US study finds many teens are cutting back on smartphone use

Photo by Yura Fresh on Unsplash

There are two thoughts that often spring into my mind when thinking about the debate about children and ‘screen time’. First: I strongly suspect in many homes, the parents have as big a problem moderating their screen time as the kids do. And second: I wonder if a lot of children will be much more savvy about this issue much more quickly than their parents, and will take steps to rein in any tech addiction themselves.

The latest study by the well-respected Pew Research Center in the US backs up that latter hunch. Its researchers interviewed 1,058 American parents of 13–17 year-olds, as well as 743 teenagers, asking them about their use of technology.

Among its findings: 54% of teens think they spend too much time on their mobile phones, and 52% say they’ve deliberately cut back, at some point, on the time they spend using it. Interestingly, 41% said they think they spend too much time on social media, but 57% have cut back on that time at some point. The respective percentages for video games are 26% and 58%.

There’s a strong sense of young people as self-aware sufferers from the noise of our digital age. “Roughly nine-in-ten teens view spending too much time online as a problem facing people their age, including 60% who say it is a major problem,” explained Pew’s report.

“72% of teens say they at least sometimes check for messages or notifications as soon as they wake up (with 44% saying they often do this). And 57% feel they often or sometimes have to respond to messages from other people immediately. Meanwhile, 31% of teens say they lose focus in class because they are checking their cellphone — though just 8% say this often happens to them, and 38% say it never does.”

42% of teenagers surveyed said they feel anxious when they don’t have their mobile phones with them, while 25% feel lonely, 24% feel upset and – here’s a fun stat – 17% feel “relieved”.

Another contrast, which plays into my other hunch about parents having as big a problem with smartphone addiction as their children: only 36% of parents surveyed by Pew thought they spend too much time on their mobile phone. Yet 51% of teens said their parent is sometimes or often distracted by their phone during conversations.

(72% of parents said the same of their teenager, in fairness.)

Other findings: 65% of parents worry about their teenage children spending too much time in front of screens, but only 57% limit when and how often their teen can go online or use their mobile phone.

One final stat, if you’ve seen suggestions that the majority of parents are panicking about the screen-time issue. “Not only do the majority of parents take actions to limit their teen’s screen time, but most parents are at least somewhat confident that they know how much screen time is appropriate for their child,” reports Pew. That’s 86% of them, to be specific.