Is Your Teen’s Cell Phone Use Toxic To Their Social Skills?

Recently I read an article on Psychology Today that triggered some thoughts about kids, teens, and cell phones. Being a millennial, I identified with many things I read in this particular article. It also pointed out that kids and teens use their cell phones eight or more hours a day which was mind-blowing. According to PT, “kids are using their cell phones way too much and putting their mental health at terrible risk. National surveys are showing that kids today are more anxious than ever before, with spiking rates of depression and suicide.”

But Why Are Kids and Teens Reaching for their Cell Phones More Than Ever?

Is it because of boredom, addiction, or for social interaction? I’ll be the first to admit that when my cell phone dings, I immediately reach for it. It is a crutch when it comes to a long day of working to space out on social media during my lunch hour. Kids and teens do the exact same thing. When you give a child a cell phone without any restriction, they treat it like candy. Kids love candy so they will eat and eat until they get sick and the same analogy can be said for their cell phones.

Also, addiction can be a scary word. I knew I was addicted when myself and our team experimented and put parental controls on our phones. To read the full experiment, check it out here. I reached the parental control limit before lunch  so unfortunately cell phone addiction is real and alive and not just in our kids and teens.

But it seems our youth seems to be reaching for their cell phones more than ever because it stimulates their pleasure centers and sends waves of excitement throughout their bodies. Getting a cell phone notification whether its a text, DM, like, or comment makes kids and teens feel wanted, needed, liked, and accepted. This has been happening since social media skyrocketed back in the Myspace days. Millennials would race home to check their Myspaces to see their new notifications. Now its even easier because we all carry little computers in our pockets and get instant notifications and instant gratifications.

What’s Happening with their Social Skills?

It also seems that the younger generation is petrified of picking up their phones and calling family and friends. Its as if phone calls are only made when there is an emergency and instead of saying “hello” we say “what’s wrong, who died?” It is easier to send a text and get an instant answer but we see it more than ever with Gen X kids. They need to mentally prepare themselves to call people on the phone especially when its someone they don’t know or if they are asking for help. They will use technology such as email and instant chats before they ever pick the phone and call.

Even full on discussions and even arguments happen via text instead of sitting face-to-face and communicating. “Rage texting” is also another form of fighting over cell phones: inessentially sending vicious texts to one individual over and over again with no resolution. The problem with this is that the recipient isn’t able to retaliate their feelings or their answers go unread. Another problem is that the sender cannot see the recipient’s reaction so they send extremely hurtful texts that they might regret later.

Social skills are also hindered when kids and teens are in public. They tend to bury themselves in their phones instead of interacting with others around them. They could be missing out on normal social cues that help mature them.

What’s the Solution?

There are solutions for the world of social skills in our kids and teens: limit the cell phone use, add in other forms of excitement and pleasure inducing activities, and lead by example.

Limiting the cell phone use will challenge your kids and teens to fill their time with other activities but it can be hard especially if the cell phone was given without any restrictions. Putting on parental controls is an option but there’s ways around the locks so be cautious with that approach. If you believe your child is missing out on life and too plugged in, then take the steps necessary to help them which might include taking away their cell phones or even making them pay for it.


Adding in other forms of pleasure inducing activities is also another route to take. Replace the cell phone use with sports, after school clubs, new hobbies, family nights, game nights, and all without any cell phone use. Let your kids and teens show off their skills and talent through new sports and hobbies. This will also ensure constant human interaction and face-to-face connections for your kids so they don’t lose out on those key social skills.

Challenge yourself to regulate your cell phone use too. Pick a set time for no cell phones like dinner time, family activities, and an hour before bed. If you find it difficult to not check your phone every few minutes or to even put it down once you’re on it, then setting a routine might be the answer. You are leading by example for your kids so lead in the direction that will allow them to excel at life.

What are your comments and concerns about this topic?
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