Our growing reliance on cells phones for more than just communication adds an extra layer of complexity in our lives. We struggle as adults to maintain a healthy balance with technology, but what about our teens? They are growing up in an age where over-reliance on cell phones for stimulation is a perfectly natural way of life. Think about it: they will never know what it was like before the predominance of cell phones.
How can we teach them to have a healthy relationship with such devices? First and foremost, as parents, it is our job to pay attention to how our teens are using their cell phones, monitoring for both content and context. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Talk to Them About It
Address use of their mobile device head on. See your teen buried in their phone for extended periods of time? Address it – “Hey ______ , what are you working on?” “Let’s put our phones away and go do _____ .”
Talk about the fact that technology is a great tool, but that it often detracts from real-life opportunities and experiences. Teach them about the beauty of conversation, such as the nuances of body language that cannot be expressed via text or email. Explain to them how to limit their exposure to unrealistic messages from social media about having the “perfect body” or “perfect life.” Talk about the value of true downtime, meditation, and creativity. Explain the benefits of simply giving your brain a break from the constant flow of information.
Offer Opportunities to Get Involved/ Encourage Non Digital Hobbies
Down days are great, we all need them. It is normal for your teen’s first response to want to spend too much time on their phone. It is an easy way to be passively entertained. Offer to do something with your teen to get them re-engaged with the here and now. Bake some cookies, go for a walk, or go to the mall (and leave the cell phone behind). Or, suggest a solitary activity, like “Hey, weren’t you reading that book?” or “Why don’t you continue working on that awesome drawing you were working on earlier.” You will know best what kinds of activities will entice your child enough to put down their cell phone.
Set Up “Tech-Free” Zones
In our house, we only allow our teen to use her cell phone in public areas. That is, no cell phone in her bedroom or downstairs in the basement. The same rule applies for any friends she has over (we’ve gotten our share of eye rolls over this one). This is important for two reasons:
- It limits the amount of time spent on the phone
- It allows parents to have more oversight of cell phone usage
We also have a rule about not using cell phones during meals. We preserve this time to check in with each other on what is going on with our lives.
People Over Technology
Cell phones have quite an allure. Social media streams provide an endless supply of entertainment. It is easy to become consumed by it instead of working on true relationships with your family, friends, or anyone you might encounter.
Find opportunities to get your child interested in spending time with you. Engage them in conversation. Ask them to put their phone away while you spend time together. In social settings, establish rules for cell phone use. For example: When we have company over, put your cell phone away and participate in the conversation. If you want to check in with your friends, please leave the room to do so.
Being on your phone in a room full of people is not “spending time together.”
Be A Role Model
This is the best way to get your teen to improve their technology habits. Teens have a “hypocrisy” meter, so they will keep close tabs on how you interact with your cell phone and use what they see as justification for their own behavior.
With the portability of work, adults now have a lot more reasons to be on their cell phones. Your teen does not necessarily know why you are using your phone because they do not yet have the experience of having a career or work demands. Explain to them what you are doing when you need to quickly reply to an urgent work issue, or check your work schedule for the next day.
Be conscious to put your phone away during family times. Fight the urge to scroll through endless social media updates or play video games whenever there is a free second. Council yourself about what you decide is an appropriate amount of time spent on digital media, and be public about it. This will give your teen real-life examples on how to council himself or herself on finding a more appropriate balance with technology.
Do you have household rules related to time spent on cell phones? What other ways have you found to encourage your teen to develop healthy cell phone habits?