Home Blog Articles Worried About Your Teen’s Smartphone Addiction? Parents, Put Your Phones Down!

Worried About Your Teen’s Smartphone Addiction? Parents, Put Your Phones Down!

by Kate Borsato

If you aren’t already concerned about your teen’s possible smartphone addiction, then now’s the time to pay attention!

And while many adults tease (and even ridicule) younger generations for their addictive tech behaviour, we need to focus a little more on what we’re modelling to our always-watching kiddos.

Sometimes the best way to change another person is to change yourself.  So if you’re concerned about what might look like a smartphone addiction, start by putting your phone down.

Sounds harsh?  I know.  It feels harsh.

But the truth is, we all need to hear it.  I strongly believe that we must reflect on our own behaviour before we expect so much from our kids. 

Are you worried about your teen's smartphone habits? You're probably right to be concerned. The way to solve this problem is actually easier than you think: let's take care of our own smartphone habits to show out kids how to develop healthy technology limits.

Kids These Days…

They’re glued to their phones. They don’t know how to play outside, to entertain themselves, to use their imaginations. You’ve heard this all before, haven’t you? And while clearly this is not a complete picture of teens, it does have a ring of truth.  Yet what’s missing is the acknowledgement of where teens learn to behave this way.

When we look at adults and teens together, their digital footprint isn’t all that different. We, too, love to surf our socials, get lost in Netflix, escape in video games. We send emails all day, message our friends, send videos, take pictures of everything. Edit them, delete them, send them. Rinse. Repeat.

Let’s look a some numbers:

Almost all (87%) teens have smartphones; half feel addicted to their phones, and 2 thirds of parents think their teens spend too much time on digital devices (learn more here).

Sure, teens are major tech consumers, we already know this.  But let’s acknowledge that parents are just as into it! In fact, parents of tweens and teens actually spend slightly more time on social media per week than their kids do! (6hrs 20 minutes compared to almost 7 hours!) (see the study here).

And on a given day, these parents average more than 9 hours of screen media each day (including work time (read the report here).

So. there’s that.

Get Realistic, Shall We?

I know I’m not the only one who finds some parenting advice a little unrealistic…annoying…out of touch with reality.

We are human beings after all, and most of us encounter a lot of stress every single day which makes it challenging to always be the parent we want to be.

So, no, I am not going to tell you to banish tech from your household.  Forget that!  I would actually lose my mind if I couldn’t put a Netflix show on every now and again so I could take a breath!

FACT:  Technology is not bad; You don’t need to give up your smartphone to be a good parent; A bit of screen time isn’t going to hurt your child; Your kids probably won’t become addicted to technology.

ALSO FACT: Many families overuse technology and feel disconnected from each other; Many parents worry that their kids don’t want to do anything else but use tech; Many kids have social problems due to overusing technology; Social media can be brutal for self-esteem.

All of these things are true!

What I ask of you is to develop a complete picture of technology. The good and the bad. Nothing is black and white, and technology certainly fits that model. The challenges always fall within how we actually use technology, the role it plays in our family, and the limits we put in place.

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The fact is, there hasn’t yet been a generation of kids who’ve been raised by plugged-in parents. We don’t actually know the impact yet. Sure, many of us had parents who were “disconnected” in other ways, either through work, travel, or other circumstances.

But we certainly didn’t grow up wondering why our parents stare at the phones all the time. Competing for attention with their iPads. Learning that being connected to some kind of device most of our waking hours is tolerable.  Being interrupted with dings and buzzes. Sitting on the sofa together while everyone couldn’t be further away.

This wasn’t our experience, but it is for many teens today.

The biggest problem is that technology interrupts in-person connections. 

When out of balance, tech devices gets in the way of family relationships, which ultimately form the foundation for how children feel about themselves, and learn to relate to others.  If that foundational connection (or attachment) is shaky, then it becomes really difficult for kids to build confidence and solid connections in the future.

Be Brave and Take Responsibility

What I hear time-and-time again goes something like this:

“This is the time we live in. Everyone is plugged in…we live in the technology era after all.”

Sure, this might be true. But you’re reading this because you’re concerned about your family. You know that it doesn’t feel right to be plugged in all the time, and you’re not sure what to do about it.

And just because the world is getting more and more engulfed in technology, doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing (normal isn’t always good, remember?).

Be brave to challenge what’s perceived as normal.  Give yourself permission to question it all. To refuse to go along with status quo. And to follow you gut about the potential impact of technology

For starters, I encourage you to get brutally honest about what is happening in your family. And don’t blame the cultural era or norms, but instead, take more responsibility for what is going on.

You, as the parent, are constantly making choices and steering the course of your family’s experience.  Sometimes these choices are really obvious (like taking away your teen’s smartphone for the night). And sometimes they are less obvious (like doing nothing about your son’s gaming for 6 hours straight). Inaction is still a choice.

If you are in a situation where everyone is over-teched and under-connected with one another, there have been choices that led to this (Gulp. I know. Thats a hard one).

Now, this is important to hear:

I encourage you to take responsibility not so that you feel like a horrible parent.  Instead, I hope that you can acknowledge your power in this situation. Would you rather feel like you have something to do with the problem or feel like a victim to the circumstance?

Sure, I appreciate that it’s hard to accept our role in a problematic situation, but at the end of the day, it’s much more empowering.

When you take responsibility, you also step into a place of control. By being involved in the problem, you are also involved in the solution. See how that works?

It Starts With You

My number one recommendation for parents is to focus on their own tech-habits if they want to impact how their children relate to technology.

You are their most influential teacher (not their school teachers or friends…YOU!). Your values, behaviours, communication patterns, language, are literally imprinted on your children.

So rather than focusing on what they are doing with their smartphones, turn that energy toward yourself.

What are you modelling? What messages do you send to your family about technology? How important is technology to you? Is it more important than family connection?

And reflect on these questions:

Do you walk around your home with your phone in your hand?

Do you take your phone or iPad to the bathroom?

Surf on your device while laying bed?

Do you pick up your device during family hangout time, or dinner?

Do you touch base with your phone or ipad regularly through the evening?

There’s no magical formula for establishing healthy technology balance in your home. However, what’s consistent across the board is that parents’ technology habits directly relate to their kids’ tech-behaviour.  

What values do you want to pass along? How do you want your children to manage technology in their lives? And does your behaviour match what you hope their behaviour would be?

Here’s a couple more of my articles that dive a little deeper into how to create tech life balance in your home:

Tech-Life Balance in the Family

Mindfulness and Healthy Technology Use

All my best!

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