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Screen Addiction Disorder: How is it Affecting Teens

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

What is an Addiction to Screens?

Screen addiction is a prominent issue among all age groups, but it’s particularly concerning in teens. So, what is an addiction to screens?

Screen addiction disorder is characterized by excessive and compulsive use of digital devices, such as a phone, tablet, or laptop. Screen addiction can affect a teen’s relationships, their confidence, and their ability to manage responsibilities like school and work. Fortunately, there are several teenage treatment options geared specifically towards screen addiction. 

Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Screen Addiction

When seeking help for teens with screen addiction, it’s essential to understand the severity of the addiction. Screen addiction symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways and can vary in its severity and negative impact on a teen’s life.

The main symptoms of teenage screen time addiction are disconnecting from relationships, avoiding responsibilities, and physical ailments like eye strain. 

Disconnecting from Relationships

One of the key symptoms of screen addiction disorder is disconnecting from relationships. If you suspect that your teen is dealing with screen addiction, look for the following indicative behavior patterns:

  • Avoiding time with friends and family in favor of time on social media, playing video games, or other online activities
  • A lack of interest in school, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and any other aspects of life outside of screen time
  • Spending the overwhelming majority of their time at home in a private space (their bedroom, for example)

Avoiding Responsibilities

Another telltale sign of screen addiction in teens is avoiding responsibilities. These can include work, chores, attending school, homework, and participation in extracurricular activities. You can identify this symptom based on the following behaviors:

  • Finding excuses to skip school (pretending to be sick, for example)
  • Routinely showing up late to school or work
  • Declining grades 
  • Neglecting responsibilities at home (chores, eating meals with the family, etc.)

Eye Strain and Other Physical Ailments

In many cases, screen addiction can manifest physically as well. Neck pain, eye strain, and general physical fatigue can all be indicators that your teen is experiencing screen addiction. 

Main Causes of Screen Addiction in Teens

Screen addiction is on the rise among teenagers. This increase in the prevalence of screen addiction is largely due to the following factors:

Social Media Addiction

Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram are profoundly integrated into the lives of tens of millions of teens. Teenagers use these apps to connect with each other, gain affirmation from each other, find entertainment, and get a point of reference for how they “should” dress, talk, and live. 

The influence of social media on the lives of teens can’t be underestimated. These apps offer teens a sense of gratification and even promote the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine in the brain, making them intensely addictive. However, use of social media has also been correlated with increased anxiety, depression, and insecurity in teens.

For many teens with screen addiction, improving mental health starts with monitoring usage of the most addictive apps — and, sometimes, disconnecting from them completely. 

Technology Addiction

Generation Z grew up surrounded by technology. Many Gen-Z teens have been entertained and placated by digital devices since they were toddlers. Because Gen-Z teenagers have been saturated in technology for nearly their entire lives, many can’t imagine life without it.

As a result, many teenagers develop an unhealthy sense of dependency on their devices. This dependency can lead to anxiety, compulsive use of phones, tablets, and laptops, and intense feelings of boredom — or even depression — when screen time isn’t an option.

Lack of Real-World Hobbies and Socialization

Technology has a lot to offer to the teens of today — infinite entertainment, instant gratification, and a sense of connection with their peers. However, all of these potential benefits come at a major cost, though; they take a teen’s time away from real-world hobbies and relationships.

When so much time is spent on a screen, it becomes difficult for teens to live offline and make meaningful connections with others. After countless hours spent online, screen-free hobbies become dull and uninteresting, leaving teens reaching for their phones again.

Negative Effects of Screen Addiction

Screen addiction can cause a variety of serious problems for teens, including:

  • Inconsistent sleep patterns
  • Neglecting academic pursuits
  • Being a gateway to substance abuse

Inconsistent Sleep Patterns

Social media, watching hours of YouTube and TikTok videos, and marathon video game sessions can quickly take a teen’s healthy eight hours of sleep away. The result of this sleep deprivation is often depression and lethargy.

Neglecting Academic Pursuits

With the extremely addictive appeal of screens, many teens find it hard to focus on their schoolwork. Falling grades are often a sign that a teen is dealing with a serious screen addiction. 

Gateway to Substance Abuse

An addiction to screens can often lead teens to other addictive behaviors, such as heavy smoking or drinking. The potential for screen addiction to be a gateway makes this issue an even bigger concern for parents.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can Screen Addiction Disorder Be Treated?

Teen therapy for screen addiction disorder often includes extensive counseling and intentionally disconnecting and detoxing from tech. In addition, aftercare for teens is often recommended to help a teen increase their freedom from screen addiction after treatment.

How Common Is Screen Addiction in Teens?

Screen addiction is extremely common, and its prevalence is only increasing. Recent research shows that over half of teens feel addicted to their phones.

What Is the Best Way for Teens to Find Balance in Their Screen Time?

The best way for teens to find balance in their screen time is through learning to live without their technological triggers for a time. Once a teen establishes independence and freedom from screen addiction, they can slowly and carefully reintroduce social media, gaming, and other digital activities into life — but never to the same extent. 

Are There Any Tools You Can Use to Monitor Screen Time?

Monitoring and setting limits for your teen’s screen time is essential during and after treatment for screen addiction. The free Screen Time feature on Apple devices can be incredibly useful here, as can third-party programs like Disney Circle and Bark.

Are There Any Types of Teens That Are at Higher Risk for Screen Addiction?

Every teen runs the risk of developing screen addiction. However, teenagers who exhibit lower impulse control and are more prone to anxiety and depression may struggle more intensely with addiction and have more immediately obvious symptoms. 

How Does Screen Addiction Impact Teen Mental Health

Screen addiction is an epidemic among teens, but there’s hope and help available to your teenager. The team at Evolve Treatment has the expertise and resources to help your teen break free from screen addiction and live a richer, more meaningful life. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your family achieve freedom from digital addiction.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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