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Ask The Expert: What are Reasonable Limits On Technology For Teens?

Dear Your Teen:

I’d like some ideas for reasonable guidelines for my teenager’s technology use in our home. I’m not a fan of my teenagers being on their devices 24/7, but I also understand that I need to be flexible given the importance of technology to today’s teenagers. Thanks.

EXPERT | Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ph.D.

Great question. In general, when it comes to teenager’s technology, experts recommend parents bringing it 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 feel comfortable setting guidelines about how your teenager’s technology should be used, just like you have guidelines about other privileges, like, for example, how late your teenager is allowed to stay out on a Friday night.

We asked Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age for her ideas. Here’s what she recommends.

Technology For Teenagers: Setting Technology Limits

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.

Thirty minutes before bedtime, turn off technology 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.

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.

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.

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” teenager’s technology activities until homework is done (or during breaks).

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!

Learn more about Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair and The Big Disconnect at her website.

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