Teenage anxiety is a huge worry in today’s society. Research into teenagers and mobile phones helps us understand why this is an important consideration.
I have two boys, both rapidly approaching the teenage years. Two years ago we entered the world of teenagers and mobile phones, it’s been a rollercoaster. We, as a society are aware of the impact of mobile phone usage on teenage anxiety, and reading into the research confirms those concerns.
We all know that we all spend too much time on our phones, you only have to walk down the street and see people walking along staring at a screen instead of looking where they are going. We seem to need a constant flow of information and interaction into our brains, and yes, phones are addictive.
But what about teenagers? The rise of reported mental health issues in teens, particularly anxiety, depression and self esteem issues can be linked to this almost constant absorption in a screen.
One of the biggest issues with a mobile phone is, in essence the fact that it is mobile. we can take it anywhere and everywhere and therefore we have to self regulate our own behaviour when using them. This takes us needing to recognise that there is a negative impact of being on our phone, all the time.
Ever been in a restaurant or coffee shop where someone has their phone on the table during your meal of coffee? Psychologically that person has not switched off from their phone, and therefore is not paying full attention to your conversation, even if they think they are.
Our brains do not function as well when we try and get it to do too much at once, and this includes being on constant alert for that incoming message or call.
Teenagers don’t have this same level of rational thought as we do, remember they have been immersed in mobile phones since they were young, their peers have them and their brains are in a constant state of development and evolution at this challenging age. If they are constantly being bombarded with messages, and images and information, their mind can become easily overloaded, and overwhelmed.
We are role models for our teenagers (and yes, even in their teens they will still watch our behaviour and consciously or unconsciously incorporate aspects of it into their own). We need to be mindful of when, and how we are using our own phones when we are trying to set boundaries for screen time and phone usage for our teenagers.
Most significantly this relates to night-time phone usage. A study in the Journal of Child Development (link here) indicates that night-time usage of a mobile phone can increase depression and anxiety in teenagers and reduce self-esteem. This is largely because using a phone before bed does not allow the brain to switch down properly for adequate levels of restorative sleep. Also, if teenagers are aware the phone is in their room, they often remain on high alert (without realising it) for that next beep indicating that a message or notification has come through.
The significance with teenagers is that they do need more sleep, their brains are developing and doing huge amounts of recalibiration, and if this is not good quality sleep, they are more like to be at risk from issues such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
So, what can we do?
Simply – pay more attention to how and when you are using your mobile. If you can create good habits and stop using excuses for ‘needing’ your phone at all times (I am the absolute queen of those excuses), then it becomes easier to set those boundaries for our children and especially our teenagers. Even when having a conversation with your teenager (even if this is a rarity), put the phone down and give them your full attention. Often we don’t even realise we still have our phone about our person, but a small action such as this shows your son or daughter that you are really paying attention to what they have to say.
This also relates to having our phones with us at night. Do we need them? Or can we leave it downstairs just like we are asking our children to?
Easier said than done?
I get it, but creating a rule which stops teenagers having their phones upstairs at night is going to have a massive impact on their ability to get to sleep, stay asleep and wake up able to manage the day, and any challenges which come their way.
So many parents come and see me asking what they can do to support teenage anxiety, well this is one of them. There may be reasons why this is difficult, and they may respond by telling you that ‘everyone’ else has their phone and you are the worst parent on the planet, but think of the difference just making a step like this would make on protecting your precious child’s mental health.
Small actions, and steps, can really make a significant difference.
If you would like to contact me about support I can offer both you and your teenager, please click here.