Overcoming the Collective Action Problem: Enacting Norms to Address Adolescent Technology Addiction


  • Dr. A. Shaji George Independent Researcher, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
  • Tina Shaji Independent Researcher, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India




Adolescents, Smartphones, social media, Mental health, Anxiety, Depression, Overuse, Restrictions, Collective action, Norms


The rapid adoption of smartphones and social media has coincided with a significant decline in adolescent mental health. Rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation have risen sharply since 2012, corresponding to the ubiquity of the smartphone. This crisis demands urgent solutions to help the next generation develop healthy relationships with technology. The core driver of adolescent tech overuse is the collective action problem, whereby teens partake excessively because peer usage creates social pressures to conform. Even children who self-report negative impacts from social media find it hard to abstain when “everyone else is doing it.” Solving this requires coordinated action to enact new societal norms around adolescent technology use. This paper proposes four such norms that could be enacted by parents and schools: (1) No smartphone usage until high school, relying instead on basic flip phones; (2) No social media usage until age 16, when teens have greater self-regulatory abilities; (3) Schools institute phone-free policies during the school day, requiring students to store devices in lockers; (4) Families commit to phone-free interaction during dinner times. There are challenges to formalizing these rules, from parental perceptions of phones as “digital babysitters” to fears over children being socially excluded. However, research insights counteract these barriers. Polling reveals most parents are alarmed about technology harms. Studies find adolescent tech use directly displaces in-person interaction and sleep, while increasing rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Meanwhile, adolescents themselves report ambivalence about social media in particular, wishing they could return to a time before its existence given its negative impacts. This reveals the collective action problem and suggests norms could be socially diffused if enough peer consensus emerges. There are also precedents for rapidly changing youth norms, including the decline in teenage smoking over the past 20 years. In conclusion, simply educating the public about the mental health consequences of adolescent tech overuse is insufficient to address this crisis. The collective action problem systematically compels unhealthy overuse. Top-down governmental solutions are unlikely. Instead, concerted efforts by parents, schools and local communities to enact usage norms during the neurologically critical phase of adolescent development offer a promising way to help our youth navigate the digital age in a savvier, healthier manner.




How to Cite

Dr. A. Shaji George, & Tina Shaji. (2024). Overcoming the Collective Action Problem: Enacting Norms to Address Adolescent Technology Addiction . Partners Universal International Research Journal, 3(2), 57–75. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.11800020