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Too Much Screen Time? When Your Teenager is Always On the Phone

By Galit Breen

I help people be kind online.

Because this is my line of work, when I go out to the store or the coffee shop with my kids, people don’t stop me to place their hands on their hearts to tell me how fast it’s all going. They place their hand on my arm to ask me their burning questions about their digital kids. And it has to do with too much screen time.

And in my time studying kids and the online world, I have found that no matter how techy—or not—a mom is, how helicopter-ish or free range she has been in the past, almost everyone carries the same fear.

Too Much Screen Time

Today I’m going to tell you exactly what’s plaguing modern parents the most about their kids’ online use. And I’m going to tell you how to fix it.

Before we dig in …

Do you remember being little and your parents disliking something that you did? Maybe it was misplacing your homework, watching too much TV, or missing a curfew (or two).

What did they do? How did they stop or fix the behavior?

The reason I’m asking is really simple:

Even though we are the first generation of parents and educators raising digital kids without having been them and this makes it tricky to know exactly what to do, we can rely on tried and true parenting methods to help get us through.

In other words, this digital age isn’t all that different than any other parenting “bump” that we’ve already lived through and, in my opinion, this is great news! It means that we can rely on what has worked in other arenas to help us in this digital age.

The (digital) problem that I want to tackle today is the “too much screen time” one. This is one thing that I think plagues so many of us!

Hand-on-heart, we all want our kids to have their small moments, to NOT be that kid at the football game ignoring their friends, staring at their phone. We’re afraid that they’re missing out on running through sprinklers, eating popsicles, laughing till their bellies hurt.

The problem is very rarely that we want to keep our kids away from technology. Rather, it’s that we don’t want our kids’ online worlds to replace what we know from experience is so good off line. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way and we can rely on how our parents solved what they didn’t like about our behaviors to help our digital kids.

Here’re 5 things you can do today if it seems like your child is on her phone all the time.

  1. Communicate—Tell her clearly and honestly why it’s bothering you.
  2. Tools—Explain to her that you want her to see her device as a tool, not as an extension of her wrist.
  3. Model—Show her how this is done by deciding where everyone’s devices will be plugged in when they’re not in use. This one change is really impactful!
  4. Rules—Lay some ground rules around device use. These are your “bottom lines”—what you’re willing to go to the wall for.
  5. Plan—Now plan for what to do when those rules are broken, because they’re kids and they’re learning.

Our parents knew #5 really, really well. This is why we knew whether our tween and teen actions were risking punishment. And it’s how we knew whether or not they were worth the risk.

Sometimes we did take that risk. And when we did, our parents didn’t hesitate to dole out those consequences. We can do the exact same thing with screen time balance.

At our house, if our bottom lines are broken, our kids lose their phones until they come talk to us about what happened. Like when a phone is becoming an extension of one of my kids’ wrists, for example. Then we make a plan together for how to fix it. Then they get their phone back and we try again.

 If we parent digital problems like we do all the others—like there is something to teach and to learn here—the whole problem seems a lot more manageable. And in this case, too much screen time can become a lot more … dare I say … balanced.


Galit Breen

Galit Breen is the author of Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching our kids how to be kind online and runs the Facebook group The Savvy Parents Club. To learn more, visit her website at theselittlewaves.net.