How to Help Teens With Technology Addiction

Addiction to new technologies is a real problem in adolescents. We review some strategies for its treatment.
How to Help Teens With Technology Addiction
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 16 March, 2023

Internet addiction isn’t yet an officially recognized mental disorder and isn’t listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, its inclusion is only a matter of time. Indeed, the problem is becoming more evident every day and experts are considering how best to treat this new disorder.

Young people are the most affected group when it comes to addiction to the Internet and new technologies. In fact, their pathological use of social media, mobile devices, and computers has ceased to be an eccentricity and become a real problem.

We’re going to review and reflect on what some specialists say about treating teens with technology addiction.

Teenager using mobile at night in bed

How to help teens with technology addiction

According to research, teens spend an average of seven hours and 22 minutes a day interacting with new technologies. In fact, they spend more time on them than sleeping or going to school or college. Furthermore, for many, the use of them leads to episodes of addiction. Addictions are pathological, dependent, and persistent behaviors that continue despite their negative effects.

The DSM-5 doesn’t officially recognize the diagnosis of addiction. Instead, they use the label, substance use disorders (alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, sedatives and anxiolytics, stimulants, and tobacco) and behavioral addictions (gambling addiction and internet gaming disorders). However, despite not being included, technology addiction is a problem recognized by almost all specialists.

There are many options available for treating teens with technology addiction. In all cases, the preferred approach is psychological help. Although there’s no gold standard for treating the disorder, experts suggest cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the preferred option. In addition, motivational stimulation therapy and addressing social skills deficits are appropriate alternatives.

Young (1999) proposed eight therapeutic techniques that remain relevant today:

1. Practice the opposite

This involves replacing patterns of technology use with opposite behaviors or habits. Most technology addicts resort to their problem behaviors within specific patterns. For example, they use their cell phone immediately upon waking or just before going to bed.

Therefore, discovering the teen’s patterns and schedules of use makes it possible for other activities to be included to interrupt their usual routine. This allows them to gradually readapt to a new one.

2. External stoppers

One of the problems associated with the pathological use of new technologies by teens is that they lose track of time. Therefore, it’s advisable that they use external alerts to indicate when they’ve exceeded the recommended usage. A real alarm clock or egg timer can be helpful.

3. Setting goals

As with other types of addiction, setting realistic goals is essential for overcoming the problem. A schedule or program of use should be designed for the teen, interrupted by short breaks when they carry out other types of activities. As far as possible, these should be outdoors or require a certain degree of social interaction.

4. Abstinence from certain apps

Often, the teen’s addiction to technology revolves around a preference for a specific program or application (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.). The app causing the problem should be the focus of the treatment program as it’s exacerbating the teen’s addictive behavior. Consequently, they should be encouraged to completely stop using this particular app.

5. Reminder cards

It’s really difficult for those caught up in a spiral of addiction to understand its consequences and the associated benefits of following any treatment program. The reminder card technique is useful in this respect.

The teen should write down five problems caused by their addiction and five benefits of stopping it on an index card.  They should keep this card in their pocket, purse, or wallet and take it out at regular intervals as a reminder of what they intend to achieve.

6. Personal inventory

A personal inventory is a compilation of all the activities that the teen has stopped doing (or could start doing) if it weren’t for the addiction. It allows them to put into perspective the catalog of activities they’re turning down due to the time they’re dedicating to their addiction.

woman writing

7. Support groups

Although it isn’t always the case, many of those addicted to new technologies develop their pathological behavior to compensate for the lack of social support (friends, partners, and others). Support groups allow them to connect with others who are in the same situation and those who’ve managed to overcome their addiction.

8. Family therapy

Finally, family therapy may be essential to finish addressing the problem. With this kind of help, the relational causes that motivated the development of the addiction spiral can be investigated. It can also be useful when the addiction has disrupted the family dynamic in one way or another.

There’s no single way to treat addictions to new technologies in adolescents. That said, if one particular therapy or strategy doesn’t work, alternatives can always be sought. In any case, seeking professional help is always the first step that should be taken.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bickham DS. Current Research and Viewpoints on Internet Addiction in Adolescents. Curr Pediatr Rep. 2021;9(1):1-10.
  • Cash H, Rae CD, Steel AH, Winkler A. Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Curr Psychiatry Rev. 2012 Nov;8(4):292-298.
  • Grant JE, Chamberlain SR. Expanding the definition of addiction: DSM-5 vs. ICD-11. CNS Spectr. 2016 Aug;21(4):300-3.
  • Sharma MK, Palanichamy TS. Psychosocial interventions for technological addictions. Indian J Psychiatry. 2018 Feb;60(Suppl 4):S541-S545.
  • Young, K. S. Internet addiction: Evaluation and treatment. Bmj, 319(Suppl S4). 1999.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.