• Daniel Jenkins

Does your teen always have their face in a screen? Here's help.

Updated: Mar 13, 2019

"Mom, I'll die without my phone!"

Recently, parents in our Parenting Together group on Facebook mentioned that cell phone addiction is one of the biggest struggles they face with their teen. We see it all the time. The issue has become so big that Apple launched an entire campaign built around new features to help restrict device usage. Technology itself isn't a bad thing. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that there are several benefits to digital & social media use: "early learning, exposure to new ideas & knowledge, [and] increased opportunities for social contact & support." Still, the risks of abusing social & digital media should be taken seriously: "negative health effects on sleep, attention, and learning; a higher incidence of obesity and depression; exposure to inaccurate, inappropriate, or unsafe content and contacts; and compromised privacy and confidentiality." Does any of that sound familiar to you? If so, you're not alone.

Parents all across America have been experiencing their teens spend more time with digital devices. Interestingly, it's not just parents who have noticed the growing epidemic. In the AAP article, it's noted that "24% of adolescents describe themselves as 'constantly connected' to the Internet and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones." Parents should be equipped to help their teenagers overcome their self-diagnosed technology addictions.

If navigating the murky waters of technology is intimidating to you, have no fear. I've helped other parents through this same situation. In a "past life" I served families as an Apple Genius; helping parents set device restrictions for their child's devices. I've also walked parents through how to establish device standards.

If you're ready to help your teen overcome their dependence on digital devices, try these simple steps:

1. Enable Device Restrictions

Ultimately, enabling device restrictions will be a way to "leash" your teen's device usage. You can set which content your teen can access and how often directly through the device itself. For children, I would say this feature is an absolute necessity. For teenagers, however, the necessity becomes a bit murky. Enabling restrictions in the device itself is a heavy-handed approach. You would essentially be forcing your teen to abide by your rules.

Now, there's a time and place for this. If your teen has proven untrustworthy, or has expressed signs of a serious addiction, you may want to enable device restrictions. Another great time to enable device restrictions is when a teen first receives their device. There's no better time to establish good device habits than the very beginning. As your teen matures and earns your trust, I recommend letting the leash out a bit. Start by opening up usage restrictions you deem appropriate. Then, consider giving them the passcode to their device's parental controls feature. Remind them of the standards you expect of them, but give them the ability to make their own decisions.

Apple released the first iPhone in 2007. It took 11 years for Apple to finally release a decent suite of parental control features. As of iOS 12, released in 2018, parents now have the ability to control how their teens use their devices. For Apple's official guide on how to use these new features, click this link.

If you happen to use another device than an iPhone, most manufacturers & developers have integrated parental controls into their devices. Consult your owner's manual or manufacturer's website for details.

2. Agree on When, Where, and How Devices Are Used

More important than enabling device restrictions is having a common understanding of what proper device usage looks like. Many parents have implemented technology agreements with varying success. The most common agreements include:

  • an understanding of "why" device standards are necessary

  • unlimited parental access

  • time limits, including scheduled down time

  • device-free zones (dining room, while driving, etc.)

  • moral standards (bullying, teasing, sexual material, manners, etc.)

I encourage you to sit down with your teen and establish these agreements together. It's important that your teen, and you, understand the "why" behind the "what." When your teen takes part in the creation of the standards and is in agreement with the "why," he or she will be more likely to adhere to them. If you would like some inspiration or examples of good device agreements, here are some great places to start:

3. Lead By Example

This is by far the most impactful and important thing you can do when helping your teen with overcoming device usage. The digital addiction epidemic isn't limited to teenagers. Parents and adults are demonstrating an overwhelming lack of maturity and control when it comes to their device usage. If you want your teen to use their devices responsibly, then you need to use your device responsibly. Here are some quick questions to help you assess any areas you could improve:

  • Do you use your devices at home when you could be spending your time & energy with family?

  • How often do you check social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)?

  • How often do you read news content online or watch entertaining videos?

  • Do you check your device when you're in conversation with other people?

  • Have you said anything negative to another person online?

  • Have you shared any negative or hateful content online?

  • Do you have your device nearby at meal times?

If any of those questions struck a nerve with you or caused you to feel convicted, that's a good thing. These types of questions reveal areas we can grow while also validating areas where we do well. Don't let those convictions be in vain. Your teen will be more convinced by your example than any rules you try to set over them.

If you begin leading by example, setting standards for device usage, and use the built-in features of your teen's devices, you will help your teen get control of their digital life. Remember, we control technology. Technology doesn't control us.

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