Cell phones have become an essential accessory for most people. As an integral part of the modern world, your smartphone acts as your navigator, personal assistant, and entertainment source. Other connected devices, such as tablets, have also become household fixtures for many families. Americans spend an average of 5.4 hours per day on their phones.

Many smartphone users can regulate the amount of time they spend staring at their screen. They’re still able to engage in social situations and pay attention to their surroundings without the urge to check their phone. 

However, some users have become addicted to their cell phones. They find it hard to interact with the world around them and spend more time on their smartphones at social events than chatting with friends. With cell phones and other devices at the center of our world, it’s important to know how to prevent and identify addiction so you can remain healthy and happy in your real life and in the digital world.

Who is at risk of cell phone addiction?

Every cell phone user is at risk of developing an addiction to their device. Whether it’s online games, social media, text messaging, or emails, there are many ways that smartphone apps attract users and make it hard to look away.

Teens are more likely to become addicted to cell phones than any other age group. According to a study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, adolescents under 20 years old are the most at-risk for cell phone addiction because this age group is more likely to experience behavioral problems. 

Teens can’t always manage screen time effectively, and are also the group known for spending the most time on their phones, mostly because they haven’t developed self-control skills yet. Media management for teens may be nonexistent and the same study found that about 27% of smartphone owners between 11 and 14 years old never turn their cell phones off, even to sleep.

In addition to adolescents, other risk factors for cell phone addiction include smartphone users who:

- Suffer from anxiety.

- Live with depression.

- Have low-self esteem.

- Are usually introverted in social situations.

- Don’t have disciplined self-control.

- Haven’t yet mastered impulse control.

While problematic cell phone usage is more prominent in adolescents, it can become an issue in anyone’s daily life. Users who have any of these risk factors should ensure they remain in control of their screen time and can curb their cell phone usage when needed.

Symptoms of cell phone addiction.

It’s important to understand the symptoms of cell phone addiction so you can identify whether you have a problem that needs to be addressed. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:

- You get a feeling of anxiety when your phone isn’t in reach or you don’t have cell phone service.

- Your phone interferes with your daily activities, chores, and tasks.

- Your smartphone usage has ruined your vacation with family or spoiled social events with friends.

- You’ve experienced injuries or harmful effects due to cell phone usage, such as neck pain or eye strain.

- You lose a sense of time due to cell phone distractions.

- You feel withdrawn from the physical world, distancing yourself from friends, family, and activities you used to enjoy.

- Smartphone usage has put an important relationship or your professional career in jeopardy.

- You’ve tried to limit your cell phone usage but haven’t succeeded.  

If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, it may mean you’re heading toward a smartphone addiction. It’s important to take the steps necessary to reduce cell phone usage so you don’t experience some of the serious consequences associated with this problem.

Effects of cell phone addiction.

When you’re glued to your phone, you miss out on quality time with friends or family and exciting experiences. There are other negative effects of excessive cell phone usage, including the following:

- Mental health issues: Studies prove that excessive cell phone use can lead to anxiety and depression. Adolescents who were addicted to their smartphones were more likely to experience chronic stress and low emotional stability.

- Poor sleep: Scrolling on your phone right before bedtime may cause you to experience restless sleep. Researchers at Ohio State University studied college students who used their phones an average of 46.6 minutes per night and established the relationship between their cell phone usage and sleep quality. This usage caused insomnia and may have also contributed to fewer sleeping hours, the inability to fall asleep, and low-quality sleep.

- Increased risk of car accidents: Using a smartphone while driving is dangerous and causes you to take your eyes off the road. Cell phone users who are addicted to their devices are more likely to use them while driving, increasing their risk of being involved in a car accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2.9% of drivers use handheld devices while driving. In 2018, 400,000 people were injured in car accidents where distracted driving was to blame and 2,841 people were killed due to distracted driving car accidents.

- Poor school performance: If you’re trying to decide if your child is old enough for a smartphone, consider whether they can follow their school’s rules for cell phone usage. If your children use their smartphones in class, they’ll find it hard to focus on learning. This lack of engagement in class may lead to problems at school, including poor grades or disciplinary action. 

- Poor work performance: About 70% of employees in the U.S. keep their smartphone within eye contact while they’re at work. Being distracted by your phone at work may also lead to severe consequences, such as poor performance or even termination.

Tips for preventing cell phone addiction.

When you set healthy boundaries between yourself and your cell phone, you’re more likely to avoid smartphone addiction. Encourage your family to also obey these boundaries by setting cell phone usage limits for young children. Create rules in your household, such as a “no phones at the dinner table” mandate.

Intentionally unplugging from your phone for a few hours every day, such as when you’re exercising or having a meal with your family, helps you reconnect to the world around you. To prevent cell phone addiction, you should also:

Track your data usage and set limits for yourself and your family members.

- Remove the apps you find yourself spending the most time on, such as games or social media.

- Change your cell phone settings so you don’t receive as many notifications.

- Engage in hobbies or activities that don’t involve your cell phone, such as playing a musical instrument or painting.

Your smartphone is a lifeline that provides information on the spot and keeps you connected to loved ones. However, it’s important to pay attention to your cell phone usage to ensure you don’t develop an addiction to your device. Maintain a healthy and happy mental state by balancing your engagement in the real world along with your screen time.