Three Reasons Why Teens Should Take a Break From Their Digital Devices

teenage friends with smartphones outdoors

When parents say they fear their teen is addicted to their smartphone, they may be right. According to Common Sense Media, teens spend an average of nine hours a day online. Considering the average teen needs eight to ten hours of sleep per night and spends about seven weekday hours at school, the amount of time they spend interacting with content on their smartphone is staggering. We set out to determine how adolescents are really using their smartphones and whether the effects could be detrimental to their health and intellect—and the results will surprise you. As teachers, these findings may help you determine if you’d like to establish a “no phone policy” in your classroom.

How Teens are Using their Smartphones

According to Digital Marketing Community, among 13-to 17-year-olds:

  • 71% spend 3 or more hours using their smartphone to watch online videos.
  • 52% spend 3 or more hours using messaging apps on their smartphone.
  • 51% spend 3 or more hours using social messaging apps on their smartphone.
  • 42% spend 3 or more hours playing video games on their smartphone.

If teens are spending excessive amounts of time chatting, watching videos, and playing games, how are they not spending their time? They are not reading books for pleasure, playing outside, or exploring the world.

Are Smartphones Making Teens Less Smart?

According to Psychology Today, the mere presence of a smartphone may negatively impact brain power. Based on a report from The University of Texas at Austin, cognitive capacity and overall brain power are significantly reduced when a smartphone is within glancing distance—even if it’s turned off and face down. In addition, Smartphones may also have the following adverse effects on teen emotional, intellectual, and physical development:

  1. Smartphone Use May Result in Fewer Hours of Sleep. Teens don’t only place their cell next to their bed so they can use it as an alarm clock. The pressure to be connected continuously can result in sleep loss and cause late nights chatting and engaging in shared content. It can also cause disrupted sleep when teens choose to respond to texts and alerts in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation can result in sluggish mental aptitudes and decreased focus during the school day.
  2. Damaged Neurological Health. Researchers from Korea University in Seoul, South Korea set out to determine if excessive smartphone use among teens whose brains are still developing could damage neurological health. What they found was that addiction to one’s smartphone (yes, the addiction is real, and it’s called nomophobia) could create a chemical imbalance in the brain that has been linked to depression and anxiety.
  3. Decreased Focus. Researchers from Korea University also used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to study a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that impacts motor control, vision and regulates brain function, as well as glutamate-glutamine (Glx), a neurotransmitter that causes the brain’s nerve cells to become excited. They found smartphone addiction negatively impacted brain function in teens, resulting in reduced attention and less ability to focus.

Additional research related to other smartphone use complications, such as the risk of cyberbullying and texting while driving, have led some parents and educators to question whether U.S. schools should follow in the footsteps of French schools and ban cell phones on school grounds entirely. Whether such steps are ever taken, teachers can help their students regain a solid footing in the real world by inspiring them to extend their learning beyond the classroom. They can also encourage students to keep their phones in their bags in between periods, in the lunchroom, and before and after class. Such encouragement may give students time and space to socialize IRL (that’s cyber-speak for “in real life”). By taking even a momentary pause from their smartphones, teens may just realize that there is a whole world around them that they can explore—no charging cable or headphones required.

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