Turning Your Teens’ Focus Away From Their Phones

As a parent, you probably got your teen a cell phone so you could keep in touch with them — and vice versa. After all, we want to know immediately if there’s a problem or change of plans while they’re at school or out with their friends. You probably view letting your teen have a phone, in many ways, as a positive and necessary thing.

But what happens when they won’t get off of it? Have you ever second-guessed your choice to provide them with a smartphone? Many parents grow concerned when their teenager seems to spend all their time looking at a 4 or 5″ screen. And for many families, it becomes a big problem that can rise to the level of addiction. Just for one example, did you know that the average teenager sends or receives over 3,300 text messages every month? That’s an average of more than 6 every hour.

Shifting the Focus off the Phone

You probably don’t mind your kids using their phones to text or play games, within reasonable limits. But as your teen grows accustomed to the accessibility of gaming and social networking, it can be difficult to get them to do much else. Here are a few tips that could help you shift their focus away from their phones, without starting another world war.

  • Set Ground Rules
    Obviously, this is best done before your child ever gets a phone. Set clear rules for how much time they spend on their phone, and during what times of the day. Depending on their age, you might even set the expectation that the phone is to be used only in public areas of the house — not in their room. Many parents establish these rules by drawing up a written contract and having their child sign it. That way, there can be no argument about what rules were put in place.
  • Take Regular Time Outs
    If your son or daughter already has a phone, are you taking certain hours of the day to detox? Many families establish certain “phone free” hours, where everyone is required to put down their phones. During the dinner hour is a great time to do this, as is after bedtime. But no matter what time of day you decide, the rules should apply to everyone in the household — otherwise, your teen is likely to feel singled out.
  • Use the Tools
    There are apps available that place limits on data, texting, talk limits, and times of day. Many carriers also have low-priced monthly options that help enforce those limits. Just keep in mind that they have limitations, and aren’t meant to be a substitute for parental guidance.
  • Go the Pre-Paid Route
    Buying a pre-paid phone with limits could save you money. The rules may differ (check with the carrier), but it’s best of the phone won’t function once the allotted minutes have been used. That will force your teen to budget their time. If they have a job, consider having them pay for the minutes/texts themselves.
  • Stay Active as a Family
    Kids and teens alike are most likely to turn to their phones out of boredom. If you plan things to do as a family in the evenings or on weekends, they’re more likely to keep their phone put away. Having fun together increases communication and strengthens relationships — a big benefit besides keeping everyone off their phones.

Life isn’t lived on a 4-inch screen. Overall, anything you can do to show your teens that real living with real people is more important (and more fun) than staring at a phone will help keep them from excessive use. If your teen needs help with cell phone addiction, there are many resources available.You might have to be the bad guy once in a while, but chances are, as your teen matures, they’ll see the wisdom in setting limits.

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