Are teenagers addicted to their phones? Half of them say yes they are.

This devastating fact came out of a poll conducted in 2016 that asked teenagers themselves if they thought they were addicted to their phones. 50% of them said yes, and 59% of parents said they had a teen they considered a cell phone addict. The exact question was whether or not they felt they spent "too much time" on their device. That, of course, is a rather unobjective idea, but the reality is, if someone thinks they have a problem, then they probably do.

It is sobering news indeed. This habit is rampant in schools, where the halls are full of distracting walking. In order to maximize the time they can spend on their smartphones in between classes, students press their bodies along the walls, feeling their ways down the halls and stairways on the way to class. And yes, distracted walking is also a problem as reflected by increased personal injury claims from pedestrians hurt or killed by cars they did not see. 

As a personal injury attorney here in Bellingham, I feel like this problem has one of the greatest negative impacts on driving habits. If a teen can't get off the phone in general, driving is too often just another place to be on social media or the web. From the CNN story on the study's findings, "nearly 80% of teens in the new survey said they checked their phones hourly, and 72% said they felt the need to immediately respond to texts and social networking messages. Thirty-six percent of parents said they argued with their child daily about device use, and 77% of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and don't pay attention when they are together at least a few times per week."

Taking this addictive behavior to our roadways, teens have an even greater risk of being involved in a car wreck because they simply lack driving experience. Distracted driving is an issue among drivers of all ages, simply because the brain cannot multi-task. It is impossible for any brain to do two tasks at once, like driving and looking at a cell phone, or even thinking through a voice to text dictation while navigating traffic. But for teens, it's even harder to put themselves on auto-pilot while they interact with friends in the car or friends online. States with strong graduated driver licensing laws have reduced crashes involving teen drivers by up to 40 percent. Many of these laws include provisions restricting the number of teen passengers and the use of electronic devices while driving for novice drivers. Washington state has responded with some restrictions to teenage drivers to curtail these risks, and recently adopted a stricter anti-distraction law

Parents, we have to help our kids adopt ways to manage the allure and ubiquity of cell phones. Here are some ways we can teach our kids how to handle this never-before-seen technological phenomenon that underlies our smartphone-addicted culture:

  • Install an app on your phone that lets callers and texters know that you're unavailable because you're driving. 
  • Point out drivers who are doing things like talking on cell phones or reading a Kindle and explain why that is unsafe. As if it needs any explanation, but seriously.
  • Teach your teen that it’s okay to tell passengers, “Please don’t distract me while I’m driving.” 
  • Watch this video with your teen from an organization founded by the father of a teenager killed by a distracted driver. Talk about it. It's incredibly moving.
  • While you're at it, try to get a speaker from EndDD.org to come by your school.
  • Practice what you preach: pull over to use your cell phone or have your passenger answer it instead.
  • Don’t fiddle with your GPS en route. Pull over and explain the need to devote your full attention to the road.

If you or a loved one has been hurt by a distracted driver, call me. The insurance companies exist to help injured victims, but often don't pay out full claims unless a lawyer who is a personal injury expert helps victims through this complex process. You can reach me at (360) 392-2833 to set up a free consultation to talk about your case. 

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