It’s a growing problem in New Jersey and across the nation: Children becoming addicted to their cell phones.

Stanley Teitelbaum, a clinical psychologist and a member of the New Jersey Psychological Association, says cell phone addiction is now classified as a disorder because it’s spiraled out of control in many families.

“When you see the amount of time that people are spending on their cell phones, and checking in and checking in over and over and over again, that’s a signal, that’s a clue that something is going on there.”

He pointed out while very young children may simply become mesmerized by a cell phone, many times with older kids and adults “it becomes a way of avoiding other things, it’s a way of avoiding life."

So what’s the best way for parents to handle this?

Teitelbaum said there is no hard and fast rule about how much screen time children should have at specific ages. Every family has to work out a solution based on the particulars of their own child.

He said appropriate cell phone time use should depend upon “what age we’re talking about, what grade we’re talking about, and what is the child’s habit thus far in terms of how he does his homework, how serious or motivated is he about school.”

Teitelbaum noted a simple way to approach the issue is to tell the child: “You do your homework up until X amount of time, and then at that time you can have an hour to go to your video games or whatever else you want to be doing.”

How old should a child be when they get a cell phone?

Teitelbaum said this depends on “when there is a sense that the kid will be responsible in having the cell phone, keeping the cell phone and not losing the cell phone. Probably around 10.”

But, he adds, “you have to evaluate the level of responsibility and level of maturity for a 10-year-old before going forward and providing a cell phone.”

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