For Teens by Teens: A Study on Phone Usage and Its Effects

In 2007, the first iPhone became available. This hand-held atomic bomb of a device exploded over the next decade, offering social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter on mobile. Since the invention of the iPhone, the amount of time spent on cell phones has skyrocketed worldwide and only continues to grow as more social media and entertainment applications become popular.

Many individuals have raised questions in relation to this new entity, trying to understand exactly how much time the average American youth spends on their phone, and the effects this lifestyle (as it is fast becoming) has on their lives.

Carolyn Gregoire, a senior writer for the Huffington Post, in an article entitled, “You Probably Use Your Smartphone Way More Than You Think,” states that “New research conducted by British psychologists shows that young adults use their Smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do.”† Psychiatrist Florence Jensen, in her book The Teenage Brain, expands on the notion that millennials are addicted to their phones by noting that the use of digital technology like Smartphones has become rooted in the teenage psyche so much so that when they are deprived of media, many of them experience withdrawal symptoms like those experienced by people addicted to drugs.

I wanted to test the claim that young adults use their phones more often than they think, so I collected a group of freshmen in my major (International Studies) and asked them individually how many times they think they check their phones in a 24-hour period. I also asked how much time overall they believe that they spend on their phones in this time frame. I next asked if they would be willing to download an app called “Moment” that would track both of these behaviors for the next five days. Many individuals seemed surprised that I was going to check their estimates so invasively, but they all kindly agreed, with varying degrees of apprehensiveness, to participate.

Before we continue, I want to admit the serious limitations of my informal study. Once teens are aware that their time on their devices is being tracked, they might be more self-conscious and therefore prone to altering the amount of time they spend on their phones. To mitigate the effect partially, the participants were given 24 hours to fall back into a regular routine before the data collection began.

The accompanying table displays the participants’ assumptions compared to the actual data. Cricket, Rana, and Earnest (names changed to protect volunteers’ privacy) were participants who contradicted the hypothesis that students underestimate the time they spend on their phones. Cricket and Earnest predicted thirty minutes more than they actually spent, and Rana fell short by a full hour. The majority (67%), however, spent more time overall than they had anticipated. Interestingly, most who did spend more time than they estimated tended to spend a lot more than expected. Take participant Springer for example. Springer estimated that she spends an average of an hour and a half on her phone each day. However, her Moment data showed that she spent about 5 hours on her phone during each observed day. Carol exemplified the Huffington Post’s claim, spending almost twice as much time as expected. Half of the participants spent at least four hours on their phones—that is, over 25% of the waking day (8 am–11 pm), though, admittedly, Covenant students are not guaranteed to spend any significant amount of time asleep.

According to Dr. Sally Andrews, a psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, “The fact that we use our phones twice as many times as we think we do indicates that a lot of Smartphone use seems to be habitual, automatic behaviors that we have no awareness of.”‡ The participants in my informal study were not immune to such habitual phone use. Together they checked their phones an average of 70 times per day—almost five times per waking hour!

In my interview, Dr. Eames, a professor and psychologist at my college, told me about a journalist named Jean Twenge who wrote an article for the Atlantic entitled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Professor Twenge found several correlations for those born between 1995 and 2012. She notes that the more time teens spend looking at the screens of their devices, the more likely they are to delay getting a driver’s license, less likely to get adequate sleep, and even less likely to date.

It is evident that knowledge is our greatest weapon as we explore new ways of connecting with each other and learn how best to integrate technology into our lives. We must test every foreign influence on our lives, so we don’t become like frogs in warm water that fail to realize they are dinner until the water is boiling.   ‡Estimates_us_5637687de4b063179912dc96


Stu-dent Expected Number of Pickups Expected Overall Time Spent Actual Number of Pickups Actual Overall Time Spent
Spring-er 120 times 1.5 hrs. 72 times 5 hrs.
Crick-et 100 times 4 hrs. 102 times 3.5 hrs.
Fayola 60 times 30 min. 26 times 45 min.
Carol 30 times 2.5 hrs. 87 times 4 hrs.
Rana 50 times 2 hrs. 36 times 1 hr.
Creed 100 times 2 hrs. 36 times 3.5 hrs.


200 times 5 hrs. 112 times 4.5 hrs.
Lionel 100 times 3 hrs. 89 times 4 hrs.



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