If you have a teen or tween with a smartphone, you know what a constant struggle it is to manage their phone usage. It’s as if our teens are addicted to their phones! We asked Suburbs 101 contributor, Justine Carino, a therapist who works with teens and young adults, to give us some advice on how to help our teens break their phone addiction. Tips on how to manage phone usage and how to get our teens and tweens off their phones. Here are 6 ways to manage teen phone addiction.
If you are the parent of a child between the ages of 11-18 years of age, you have probably heard this topic talked about at every PTA meeting, every Facebook post and all of the parenting forums since they started elementary school. Teens are addicted to their screens. As we all know, technology is only advancing and creating more ways for us to be free from moments of boredom forever. Who else binged on Disney+ over the winter holiday break? I convinced my husband that our 2-year-old son will love watching all of the movies we grew up with as he gets older, but really it was for myself.
To be honest, TV is not my biggest concern for our teens because it is not the device that they are spending all of their time on. As a psychotherapist, I am more concerned with the constant use of their phone and all that comes with it. Just try to take your 15-year-old daughter’s phone away from her. You will be convinced that there must be a rehab out there for this level of phone addiction. This type of reaction from your teen makes sense though because the same pathways and neurotransmitters activated in our brains by drug addiction are the same ones that are activated with screen addictions. Mr. iPhone even attends therapy sessions now because he’s that difficult to separate from. He has a nice place on the couch next to my clients until I kick him out for being too much of a distraction.
If you have an adolescent living in your house, you are probably well aware of how much they enjoy the endless opportunities to connect socially through their phones such as group texts, Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok and Face Time. It is in our nature to want to connect with other people and I cannot blame our teens for using their phones to communicate and be a part of their peer group. I use most of these apps as well and I really enjoy them. However, I also have the executive functioning skills needed to be able to put my phone away when I need to focus my attention, get sleep, or socialize with people face to face in my surroundings. Unfortunately, our teens do not have these skills. This area of our brain is not fully formed until we are about 25-years-old. You can’t even rent a car younger than this age because our frontal lobes where this area exists are not fully developed before then. So why do we allow our 14-year-olds to take their phones into their bedrooms at night? Well everyone comes up with a good reason. You know, it’s an “alarm clock.”
We are all suffering from the lack of solitude with our own thoughts, not just our teens. We no longer have the time and space to think and reflect, which is negatively impacting our creativity, our mood, ability to daydream and the ability to change. We now occupy the free time that would have allowed this to happen by checking on our phones. The free time like standing in the elevator, being in long car rides and sitting in waiting rooms, we no longer use that free time to think, instead, we are on our phones posting on social media, checking on emails and replying to text messages. This limitless connection and entertainment at our fingertips are not making people any happier, it is making all of us a lot sadder. I wanted to share a few ways you can manage your teen’s phone use. Teens today are addicted to their phones, as a result, they are suffering from increasing levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. All this is linked to the excessive amounts of time spent on screens. Keep in mind, in order for you to see any progress in controlling phone usage, you will need to model these self-regulation skills yourselves as well.
How to Manage Teen Phone Addiction
No Phones in the Room at Bedtime
Have your teen hand-in their phone before bed. I am not as concerned about the light emitted from the screen as I am about what teenagers are looking at on the phone that is triggering them at night. If you are looking at photos of people hanging out without you or you are being made fun of in the group chat, you are going to feel anxious and sad and not be able to sleep. It will also be very hard to put the phone down in order to try and get some sleep. The time in which your teen should hand in their phone will vary in every household and every family member should participate. Yes, you too mom and dad. Make a charging station in the kitchen where all of the phone’s “sleep” overnight. You will be surprised by how much earlier you all go to sleep, the better quality of sleep you have and how quickly your teens get out of bed in the morning to earn their phone back after breakfast.
No Phones at the Dinner Table
Do not allow phones during any family meal. With everyone’s busy schedules, family meals are essential for family members to connect with each other. Conversations during family meals also support development of social skills and conversation skills. You want your teen to develop the etiquette of not having a device at the table. Studies have shown that families who eat meals and talk with each other are more likely to have teens that score higher SAT and are less likely to have teens that engage in substance abuse. Once again, mom and dad should put their phones away too.
No Phones When Friends Are Over
Have them put their phones away when they have friends over. So many teens use their phones as a social crutch. Feeling awkward? Phone to the rescue! A lot of teens tell me how they hate hanging out with certain friends because all they do is check their phones or post on Snapchat during the hangout. No one is really talking or interacting with each other when their phones are being used. Have you ever tried talking to someone that is actively texting someone else? It’s. The. Worst. Encourage your child and their friends to drop their phones in a basket by the door when they are hanging out, so they are not distracted by it. This fosters social skill development that will pay off long after they leave your nest.
No Phones During Family Activities
Put all phones away during family activities. No one needs the phone when you are all going out for a hike, catching a movie or engaging in any other kind of family activity. Be brave and leave all of the phones in the car. This is a way of teaching your teen to set boundaries around their own phone use and to fully engage with activities.
Detox From Phone Usage
Have phone detoxes every few months. This is when you pick a weekend or vacation in which everyone puts their phones away. You will, of course, have resistance from your kids and probably even your spouse, but you will be surprised by how creative everyone will get with how they spend their time. You may actually see siblings bond with each other and make memories that were fully lived in the moment and not seen through the lens of a phone.
Turn Off Notifications
Teach your kids how to put their phones on “do not disturb” and change their app notification settings. I felt like a new person when I realized I could take off notifications on my phone such as text messages, email, Facebook and Instagram. We need to teach our teens how to set boundaries even with the apps we use on our phones. Many teens have difficulty studying or getting homework done because of the distracting beeps, sounds, and lights that pop up on their screen. Teach your teen how to eliminate the distracting triggers so they have the ability to be more focused. You showing them how to do this will put them in control of setting these limits themselves as they get older.
Managing phone usage is a constant battle, however, if you work with your teen to set rules and boundaries on phone usage, you should be able to manage their phone addiction.
About Justine Carino
Justine Carino, LMHC is a therapist with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She specializes in working with teens, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflicts, and relationship issues. Website: www.carinocounseling.com
Justine Carino is running an upcoming workshop for tweens with dietitian Ilyse Schapiro called “Own Your Wellness.” They are coming together to empower tweens to develop the skills they need in order to effectively navigate their health from the inside out. This is a workshop for 6th through 8th-grade students. Participants will learn tools to increase self-esteem, build positive body image and create healthy habits in 2020. The event will include an interactive discussion followed by Q&A with Ilyse and Justine. For more information and tickets, click here.