversely affect their daily functioning or their relationships with family and friends, it may be time to consider seeking treatment for addiction at a teen treatment center like Beachside. While cell phone addiction remains a relatively “new” diagnoses, there are still many treatment options available to help your teen address and defeat what could be a behavior detrimental to their mental and physical health. If you are concerned about your teen’s cellular phone use, reach out to Beachside today. Let us help your teen and family overcome addictive behavior.