A Week With No Cell Phone: The Effects on Teenagers

Spending a week with no cell phone produces changes in the psychological, emotional, and social state of adolescents. Learn more.
A Week With No Cell Phone: The Effects on Teenagers
Elena Sanz Martín

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 16 December, 2022

Leaving teenagers with no cell phone for a week is usually a punishment imposed by parents for bad behavior. However, the effects this can have on young people are surprising and go far beyond reflecting on their behavior. This has been demonstrated in a recent study, in which several volunteers were deprived of this device for several days.

It’s no secret that technology totally permeates our daily lives. Both children and adults spend a great deal of time connected to the Internet, carry their cell phones everywhere, and feel uncomfortable not being able to use them for a certain period of time. We’ve become accustomed to this lifestyle, but we don’t imagine the extent that this can have on the mental, emotional, and social health of adolescents.

Pioneering research in Europe

A team of researchers from the University of Malaga (UMA), in collaboration with other institutions, has carried out a pioneering study in Europe. The main objective of the study was to learn more about the informative use of social networks in adolescents. However, it has also yielded interesting results regarding smartphone use and its effects.

Almost a hundred young people between 15 and 24 years of age took part in the study. Their cell phone use was monitored for three weeks. The first week was dedicated to identifying the average time of consumption, which reached five hours a day.

During the second week, and this is the most interesting, the volunteers put aside their cell phones completely. Finally, in the third week, it was found that, when the phone was returned to them, usage time returned to levels very similar to those at the beginning of the experiment.

A teenage girl sitting on a park bench looking nervous.
The lack of a cell phone produces episodes of anxiety in adolescents, which shows that its constant use causes addiction or dependence.

How does a week with no cell phone affect adolescents?

The young volunteers recorded in a diary their impressions of those days they spent totally disconnected from their cell phone. Thus, in their comments, they noted several interesting effects that we’ll tell you about below.

It produces episodes of anxiety

Most of the young people described feeling uncomfortable and insecure while being disconnected from their phones. They experienced anxiety when not having the phone nearby and felt a strong desire to use it, especially when they saw other people doing so.

These feelings may indicate that adolescents are developing an addiction to their mobile devices. It’s no longer a mere choice, but a necessity. If being disconnected produces such discomfort, the urge to use the phone again indicates that there may be a significant dependency.

Improves family relationships

Several participants commented that spending a week without a cell phone had a positive impact on their family relationships. Firstly, because they had spent more time interacting and sharing moments with their families. Whereas before they were used to isolating themselves in their room with their cell phones to check social networks, while spending a week with no cell phone, they decided to spend more time together.

Second, some young people reported that arguments with their parents had decreased drastically during that week. And this isn’t surprising, considering that internet and screen use is one of the main sources of conflict in households.

Increases productivity

Cell phones are a great distractor. It can be difficult for young people to focus on a task when their phone is nearby, as it leads them to procrastinate or pause to look at it constantly. Thus, going a week without a cell phone helped teens to be more productive, focus on their schoolwork, and finish it in much less time.

A teenage girl studying.
Having a cell phone nearby is a constant distraction for teens. Dispensing with it when doing homework helps young people concentrate on their homework and improves their productivity.

Promotes healthy leisure alternatives

As we saw, young people spend an average of five hours a day connected to their phones. Thus, by going a week with no cell phone, they were able to invest that time in other activities such as reading or spending quality time with their loved ones. Previously, young people hardly opted for these alternatives.

It hinders communication with peers

As a negative point, some participants commented that not having their phone at home hindered communication with their peers. This caused them discomfort and they felt that it interfered, for example, with their ability to do group work.

Going a week without a cell phone is a challenge for adolescents

At the end of the experiment, the young people admitted that they realized how dependent they were on their cell phones. Also, how excessive use interfered with their school performance, family relationships, and time management. Even so, they claimed that they couldn’t live without this device.

This study has brought to light a reality that we all already sensed: Young people are increasingly dependent on screens, social networks, and the internet. In many cases, this can even lead to addiction and create serious interference in daily life. Therefore, as parents, it’s always important to be vigilant, set certain limits, and offer more appropriate leisure alternatives.

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.

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