Last night I swear I had this bad dream that my 14 year old’s phone charger was wrapped around her neck. Parents come in my office throwing their hands up about the phone. “Put the damn phone down!” Some simply take it away, monitor it endlessly or cancel it altogether. Some dial it down and leave it alone. Others have screen-free time, say after 9p. Yet while some kids can thrive with the phone, some cannot bear to leave the distraction alone. We can speculate that kids with even mild ADHD will have a harder time putting it down. It takes a fair amount of focus not to keep looking. I myself haven’t mastered it.
So what should they do?
- Keep it in perspective – you can’t helicopter them 24/7. Grades and peer pressure may help you here. Focus on things you can control.
- Are they up all night? This is the biggest red flag. EVERYBODY knows that teens need sleep. Extra, extra sleep. If your teen is up with the phone ALL NIGHT something needs to change. Mood disorders trigger tons more (in my experience) with sleep deprivation. (This is what I hear from some people: my teen is up all night. She can’t get up for school. Her grades are slipping. She is anxious and depressed. She doesn’t eat all day. When she comes home at 3p, she takes a nap. After dinner, she starts her homework and stays up all night. In a word, my child has become nocturnal). NO NAPPING! In many cases like this the phone should be taken away until a somewhat normal sleep hygiene routine can be established. Sit back and watch the mood and grades improve before it’s too late!
- Establish trust in positive sense not a punitive one. For example, I will not monitor you unless I have to, I would rather you monitor yourself. If something scary is going on like texts or sexts from strangers, you must talk to me. My job is to keep you safe! Instead of, I am going to watch your every move because you’re inherently untrustworthy.
- Help your teen understand that you both want the same things. They want more freedom and you want more control. But if they put the phone down and get some work done in school, you’re more likely to back off! (Common sense 101)
- Appeal to their primitive brains. Let them work toward something meaningful like a new gadget or special outing or a party with friends IF they can get the grades and put the phone down. (Problem-solving and negotiation in family therapy is not the worst approach).
- IF all else fails, take the phone and see what happens, as an experiment. You may see a dramatic turn around, or a very sullen, lonely child. Be objective and just observe. Has this intervention made a significant difference? Discuss.
- Boys and video games: sorry folks but boys tend to need social skills more than girls, so if your teen boy is online all night, shut it down! They need to get outside. I’ve had fathers pulling their hair out about, “When I was a boy we played baseball til sundown…” When boys get depressed, they tend to lash out and become aggressive, angry and irritable. When girls get depressed they tend to turn on themselves. Watch closely for signs of depression and proceed accordingly.
Parents, I know it’s not easy to regulate a teen. They will push, and you must push back. If you’re like me (hypersensitive) or to re-frame (a veritable human empath), it’s going to be even harder to withstand the push back. But endure you must. Fasten your seat belts! It’s going to be a wild ride…
Teen with phone photo available from Shutterstock