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Teens aren’t giving up cell phones, but there may be benefits if they do

Would it do us all some good to take a cell phone break?

People who have gone without for a time describe having more interactions with friends and family, better relationships with their partners and even a feeling of contentment. Switching off the phone for just an hour, according to a March 2022 report in Psychology Today, could also result in better sleep and less anxiety and stress.  

But it isn’t easy to give them up.

“Over the years, phones have become a reflection of our lives, devices that symbolize our identity, which is why they are so hard to put down,” Jolanta Burke, PhD. noted on the website.

For teenagers, the phone is almost a lifeline, even as regular usage crams their already busy lives, according to a 2023 survey by commonsensemedia.org. On a typical day, teens get more than 200 notifications daily, a quarter of them during the school day, says the report. Policies on phones in school vary, but survey participants reported using their phones at least once – for a median time of 43 minutes – while they were supposed to be learning. 

A Pew Research Center survey of 1,453 U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 and their parents released this month found that most teens cop to spending too much time on their phone or on social media. That survey – conducted between September and October of last year – showed that 95% of teens have access to a smartphone and about six in 10 use TikTok, Snapchat or Instagram.

The teens in the survey say they spend 51% of their time on their phones and 64% on social media. And about four in 10 parents regularly argue with their kids about what constitutes too much phone time.

So what happens if teens take a break from the technology? The Pew study showed that isn’t happening on a national scale: Only four in 10 teens say they’ve cut back on their social media and phone use. But of those who do, 72% reported often – or at least sometimes – feeling peaceful without it. 

Other findings from the survey show that only about half of parents (47%) limit the amount of time their teen can use a cell phone and nearly two-thirds (64%) look through their offspring’s phone.

Despite the survey results and national efforts by legislators and advocates to curb teen smartphone use, kids are not hanging up, according to the Associated Press. In fact, many of them say smartphones make it easier to be creative and pursue hobbies, and nearly half claim it helps them do well academically. 

In general, they believe the benefits of having a phone outweigh the negative effects. But to know that some kids might find benefits in taking down time from the technology could be the starting point for a national conversation. Because if nothing else, teens are showing their phones are a must. 

“(Today’s) kids have had cell phones their whole lives,” noted Shawn Whiting, a clinical supervisor at Sanford Health, a rural health system in the U.S. “This is the technology that has been present – and they don’t know anything else.”

To read more of the Pew Research Center report, visit Screen time: US teens’ and parents’ experiences, approaches | Pew Research Center

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