Smartphones are incredibly valuable tools for teens and adults.

Used responsibly, smartphones can be beneficial for mature teens. Young adults can use them to navigate social relationships and maintain commitments in the community or at work. Plus, they can help youths stay safe. A smartphone acts as a vital lifeline in case of unexpected dangers, like medical emergencies, that young people shouldn’t have to face alone.

Many adults scratch their heads at today’s smartphone use. There is a preconception of phones as anti-social – and they certainly can be, if they take the place of family time or other important events going on in front of a teen’s face.

However, most teens use phones predominantly to deepen relationships in their circle of friends. Past generations loved to talk on the phone – first in the kitchen or den and later in their own rooms – and the experience is similar today.

Still, smartphones can present some unique perils to a developing mind. A smartphone is a cell phone with built-in online capabilities. Since it can provide an endless array of entertainment options, it can prime teens to seek distractions and avoid focusing on boring or stressful topics. That’s only one of the potential drawbacks.

Growing Adolescents Are Especially Vulnerable to Smartphone Pitfalls

Both the risks and rewards of smartphones are high.

All smartphones include mobile applications – software – engineered to capture attention from users. Over the years, mobile software has become more effective at producing fast, interactive experiences that cause dopamine release in the brain.

Dopamine is the brain hormone most closely associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. As users respond to smartphone notifications, they train the brain to seek gratification through interactions with the phone.

This gradual process of neural rewiring is similar to what happens on certain illicit drugs.

Parents and loved ones should be especially alert to these risks of teen cell phone use:

Peer Pressure

Continuous access to social media makes youths acutely vulnerable to peer pressure. In a widely cited 2013 study, researchers determined short-term and long-term happiness are both negatively impacted when young people use Facebook. This effect was demonstrated regardless of gender, self-esteem, loneliness, or the presence of depression.

Addictive Behaviors

Teens can find themselves compelled to check their smartphones constantly, a behavior that disrupts sleep, study, and face-to-face interaction. They are also at risk of being drawn into games with modern “loot crate” mechanics – which demand repetitive activity or cash purchases for a chance to receive in-game advantages. This can spark an interest in gambling in some youths.


Naturally, owning a cell phone of any kind gives kids and teens more opportunities to engage in risky behaviors. In severe cases, teens suffering from concerns like drug addiction can conceal the problem from responsible adults. Teens who are involved in criminal behavior often break connections with family and caregivers while focusing on an enabling group of peers.

Making Smartphone Ownership Safer for Young People

Loved ones have a role to play in making smartphones safe for adolescents and teens:

  • Use parental controls to ensure unauthorized purchases can’t be made on cell phones.
  • Set clear boundaries about how much phone time is okay on weekdays and weekends.
  • Ensure teens understand what behaviors will cause phone privileges to be suspended.
  • Consider safeguards that prevent phone operation while driving for new teen drivers.

Smartphone misuse – or even addiction – can point to other health issues requiring immediate attention. WinGate Wilderness Therapy can help teens overcome habitual cell phone use in a safe, uplifting, and effective way. Contact us at WinGate to learn more.

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WinGate Therapy

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