How Cell Phones Effect Teenagers Mental Health

What is the effect of cell phones on a teenage mental health?

A study from the Journal of Child Development found that cellphones can cause sleep problems in teens, which led to depression, anxiety and behavioral issues.

Phones cause sleep problems because of the blue light they create. This blue light can suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps control your natural sleep cycle.

PexelTeenCellPhoneReality is, the train has left the station, cellphones are here to stay and it is time we start teaching our teens (and ourselves) about time management with technology.

Is your teen:

-Depressed, sad, withdrawn or struggling with anxiety?
-Are their grades dropping?
-Are they refusing to go to school? Skipping classes?
-Are their eating habits changing?
-Are they not sleeping well?
-Low self-worth

Are you familiar with FOMO or doom scrolling? FOMO is an anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media. Doom scrolling is the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news, even though that news is saddening, disheartening, or depressing.

Both of these trends are not considered mental disorders, however can contribute to your teen’s mental health.

The truth is, teens want help. They do not know how to go about getting help and FEAR the anxiety of not having their phone, which takes us back to FOMO and their scrolling.

Factoid: Did you know according to a Screen Education Survey over a quarter of teens said they wished their parents imposed screen limits? Teens want boundaries. Have you created your technology agreement yet?

“Every teenager you talk to will admit that how much they use their phone is a problem, but they don’t want to do anything to fix it,” Brooks (a teenager) said. “It’s just such a strong addiction that people have normalized that they’re going to be like, ‘No, I’m fine.’ The anxiety of not being with your phone is worse than realizing that there’s a problem and that you really need time away from it.”  (read the entire article).

Since the pandemic depression and anxiety has doubled in young people. One in 4 adolescents globally are “experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms, while 1 in 5 youth are experiencing clinically elevated anxiety symptoms.” Although some of the causes were pointed at the social isolation and remote learning during the pandemic, many experts are contributing the extended screen time as part of this major teenage mental health crisis.

How can teens find a balance online?

Teenage Mental Health and Your Cell Phone

By the time students reach high school, where their world will be dominated by social media, it will be much harder to instill healthy screen habits (but not impossible).

First, it is important to understand it is not about removing their devices, but it’s about finding that healthy balance. 

Helping your teenager recognize both emotionally and physically, how too much screen time is impacting them is the beginning.

The video below is a great start — it outlines in only 2 minutes how much time they are spending (or wasting) online — and how that is time you/they will never get back.

1. Device free time. If you have not created device free time, it’s time to do this. Mentally speaking, whether it is taking time to jog, walk, bike or do yoga — disconnecting is imperative to improve your mental wellness.

2. Limit your notifications. Do you realize every time you hear a ding, buzz, ring, or alert from your phone it can send a trigger (stressor) through your entire body? Have your teen choose maybe 3 of their favorite platforms to receive notifications from. Likely texts messages and the phone calls are two, so they would be allowed one app. You would be amazed how you can decompress when most of your alerts are shut-off. But — feelings of FOMO may set in, so you need to add that they also must limit their check-ins. 

3. Mealtime is for eating; night-time is for sleeping. Improving mental health means a good diet and sleeping patterns. It is time for parents to get serious at mealtime – it is for eating, not electronics and it includes mom and dad.

Double serious at bedtime. Sleep is crucial for young people — especially kids and teenagers. The truth is, simply telling your child or teen to turn off the device is not working.  It’s time to invest in a safe or lockbox. Whatever time you designate for lights-out, is when the phones get locked-up until morning. It might be difficult in the beginning – but after you start seeing grade and mood improvement, it will be worth it.

If you think your teen is experiencing signs or symptoms of anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns (especially if they become destructive when you try to remove their cell phone) related to social media use, contact your health care provider.  Know you are not alone — many parents have shared their stories of their teen’s increased anger, rage and defiance due to overexposure of video gaming and screen time.

Also read:

5 Benefits of Boarding Schools for Troubled Teens

3 Causes of Teen Mental Health Issues

How Cyberbullying Effects Teenage Mental Health


Have you exhausted your local resources, your teen refuses to see a counselor? Has outpatient treatment failed? Is the school setting not working for them? Do you feel like they are falling deeper into a depression or worse? Contact us to learn about the benefits of therapeutic boarding schools for smartphone addiction.

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Many parents are at their wit’s end with the challenges of raising teenagers. If you are considering residential therapy, contact us for a free consultation.

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