The Unspoken Addiction: Adult Screen Time

Teens and parents have finally found something they agree on screen time usage. In a recent report, Pew Research found that 54% of U.S. teens say they spend too much time on their cellphones, and two-thirds of parents express concern over their teen’s screen time. This is not new news. But what isn’t discussed as frequently is adult screen time addiction.


Teenagers aren’t the only ones glued to their phones. While the finger is often pointed at kids, tweens and teens and their screen time usage, adult usage flies under the radar. 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and 36% of parents reported feeling that they spend too much time on their phones. The report surveyed both teens and adults, and their answers were not too dissimilar. 44% of teens check their phone as soon as they wake up, compared to to 26% of parents. 15% of adults lose focus at work because they are checking their cell phones, while only 8% of teens lose focus in class. Another interesting point: 72% of parents feel their teen is distracted by their phone when having an in-person conversation, and 51% of teens feel the same about their parents. 50% of parents feel as if they have to respond to messages from other people immediately, and 58% of teens report feeling similarly.  

Cell phone addiction is not yet listed in the DSM-5 as an official addiction, but research has compared it to gambling addiction. At least four of the signs and symptoms listed below are thought to comprise criteria for cell phone addiction:

  • A need to use the cell phone more and more often in order to achieve the same desired effect.
  • Persistent failed attempts to use cell phone less often.
  • Preoccupation with smartphone use.
  • Turns to cell phone when experiencing unwanted feelings such as anxiety or depression.
  • Excessive use characterized by loss of sense of time.
  • Has put a relationship or job at risk due to excessive cell phone use.
  • Tolerance—need for the newest cell phone, more applications, or increased use.
  • Withdrawal, when cell phone or network is unreachable.

While the focus has been on teen usage, the conversation is starting to broaden to include adults as well. Just as there are apps parents use to limit their teen’s screen time, parents need to lead through example and limit their own time.

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