Nothing is worse than trying to negotiate phone time with a teen. Sometimes it feels like the device is attached to their hand, which can be impossible to remove.
And if you do get them to put it down for a few minutes, they keep longingly looking over at it so they can quickly check social media or a text from their friends. You know how it goes. They say, “I just want to check something,” and then 30 minutes later, they’re still scrolling.
It can feel impossible to get them to stop checking their phone.
Teen cell phone addiction is a real thing, and it’s wreaking havoc on our teenagers.
In fact, there is a psychological condition named nomophobia, or NO MObile PHone PhoBIA, when people fear being detached from mobile phone connectivity. Teens are especially susceptible to this problem.
According to Pew Research, nearly half of teens feel addicted to their cell phones. Teenage cell phone use statistics show that around 45% of teenagers constantly check their phones and confess feelings of addiction to their electronic devices. This makes it an ongoing struggle for teens and their parents.
What’s more disturbing is while 52% of teens want to cut back on their phone usage, almost the same amount (56%) equate the absence of their smartphones with negative emotions.
We can’t only complain about teens and screen time–we must actively participate in the process.
There is nothing new to report here. We all know that excessive screentime, gaming, social media, and scrolling can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
We also know that having the world wide web at the fingertips of teens and tweens whose minds and bodies are developing rapidly is a dangerous combination. Bullying, sexting, and predator grooming are just a few ways they can get into trouble online.
But who wants to argue with their child every second of every day?
Sure, it would be great to ask your kid nicely to get off their phones, and they complied. It would be great if they recognized that social media apps like Instagram and SnapChat were bad for their self-esteem. Yes, it would be great if they only used their mobile devices for productive reasons, like schoolwork or audiobooks, instead of scrolling mindless YouTube videos.
But we have to remember that this is the first generation of kids born during the age of the Internet, and these cyber-babies need some tools to develop healthy habits.
If we want to change their behavior, we have to get creative.
Signs of Teen Smartphone Addiction
Addiction means you cannot control your desire to do something that may be harmful to yourself or others. Many adults cannot wrap their heads around how addicted their teen is to their cell phone, but some researchers say that the withdrawal from an iPhone could be similar to the withdrawal of nicotine/smoking.
We also believe that most adults don’t recognize the addiction to their phones they may have, so it makes it hard for them to instill good habits for their kids.
Signs of smartphone addiction may look like this:
- They appear panicked when they can’t find their phone or can’t check it.
- The first and last thing they do each day is to check their phone.
- Their mood is impacted immediately (positively or negatively) after they check their phone.
- They think they hear their phone buzz or ding (even when it doesn’t). They may hear it in school or other places where they can’t use it.
- They start detaching from people and activities to spend more time on their phones.
- They wake up in the middle of the night to check their phone.
Let us start by saying that it’s not going to be easy to help your teen break up with their phone.
Just like any addiction, there is a period of detox that is unpleasant for everyone. Smartphone addicts need to have their phones nearby, and some studies show that their pulse will go up when they think their phone is missing.
If you’re like most parents, you’ve already spent a great deal of time arguing about your teen’s phone, but that doesn’t mean you’ve lost. We believe it’s never too late to set new technology rules for your family.
Start slow, and know that this is a process. Managing smartphone use is an important life skill.
The reward will be adults who have healthy habits and coping mechanisms when it comes to technology.
10 Ways to Get Your Teens to Put Their Smartphone Down
Turn off notifications
There is a reason every app wants to push notifications to your screen front and center. The more notifications you get, the more you will interact with the app (and the more money for the developer.)
We’ve seen this in our own house. One evening, when my teens’ phones were sitting on my kitchen counter after 11 p.m., I could not believe how many notifications were popping up on their screens. Text messages, SnapChat, Instagram, YouTube notifications. Their screens were flashing incessantly. No wonder why they always wanted to check.
Turning off notifications is a great first step to stopping your kids from wanting to check their phones compulsively.
Identify triggers that make them want to check their phones
Research has found that people of all ages have triggers that make them want to check their phones, such as unoccupied moments (i.e., waiting to meet a friend), procrastinating a hard task, giving yourself a break from a tedious task (homework, cleaning room), socially awkward situations, boredom, or waiting for information.
Unfortunately, what happens is we check our phones for a second and then end up losing 30-60 minutes for scrolling.
Preparing and knowing how to deal with these triggers (such as bringing a book to read or setting a timer to finish a task) can help tremendously with the desire to check phones.
Take phones out of bedrooms an hour before sleep
We all know teens today are overscheduled with school work, activities, jobs, and their social life. And study after study shows that adolescents are not getting enough sleep. Set up a charging station that you can monitor and ensure your kids adhere to putting their phones in it roughly an hour before bedtime. In our house, it’s 9:00 p.m. on school nights and 11 p.m. on weekends.
Develop family technology boundaries–and stick to them
You can’t tell your teen to get off their phone and then be on your phone for most of the day. Set rules where every family member (including yourself!) does not use their phones in bed, during meals, or in the bathroom. It also works well if you institute some guidelines like Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings will be no-technology times.
Here is a list of the technology rules you should be setting for your teens and tweens.
We hate to say it, but setting a good example and showing your teens how to use tech appropriately is the best gift you can give them as they launch into the real world.
Find good technology alternatives that you all enjoy
Like Pavlov’s dog, many teens get into cars and start scrolling their phones. I also notice my teens do this when eating at the kitchen counter or sitting on the couch. Have some podcasts or audiobooks that they may like and play those in the car, when making dinner, or in the morning.
Here’s a great list of teen-approved audio.
We also sometimes watch Ted Talks or documentaries when we have a few extra minutes or stream a show we can watch together.
Prepare yourself with boredom busters
By and large, boredom is the number one reason teens turn to cell phones on the regular. It’s just so easy.
And that’s the way the app companies want it.
So, as parents, we do have to do some legwork. If you have the time, try to get your big kids out of the house and do something constructive. Volunteer, take a hike, go see a free concert, check out a local bakery or small business, visit a free museum–anything to encourage some phone downtime.
But we also understand that many parents are stretched to the max. This list of 50 Screen-free Activities is great to keep on hand, but we encourage parents to help teens find hobbies they want to do even more than sitting on their phones.
Parents can also fill time with low-cost classes or activities. For example, when my daughter said she regretted quitting the piano, we dug out our old keyboard, and she found an app to play her favorite songs. When her older sister wanted to learn how to sew, I gladly spent $9.99 on an e-course to help her learn.
Teens need to re-learn how to use their time and find something they like even better than being on their phones. Simply scheduling some screen-free activities or family time can make a big difference.
Log each family member’s screentime
When I needed to drop a few pounds last year, my friend and trainer recommended I use a food tracking app. She said that people who logged their meal intake lost twice as much weight as those that didn’t because they held themselves accountable.
The same is true with understanding how much time you spend on your phone. If you have no way to judge your phone usage, it’s impossible to see any improvement or understand how dire the situation may be (the average teen spends 5-6 hours online each day.) Most models and makes of smartphones now come with a ScreenTime settings page that allows the user to schedule downtime and app limits. There are also apps such as BreakFree or QualityTime that will help you reduce your phone time.
Talk about it
Like it or not, cell phones are here to stay (at least until the next crazy gadget comes out.) It’s important to find out from your teen why they want to be on their phone and how they think they are managing it appropriately.
Talk to them about healthy coping strategies, and ask how they feel when on their phone.
In a striking conversation with one of my teens, they told me that Instagram sometimes made them physically ill. When I asked why she still used it, she responded, “I have no idea. I guess I never thought about quitting.”
I was surprised when a few weeks later, I found out that while her Insta profile was still up, she removed the app from her phone. When she wants to see something, like back-to-school stuff or prom photos, she will put the app back on, but for day-to-day use, she recognized it was not good for her.
Although we all want our teens to be more present and happy, sometimes simply swapping out apps can make all the difference. Not all tech is bad tech.
Consider suggesting more positive apps for your teen to use on their phones, such as fitness apps, mindfulness apps, or even an app that helps them learn a language. Consider providing incentives when your teen uses these apps more than social media.
The point is to get them to stop doing something mindless and start doing something mindful.
Most teens think they are masters of multitasking. They can study and listen to music. Or facetime a friend and clean their room. Or, my personal favorite, walk through a crowd while looking at their phone.
What they don’t realize is how when they multitask, they usually aren’t doing either task well.
Discourage your teen from doing two things simultaneously and discuss how multitasking interferes with productivity. More importantly, discuss how having their heads on their phones while doing something else also blocks out their ability to stay aware of their surroundings and any potential dangers.
Screentime doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Excessive screen time can damage our teens and pre-teens physically and psychologically.
It can cause our kids to miss out on activities and opportunities to develop meaningful connections with friends and family.
By setting up some healthy technology boundaries, encouraging the use of smartphones for different purposes, and modeling appropriate behavior, we give our teens a fighting chance to break free from the shackles of too much screen time.
We’re not saying it’s easy, but we know they are worth it!
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
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