How many of you take your phone into the bathroom? Keep your head down as you walk through a store? Check your phone while you’re talking or “listening” to another person? Don’t pick up your head as you walk up or down the stairs? Ever find yourself talking on the phone while also madly searching for where you put it?

Do any of these experiences resonate with you?  

You are not alone! I’ve encountered all of these situations. I have been known to respond almost immediately to a text, email, call, post, or comment. In fact, if I don’t respond within an hour, people get suspicious and are ready to send out the search team.

I started to think about how technology can make us unendingly available and the impact devices can have on mental health. Recent findings suggest a correlation between smartphones and teen depression and how cell phones are affecting communication.

After noticing how often I check my cell phone and recognizing how these behaviors impact my own mood and relationships, I knew I needed to make some changes in my own life.

What Does Research Say?

NPR found a study that states teenagers are increasingly depressed, feel hopeless and are more likely to consider suicide. Jean Twenge, one of the authors of the study, said that researchers found a sudden increase in teens’ symptoms of depression, suicide risk factors and suicide rates in 2012 — around the time smartphones become popular.

Adolescents are not spending as much time with their friends in person nor face to face with family, other than their parents who they are currently “trapped” with. Teens aren’t getting the connection and social support they need. NPR said, ”Spending time with other people, in person, is one of the best predictions for psychological well-being.” Rarely is one’s mood enhanced by scrolling through social media, looking through emails, continuously texting, or aimlessly opening different apps. I know for me, the opposite is true. Often my heart will beat faster, I feel more stressed and anxious and can’t remember what task I was working on.  

Adolescents’ addiction to smartphones is increasing. Teens’ cell phone addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum. When we interact with our device, dopamine, a hormone that signals pleasure, is released. Dopamine passes information to the front of the brain which is linked to thought and emotion. There’s a cyclical process that takes place. Teens are asking to be “liked” and “seen” but those feelings of belonging are short-term and they continue the checking and posting process over and over, never truly being satisfied.

Have you ever had the experience of sending an email or a text and then ruminating about the tone and words used? The anxiety kids experience can lead them to check their phone over and over to see if they received a response to a message. That response doesn’t always come, leaving kids anxious, angry, frustrated, rejected, or ignored.

Tuning In

Having a mindful relationship begins with having awareness. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your teens using their phones to avoid experiencing discomfort?
  • Are these acts facilitating interactions and activity that stands in the way of better mental health?
  • Is the constant phone checking taking away from teenagers sleeping better or interacting with people face to face (or these days via FaceTime, Zoom, etc).

Consider the possibility that by disconnecting, parents and kids can actually connect. There is an opportunity for you as a parent to model mindful behaviors with your own phone and become more present for your children.

You can encourage teens to think about the intent and purpose prior to sending a message. If kids find themselves sending off a message to regulate emotions or settle an impulse, encourage them to check-in and ask themselves, “Should I be sending this right now?”

If the answer is no, perhaps this is a moment for them to utilize their device for a guided meditation, look at one of their favorite photos, or listen to their favorite song.

6 Things You Can Change About Your Phone Behavior
  • Don’t look at your phone for the first 15 minutes of waking up
  • Before checking your phone, ask yourself,  “Do I want or need to check this right now?”
  • Put your phone away when traveling to or from your destination
  • Set aside 1 hour during the day to be phone free
  • Silence or turn off your phone 1 hour before bed-time (nighttime is an especially beneficial time to be mindful of phone usage)
  • When walking from one place to another, keep your phone in your pocket or bag

There are times when phones are not needed and we can practice utilizing these moments to connect, be present for our kids, appreciate the freeing feeling, and notice our surroundings. Ultimately, being more aware can create a more mindful relationship with oneself and others.

For more information about helping your child with mental health download our parent handbook on childhood and teen depression.