Question: My 14-year-old freshman is constantly on her phone and it really annoys me. She is busy and involved with a lot of things at her school, including sports, and gets good grades. But at what point is it enough? I’ve talked with her about looking up from her phone and enjoying life once in a while, but am I being unreasonable when it’s daily. I understand these are the times, but my goodness, it doesn’t seem healthy. I try to respect her privacy, but I also do check up on her once in a while. I just don’t want to be one of those parents who has no idea what their child is doing behind the scenes. Help!
Answer: You are not alone. Many parents are frustrated by their teenager’s use—or over-use—of technology. Our recent feature on technology addressed your question, so we’re going to summarize here what our experts told us. Hopefully, this will help.
Experts recommend parents bring technology under the “parenting umbrella.” In other words, think of technology as just another privilege you are giving your teenager, like, say, going out on a weekend with peers. That means you should implement guidelines about how technology can be used, just like you have guidelines about other privileges, including where, when and maybe even with whom your teenager is allowed to hang out on a Friday night.
Here are some ideas to get you started, courtesy of Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age:
1. No technology during family mealtimes for everyone. If a parent is expecting an important call for work, announce that and keep the phone on vibrate. When the call comes through, step away from the table.
2. Thirty minutes before bedtime, technology gets turned off and put away for the evening. Staring at a screen inhibits the production of melatonin in our brains and disrupts our ability to fall asleep.
3. No technology in bedrooms overnight. Too many teenagers are staying up too late with their devices or waking up during the night to check them. View this as a way of protecting your teenager’s sleep.
4. No technology while driving ever. Parents should model this behavior for teenagers who aren’t yet driving. Teenagers with a license should be required to turn off the phone and put it away while behind the wheel.
5. No devices while doing homework. It’s official: technology and homework don’t necessarily mix. Yes, your teenager will need to use a computer for homework. But the multitasking that is popular with teenagers—checking social media in between Algebra problems, for example—is a bad idea. Researchers now know that this kind of multitasking distracts teenagers from the task at hand. So, if your teenager is using technology as a tool to get homework done (research, word processing, etc.), that’s fine. But consider limiting access to social media and other “leisure” tech activities until homework is done.
6. Limit technology during vacations. Vacations are a chance to bond as a family. Don’t let technology get in the way of that important outcome. Consider setting specific times during each day that everyone can use technology, then put the devices away.
If there are other rules that work for your family, then go for it, say the experts. Recognize that for teenagers used to unlimited access to technology, a phase-in period may be in order. But remember that any limits will only work if there are penalties for breaking the rules, such as taking the device away for a period of time.
Hope this helps!