83% of UK teenagers would struggle to go ‘cold turkey’ from social media and their other vices for a month.


As we celebrate National Unplugging Day this Sunday 26th June, the UK’s largest digital detox movement, research published by Allen Carr Addiction Clinics emphasises that the explosion of social media, selfies and mobile devices is priming a generation of UK teenagers for a lifelong struggle with technology addiction.  Something I am keen to avoid when it comes to my own 3 kids. I was chatting earlier today with a close friend about how even as a 26 year old I am quite ‘old fashioned’ when it comes to my views on the internet and technology. Growing up with my grandparents I never really had the internet until I was in my late teens because we just didn’t ‘need it’. This is probably where my harsh views on i-tech probably stem from (strange, as I have ended up blogging), while my friend grew up as being one of the first kids in her class to have the internet and they always had the top ipads/ smartphones and broadband as soon as it was available to hand. Needless to say, our views differ.
The study by Allen Carr, which questioned 1,000 UK teenagers aged 12 – 18, unveiled a worrying trend, highlighting:  83% of UK teenagers admit they would struggle to give up their vices for a whole month. The average teen checks social media 11 times a day, sends 17 text/ WhatsApp messages and takes a ‘selfie’ picture every three days. When asked which behaviours they could abstain from, UK teens said they would most struggle living without texting (66%), followed by social networking (58%), junk food (28%) and alcohol (6%).  Mobile phones (79%), junk food (44%) and alcohol (9%) are the three activities teenagers were most likely to spend the most time on.

UK teenagers spend an average of £15.81 a week funding their various vices, meaning that they have to find £62 a month before they even consider paying for other pursuits such as sport or other recreational activities.  The average teen spends £6.64 a week on texting, mobile phones and data, junk food spending comes second with alcohol coming in as the third most expensive vice. I’m not sure what’s more worrying. Teens spending their pocket money on apps and screentime or booze. Shockingly, 14% of teens have lied to their families to get money to fund this area of spending, with 7% having gone as far as stealing from a relative!

There are obvious regional variations on the habits of UK teenagers. East Anglian teens are the most social media obsessed – 16% admit they check social media more than 30 times a day. The South East is the ‘selfie’ capital of the UK – 1 in 4 admit they take more than 20 selfies a month. Taking a selfie horrifies me, I don’t know whether its because I feel hideous or if I just don’t quite know how to get the right angle/lighting/pout. A scary 72% of youngsters remain oblivious to the dangers of over-use and potential addiction to social media, apps, games, and technology and don’t believe it is possible to develop an addiction to technology.
This constant pursuit of stimulation, peer approval, instant gratification, and elements of narcissism are all potential indicators of addictive behaviour. The study highlights that parents across the UK are inadvertently becoming ‘co-dependents’ enabling their child’s addictions by providing them with cash albeit with the best of intentions.

Why do we seem to ignore these addictions but feel it more important to chat to our children about the dangers of unprotected sex, binge drinking session and drugs. Of course, there are extremes to every situtaion but is it not as important to chat to our sons and daughters about their screen time and search for online gratification? I do believe we shall soon have an epidemic of young adults with issues in body image, lack of confidence, anxiety and even severe depression. Of course these issues have always been a concern for parents, but with the internet taking top spot in our kids’ lives these children are going to have no way of tackling these issues without Dr Google to hand, and typing their way through them.
The growing number of ever-changing, ever-updating tech and gadgets available to UK teens in 2016 run alongside established potentially addictive activities such as alcohol-use and consumption of junk food creating an environment where young people experience the compulsion to consume and engage more than they can legitimately fund, leading to desperate often risky behaviour – a hallmark of addiction.
John Dicey, Global Managing Director & Senior Therapist of Allen Carr Addiction Clinics comments; “The findings of this report are cause for concern and highlight a generation of young people exhibiting many of the hallmarks of addictive behaviour. The explosion of technology we have seen since the late 90’s offers incredible opportunities to our youth – the constant stimulation provided by access to the internet for example can be a good or a bad thing. There’s a price to pay. This study indicates that huge numbers of young people are developing compulsions and behaviours that they’re not entirely in control of and cannot financially support. Unless we educate our young people as to the dangers of constant stimulation and consumption, we are sleepwalking towards an epidemic of adulthood addiction in the future, as well as damaging childhood.”  Dicey continues “Make no mistake – technology and social media shouldn’t be demonised – they’re incredibly engaging and useful in our everyday lives – the objective of our study was to establish whether youngsters were moving beyond “normal use” and might therefore become pre-disposed to move on to other addictions later in life.”

While I am happy for my daughters to have minimal i-pad time playing on educational apps, I am concerned for the future and when they decide to create social media accounts and I find it harder to control what they view on the family computer or on their smart phones. My girls probably only play on the tablet once a week and only ever when they ask for it (although I do try to get them to reconsider this choice if I can by suggesting that they go play in the garden instead) so I don’t feel that this type of screen time is a problem for them at the moment at all.

I am NOT anti-internet or anti smart tech, I am just anti-over use. There is a pro and a con for everything and I suppose I really am just as ‘old fashioned’ as my friends like to say I am. But if I could live in a world where the internet shut down, and the whole of Facebook was wiped away I would be happy, and I’m never going to deny feeling like that.
John Dicey offers the following tips for teens and parents in support of National Unplugging Day:

1. Teach yourself to resist routinely checking your phone and email.  Set small challenges, such as 15 minutes without checking and gradually expand before you get into a groove of being able to spend a few hours without the need to be online.

2. Set aside daily periods of self-imposed non-screen time. One of the secrets to scaling back technology use to acceptable levels is to keep aside certain times of the day technology-free (mealtimes and bedtime, for example are a good starting place. In fact, kitchens and bedrooms should be made technology-free).

3. Only respond to emails and texts at specific times of the day. Some people do have jobs where they are tied to emails all day, but if you are not one of them, why not decide to look at email, say, just three times a day (9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.) It will save lots of time in the long run and create time for constructive, proactive and progressive work. Turning off email and social media, disabling push notifications, or simply turning the volume setting to silent on electronic devices will also reduce the urge to constantly check mobile devices.

4. Don’t use your smartphone or tablet as an alarm clock. By using a standard alarm clock to wake you in the morning, you will avoid the temptation to look at email and texts just as you are about to go to sleep or just wake up.  Ideally young teens won’t take their phones to bed with them.

5. Attempt a family digital detox – so the whole family study and are made aware of their technology habits.

6. Delete games and apps that can be time consuming and repetitively dumbing, such as Candy Crush, Angry Birds, etc.

7. Start to use a wrist watch again, which will stop you constantly checking your phone.

8. There is no void – just having a few moments a day where you can use your imagination or just think a few things through is wonderful. It requires some ‘space’ that only putting down technology for a while can provide.

9. Embrace tech to support change.  It sounds contradictory, given that we are trying to cut down on tech, but tech lovers can download apps that tell them how much time they’re spending online. Being made aware of a problem is often the first step in enabling behavioural change.

10. Parents should lead by example – you can’t tell your kids off for constantly checking their phones if you do the same.


***For further information if you are worried about your childs’ use of smart tech, or even your own visit or call 0800 389 2115.
• Survey conducted by One Poll***

Hazel Newhouse

Hazel is a mum to 3 daughters and a son, she lives in Bedfordshire with her husband, kids and pets. Hazel has written for various publications, and regularly works alongside popular parenting and gardening brands.

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