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New study reveals the extent of teenage smartphone use

A recent report from Common Sense Media has found that, on average, half of 11 to 17-year-olds get at least 237 notifications a day, raising concerns that this is affecting the cognitive ability, attention span, and memory of their still-developing brains.

It’s no secret that young people are addicted to their phones. So much so, in fact, that Gen Z spends half its waking hours on screen time.

Until now, however, research on just how invasive these devises really are has been scarce, but thanks to a recent report from Common Sense Media, experts have improved insight into the impact of teens’ experiences with being chronically online.

According to the new study, on average, half of 11 to 17-year-olds get at least 237 notifications every day, with 25 per cent of them popping up during school and half of them at night.

Even more concerning is that, in some cases, this age group is receiving nearly 5,000 pings – which are almost always linked to alerts from friends on social media – in a 24-hour period.

Inundated with hundreds of notifications all day and all night, the long-term repercussions of this ‘highly stimulating environment,’ as psychiatrist Dr Benjamin Maxwell puts it, remain unidentified, though he predicts it’s very likely to be affecting the cognitive ability, attention span, and memory of young people’s still-developing brains.

‘It’s a constant buzzing, a dominant factor in all of their personal lives,’ says Jim Steyer.

He’s the founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, which is a non-profit organisation that explores media literacy and safety for children with access to technology.

Social Media, Social Life Infographic | Common Sense Media

‘They literally wake up and before they go to the bathroom, they’re on their phone.’ As he explains, whereas a lot of adults might mute notifications or switch off their devices altogether to focus, teens tend to keep them on.

‘An impulse pulls them toward looking at every single notification and encourages regular pickups,’ Steyer continues. ‘As a result, their attention is scattered.’

Highlighting what we were already well aware of – that phones are an inherently disruptive force in our lives – the findings make abundantly clear that young people are struggling to manage their screen time, which is taking a serious toll on their overall mental health.

That their phones are making them anxious and anti-social, they apparently know, with Common Sense Media’s additional data revealing that 58 per cent often avoid connecting with people IRL to spend more time scrolling, that 39 per cent recognise that they sometimes use their phones to escape reality, and that 30 per cent avoid their feelings by jumping tirelessly from app to app.

To combat this, Steyer believes that adults could do a great deal more to help adolescents develop healthier habits.

‘Young people need more support from family members and educators, as well as clear guardrails from the technologists who are intentionally designing these devices to be addictive, at the expense of kids’ well-being,’ he says, referring to the hits of feel-good chemicals that arrive with each individual buzz.

‘Use this as a way to reflect, exchange experiences, or experiment with changes in phone use to consider how it changes your mood, concentration, and sleep.’