Study shows teens can police their own smartphone use

Study shows teens can police their own smartphone use

A new Pew study published this week suggests teenagers are more aware of the drawbacks of smartphones than you might think — and quite a few of them are actively taking steps to police their own usage.

If you’re the parent of a teenager, you’re the parent of someone who’s had smartphones and internet-connected devices available for probably their entire conscious lives. It seems like my generation and the one after it are perpetually focused on the bright allure of their pocket screens, to the detriment of in-person experiences and social skills. A previous Pew study from earlier this year said 95 percent of teenagers have access to a smartphone, and 45 percent report being online almost constantly.

But the Pew study suggests teenagers are perfectly aware that their usage is extreme. When asked, 54 percent of the teenage respondents said they spent too much time on their cellphones, with 41 percent saying the same of social media. Furthermore, 52 and 57 percent said they’ve voluntarily cut back on their time spent on each, respectively.

There’s plenty to be worried about when it comes to near constant internet use among teens. For starters, research and surveys show social media — Snapchat and Instagram in particular — can have a terrible effect on their self-esteem. They’re regularly targeted as a prime audience by those same social media companies, who serve them into that risky, pressure-filled environment on a plate. Teens who consume digital media frequently display increased symptoms of ADHD, and even those who don’t are sometimes struck by the desire to reform their faces into the impossible proportions of an AR filter.

And it’s not easy to disentangle yourself from that world, either. When asked, the teens told Pew they feel “anxious,” “lonely,” and “upset” when they didn’t have their cell phones, with girls being consistently more likely to feel that way than guys.

But Pew’s research indicates that teens are probably just as worried about it as their parents are, and that they aren’t the only ones who have a problem. While 72 percent of parents said their teens were at least sometimes too distracted from in-person discussion by their cell phones, 51 percent of teens said the same thing about their parents.

How Teens and Parents Navigate Screen Time and Device Distractions on Pew Research Center

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