Smartphone Addiction In Australian Teens

Addiction is usually formed when we begin to repeat an alternative action to fulfil a need we may have. Whether that’s for stress relief, entertainment, social connection, achievement or one of our many other needs, rewarding our pleasure centres with a quick fix alternative is not a long term solution.

Most questionnaires agree that the central features of a behavioural addiction include:

  • having an intense urge to use your phone
  • spending more time on it than you first intended to
  • feeling panicked if it runs out of battery
  • neglecting other more important things to use it
  • having other people complain about how much someone used their phone
  • continuing to use it despite knowing how much it affected other areas of your life, including sleep or school work.

The key to spending less time on social media or video games is to not so much focus on posting, scrolling or gaming less but rather focusing more on what other ways you can fulfil some of your needs in a more sustainable and enriching matter. Filling up your time with truly rewarding activities will naturally leave you feeling more content and will help you have dominion over the time you dedicate to staring at your screen, rather than the other way around.

Making sure your children are engaging in sports whether they are team or individual based, is a great way to tick a lot of those social and active boxes while also having them engage in physical activity, which promotes healthy living and has its own release of reward endorphins. Getting your children to invest in other hobbies and activities that they like, helps them to formulate routines that override whatever downtime they would otherwise naturally dedicate towards social media, mindless internet scrolling and excessive video gaming.

Gaming and social media are a little like fast food; as they are a quick snacky fix to satisfy those needs you may have, yet they do not seem to truly nourish. If you have a focused healthy meal plan for your week, it becomes a lot easier to say no to consuming junk food. However, if you are not proactive and intentional with your diet, it becomes dangerously easy to slump into consuming junk food regularly.

Phone Addiction

So, what does the average student’s relationship with their phone look like these days? If we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves, our phones have taken away our downtime. When we wake in the morning, we look at our phones and all that we “missed” while being asleep, when we undergo daily tasks like getting ready for school, have breakfast, bus to school, we find ourselves staring at our phones throughout all of it. Sorry teachers, but even throughout class we manage to find pockets of time to stare at our phones, and then when the day is over and we’re about to fall asleep, we still need to have one more good scroll through our phones before we go to sleep.


Addiction often forms when we don’t know how to make good connections with other people, as it’s noted in the book ‘Chasing the Scream’- “The Opposite of Addiction is not Sobriety, but Connection”.

Learning to connect with others in a genuine way will negate the need for us to settle on a lesser sense of affirmation across social media accounts. As mentioned earlier, focusing on what we really need eg; sunlight, sleep, healthy eating and physical activity, is far more effective than trying NOT to focus on something (The old “Don’t think about Elephants” conundrum).

Healthy night routine

Screens with their emission of blue light have been proven to make our brain think it’s still day time throughout the night; hindering our minds ability to switch off for the day and allow for rest, repair and recharge for the next day. Over time this can cause the mind to start to overthink problems, overreact, alter our neural pathways and as a result, negatively affect both our physical and mental resilience.

Practical steps to cutback on blue light exposure:

  • Set yourself a regular bedtime (this allows your brain to know when to prepare for rest)
  • Put your phone on Flight Mode before you go to sleep (this will remove any temptation to check for messages, which often leads to a blackhole of scrolling)
  • Cut-off phone use, one hour before going to bed (this gives your brain time to make the transition from active to restful. If this is proving to be a challenge, you can at the very least, switch on night mode)

Depending on the age of your young ones, they may need more sleep than you think:

  • 12-14 year olds need 9.5 hours sleep
  • 15-21 years need 9 hours
  • 21-25 need 8.5 hours
  • 25+ are fine with around 6.5 hours.

This has been scientifically proven to be a developmental requirement for young bodies, so the next time you think your kids are being lazy and just wanna sleep in all the time, remember that their body is actually asking that they rest longer than the standard adult.

Managing screen time

It can be hard to get away from screens in our increasingly digital life. Screen time can be defined as any time spent on a device with a screen, including televisions, computers, smartphones, tablets, video game consoles and even wearable technology such as smartwatches.

The Australian Department of Health recommends that infants aged 0-2 have no screen time, children ages 2-5 have less than 1 hour per day (Inactivity and screen time, Australian Government Department of Health) and that young people aged between 5 and 17 years have less than 2 hours a day of sedentary recreational screen time (Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, Australian Government Department of Health).

These time limits do not include the screen time spent on educational activities and yet the average Australian teen usually puts in an average of 4+ hours a day.

Strategies for moderating screen time

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner suggests that parents can help children and young people maintain a healthy balance of online and offline time by:

  • Having regular conversations with their children about expectations for screen time
  • Setting clear limits and giving them a switch off warning so they can wind up their activity
  • Creating a plan for the whole family so that adults are modelling balanced screen time
  • Offering children and young people filtered or protected internet access
  • Having devices in open locations so that screen time can be supervised.

Strategies for improving the quality of screen time

It is easy to find information suggesting that too much screen time can be problematic for children and adults, but there are also clear benefits of using the internet and digital devices.

Instead of focusing on how much time children and young people spend using screens we can focus on teaching them self-awareness and self-management strategies. Many devices have inbuilt features that support users to monitor and control their usage. Apple smartphones have ‘Screen Time’, and Android phones have ‘Digital Wellbeing’. Consider your own screen time. Parents can set the expectations and then model appropriate behaviour to encourage a balanced approach to screens at home.

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