Motivating teens to put down the phone

Every time you look at your teenager their head is down looking blankly at a screen. Family dinners are rushed or non existent because they would rather be on the phone then communicate with you. There is a feeling of being disconnected from your teen and you don’t know how to proceed. This post will  provide education and direction for parents who want to get their child back. 

First I think that is is important to understand that the overuse of electronic devises is not an individual problem but a societal one. Teenagers have become the set of eyes that advertisers, businesses, and social media outlets are working tirelessly to capture. Keeping your kids engaged is the business model and it is quite obvious that the model is working. The world is increasingly connected and there is no shortage of information or content to keep this process going.

Secondly it is important to understand how excessive screen time can negatively impact your teens. I am not an advocate for removing screen time completely because it is obvious that technology is and will continue to be a fundamental part of education, work, and daily life. I am however an advocate for consuming all things in moderation especially phone usage. Excessive screen time can lead to depression. This happens because spending time on the internet and social media provides the illusion of  genuine connectedness to peers and society. None the less in reality this causes teenagers to isolate which leads to the breakdown of relationships and natural supports. Once isolated from true human connection a teenagers emotions and understanding are being guided by whatever content then ingest. We have all experienced this, you get on your phone and after a few clicks an article or post grabs your attention. This post is unsettling and causes a moment of internal discomfort or sadness. It is possible to pull out of this sadness however for the isolated teen it can be extremely challenging. Excessive social media can also lead to anxiety. Think back to when you were a teenager and try to remember how much time you spent worrying about things out of your control. Teenagers today are flooded with constant information the good, the bad, and the ugly. I theorize that teenagers today simply take in too much information for their minds to process effectively. This excess of information can lead to uncertainty about the future, overwhelming fear, and a sense of helplessness. When overwhelmed by anxiety it can be difficult for teenagers to complete the most simple tasks. 

Lastly, what can parents do to help? I always urge parents to set limits to their children’s screen time. However this is not as simple as setting a parental lock or taking the phone away completely. You need to sit down and have a discussion with your child, not to barter with them but to educate them on the dangers of excess screen time. You as a parent can also encourage your teen to engage in different activities. One way to do this is have a conversation with you child about their interests. Once you know what your child is passionate about you can then support that passion. For example if your teenager is passionate about helping people then I would recommend helping them volunteer and find way to get them connected with others who share the same passion. In my opinion the biggest thing a parent can do is lead by example. If you get home from work and you sit down in front of the TV or  immediately pick up your phone then your children will follow suite. If you spend time doing things you are passionate about and discuss this with your children you will find that your teenagers will naturally do the same. 

Mitchell Mathews, LCSW

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