Cell Phone Addiction


Separation anxiety, palpitations, inappropriate behavior. Just some of the signs of addiction.

Webster’s Dictionary defines addiction – “Compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; also; persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

Guidewell Emergency Systems reports the ten most common signs of addiction:

  1. Mood swings
  2. Tolerance
  3. Withdrawal symptoms
  4. Change in appearance
  5. Irresponsibility
  6. Financial trouble
  7. Substance seeking
  8. Unhealthy friendships
  9. Isolation
  10. Unsuccessful attempts to stop


We’re all familiar with these signs of addiction in people who use heroin or cocaine. But what about those who use cell phones?

Like you, I might have dismissed this as nonsense until I read a recent report in The Wall Street Journal that discussed the extremes that teachers must go to in attempts to control cell phone usage in the classroom in today’s schools. Sarah Krouse reports that before class each day, a high school teacher in Indianapolis grabs a clear plastic bag and fastens it to her waist with a ribbon. The homemade pouch is a repository for phones that are either confiscated or handed over voluntarily by students who don’t want to be tempted to tap or swipe during class.

Why not just put all cell phones in a box when students enter class and pick them up when they leave? The teacher says the magic of the makeshift vault isn’t that it keeps devices out of reach. It’s that it lowers students’ anxiety by keeping phones in view! It seems that when administrators employed a range of strict measures to keep them out of the classroom entirely, this introduced another distraction: withdrawal pangs!

Some teachers use lockable pouches that let students hold their phones rather than having to leave them alone in their lockers. (Perish the thought!) Others have set up charging stations in classrooms, betting that the visibility and value of a charge will keep students at ease. Some teachers have resorted to dangling extra credit and other prizes as the best defense against phone withdrawal.

Still other schools have bought a bunch of locking foamlike pouches from a company called Yondr that also markets its devices to theaters that want to prevent audiences from filming performances. The students can keep their phones with them but can’t access them without a special magnetic unlocking mechanism.

Some schools have opted for the carrot over the stick. At High Point Academy, Fort Worth, Texas, students in Jayne Lawrence’s English and Creative Writing classes download an app called Pocket Points that tracks when they touch their phones. Students can redeem points for different tiers of awards that kick in at 10, 15, and 24 class hours off the phone, earning prizes ranging from a drink at Starbucks to the ability to drop their worst test score. (In other words, teachers are rewarding students just because they don’t misbehave?)

Ms. Lawrence says the system is worth it because it gives her a way to combat students’ addiction without confrontation. “The quickest way here to burn a relationship is to take something from them, “she says.

The real problem is social media. Students cannot live without it. Yet a recent Pew Research Center study found that 45% of teens felt overwhelmed by the drama of social media.

As a result, many teens find themselves taking voluntary breaks from social media. A study by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted at the University of Chicago found that 60% who have taken breaks have taken three or more, and 23% of teens who haven’t taken a break from social media have wanted to take one. About half of teens say their social media breaks are typically a week or longer.

In my opinion, the problem is really the adults, not the children. Teachers who fear confrontation. School administrators who fear confrontation. Parents who fear confrontation. Where are the adults in this situation? If the adults fear the reaction of students to discipline, the game is over. When parents and teachers care more about being friends to their children and students than training and educating them, they are abdicating their roles as adults and it is the children who will suffer the most in the long run.

I began this discussion by describing the symptoms of addiction. Regardless of whether we are talking about cocaine or cell phones, it is still addiction. Remember the definition of addiction says, “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.”

One comment

  1. Well said Bob!

    Comment by Hugh Roberts on February 24, 2020 at 7:37 pm