Like many parents with teens, we have a love-hate relationship with our children’s cellphones. It’s great when kids need to let us know when their after school plans change, which they often do. It’s great when we need to track where they are because the bus home from school is running late or to make sure they got picked up from a friend’s house. It’s even great when we need to ask them what they want at the store or to come downstairs for dinner.
What is not great about it is without limits, they would be on it 24-7. They would choose phone use — texting, video watching, game playing — over sleep, eating, homework. It sometimes makes you wonder: Why did we give them the phone in the first place? and do they even need a phone?
Common Sense Media surveyed 1,240 parents and their children ages 12-18 in February and March about how they felt about their mobile devices.
Half of the teens say they “feel addicted” to mobile devices. 59 percent of parents agreed that their kids were addicted.
Here are some of the key findings of the study:
- Addiction: 1 out of every 2 teens feels addicted to his or her device, and the majority of parents (59 percent) feel that their kids are addicted.
- Frequency: 72 percent of teens and 48 percent of parents feel the need to immediately respond to texts, social-networking messages, and other notifications; 69 percent of parents and 78 percent of teens check their devices at least hourly.
- Distraction: 77 percent of parents feel their children get distracted by their devices and don’t pay attention when they’re together at least a few times per week.
- Conflict: A third of parents and teens (36 percent and 32 percent, respectively) say they argue with each other on a daily basis about device use.
- Risky behavior: 56 percent of parents admit they check their mobile devices while driving; 51 percent of teens see their parents checking/using their mobile devices when driving.
The Common Sense report stemmed from last November’s report, Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens, which indicated that U.S. teens use an average of nine hours of media per day. Of course, the American Academy of Pediatrics would like kids to not be on any screen for more than two hours a day and not before age 2.
I’ve written a lot about limiting screen time. Here are some ideas on how to do it:
Don’t go cold turkey. It’s too much, too fast. Take small steps, adding a new rule or taking away something each week or two.
Quality over quantity.Instead of mindlessly watching TV, let the kids pick one or two favorites to watch each week.
Watch or play together.Yes, I know. Sometimes watching my daughter play computer games or watch her favorite show makes me want to scream. Yet, if we watch together, I’m making sure that there’s a conversation, not just mindless play or watching.
No TV, computers, gaming system, phone in the bedrooms. You can monitor what kids are watching and how much they are watching if they are not squirreled away in the bedroom. At night, you especially want the smartphones off because that’s when all of their friends are trying to text them instead of letting them sleep. It’s also when kids are not monitored and all kinds of mean or unsettling phone behavior can happen. That old saying, “Nothing good happens after midnight,” applies to electronics as well.
Set an example. If you’re constantly on the phone or computer at home, what kid is going to follow your advice? Even though we all have to work from home sometimes, try to make a point to set aside the electronics and make time for family.
One thing at a time.Multitasking might look like efficiency, but why do you need to be on the laptop and smartphone while watching TV and eating dinner? Dinner should be the priority. And that TV as background noise is not a good idea because kids will end up watching it even if they don’t realize it.
Be the boss. There are apps for setting time limits on smartphones and tablets, like Screen Time, that will physically turn off the device. You also can buy devices like BOB Screen Time Manager for the TV and computer. But the best monitor doesn’t come in an app or a device. It’s you setting the limits and enforcing them. Be the parent.
Find other things to do.Busy kids don’t miss their machines. If you’re traveling this summer, pull out a deck of cards and learn a new game. Bring drawing paper and colored pencils. Have the kids create their own board games while you are driving. When you stop for the night, it’s time to play their game. They also can set up scavenger hunts for each other. Never underestimate the power of a good game of hide-and-seek or the journey of an early morning or nighttime hike.
Get out of the house. Have the kids plan a daily field trip. It doesn’t have to be expensive — the library is free, as is a park. You can even have the kids do the research on where to go and what to do when they get there. (That kind of screen time doesn’t count if they should need the computer to do the research.)
You also might find these tips from the Khabeli School useful:
- Use dinnertime as a forum for discussion and storytelling. At the dinner table, tell your child a story about something that’s going on in the world. Introduce the characters, explain the conflict and then ask your child what they would do to solve the problem. Families can also participate in collaborative storytelling by having a child start a story with once sentence and the next person at the table adds another, and so on, until the story is complete.
- Get outside and use those math skills. Work together with your child to build a garden, fix a fence or put up a treehouse. Have your child draw a map and create clues for a treasure hunt. You can explore using math by measuring the perimeter of your yard, recording numbers and types of bugs in the yard and graphing the results, or examining volume with old containers.
- Encourage reading and writing. Write in a journal together as a family. Write about your favorite thing that happened to you that day and illustrate it. Draw a doodle. Have your child turn the doodle into a drawing, and then create a story about it. Start family reading time where each person in the family chooses his or her own book and reads for a specified amount of time. Start off with just 5-10 minutes a day, and slowly increase the amount over time.
- Schedule play dates with friends. Socialization is a key part of a child’s development. After seeing friends every day during the school year, a child can get lonely in the summer. Make the effort to invite friends over to play, and try to have a fun activity prepared that they can do together. Try to keep them away from the couch and TV by suggesting a handful of activities for the children during playtime. Write a play, make art, take a survey and turn that information into a story, a song or a graph. Play games, do a science experiment (with parental supervision) or build a tent.
- Collaborate on household chores. Kids who have responsibilities around the house are more likely to view themselves as a person capable of making a contribution. Because it can be difficult to stick to the chore routines over summer, join in on chores together, even simple ones like mopping, sweeping and dusting. Provide children with practical life skills that foster a sense of self worth. Have your child prepare a meal or a side dish. Teach your child how to sew with small projects like a pillow or a button repair.
Don’t forget, that when they are on mobile devices, you need to know what they are doing. Bob Lotter, creator of MyMobileWatchdog, encourages parents to put apps (like his) on phones that help you monitor what they are doing. He suggests the apps should:
- Control what applications kids can run.
- Set which hours they are allowed to text or receive phone calls.
- Monitor texts and phone calls.
- Manage contacts to make sure they are from a real person their children know.
- Block inappropriate websites.
- Monitor photos taken and received.
- Shut the camera off.
- Set up the phone to only be able to call parents or a specific approved contact at certain hours and do nothing else.
- Allow parents to block and unblock apps. (Think: grades are down, no Instagram for you; grades are up, you get to Instagram again or you get to Instagram only in a parent’s presence.)
- Has anti-hacking measures that don’t allow children to remove the software.
- Creates a report that is admissible in court.
Parenting expert Dr. Leonard Sax has his own ideas and warnings about social media and our teens. He offers these tips:
“At 9 p.m., collect the cellphones, turn them off and put them on the charger, which goes in the parents’ bedroom, ” he says. “It has to be the parent’s job to parent, not the child’s.”
A lot of parents think they are doing a good job. They have their kids’ Facebook passwords, they look at their kids’ texts and emails. But what parents don’t realize is kids are creating two different identities. The public one that parents are monitoring is on Facebook and uses the parent-provided cellphone. The other identity is on Instagram and Snapchat and Ask.fm. It’s posting inappropriate photos they wouldn’t want their parents to see and sharing other people’s photos they wouldn’t want anyone to see. And it’s also buying a prepaid debit card and using it to buy a second cellphone.
Parents need to be on the lookout for that second cellphone and install cyber monitoring services such as Net Nanny, which monitors their Internet use, and My Mobile Watchdog, which allows you to see your child’s text messaging and photos and block websites.
As well, remember, this screen addiction applies to you, too. One study found an increase of injuries to children because of distracted parents on their phones. You’re not parenting if your on your phone.