According to 2015 statistics, tweens are spending about six hours a day on “entertainment media”, and teens are spending nine hours a day. Much of this is probably on a smartphone, (according to this page, 88 percent of children ages 12-17 have mobile phones and 84 percent of that is smartphone usage ). Children with cell phones are still children, and for teens since the dopamine reward system of the brain is far outpacing the part of the brain that controls impulses, it is no surprise that a 2016 CNN report from a Common Sense Media poll found 50 percent of tweens and teens feel addicted to their cell phones.
Many parents have shared with me that one of the harder parts of parenting teens is managing smartphone usage. This is important to talk about because all the selfies or commenting on controversial posts or even posting a lot about religious or political views on social media will follow your teen forever; it is a responsibility to have a smartphone as opposed to a simple phone that calls/texts. Employers and colleges look for on-line footprints of individuals they are interested in, and yet many parents feel clueless as to what their child is doing online. So parents have asked me about managing smartphones. What should common parameters be? Here are some ideas; take what works for your family. This post is geared toward those of you with children ages 12 and up.
First of all, if your younger teenager (ages 12-14/15) doesn’t have a smartphone, why not delay smartphone introduction? You could consider the information on the Wait Until 8th page. Their point is that every major carrier has phones out that can call/text without a data plan, and that a smartphone can wait. Here is a page with a few arguments for waiting on a smartphone until age 16. Remind yourself how smartphone usage can affect the pyschology of the child. Read through this list that can help you decide if your child is ready for a cell phones (it has great points to think about, such as is your tween scattered and loses everything? Great points!)
Remind yourself that a teen with a phone is still just a teen. It is up to YOU, the parent, to understand how the technology works, how the social media platforms work, to be on those social media platforms, establish boundaries and consequences of those boundaries being crossed, and to talk to your children about some of the more harmful things that come with cell phone usage. It is also up to you to provide balance; to get your teen outside or in things that provide meaningful experiences.
Model what you want to see regarding use of cell phones. You could try something like Moment to figure out how much time YOU are spending on your phone, and use it to set limits! You could also try using a non-smart phone, taking social media apps off your phone and having phone-free hours of the day.
Plan to have access to all of your teens devices – there should be no passwords you do not know, you should not be blocked on anything by your teen, there should be no social media accounts you don’t know about. If any of these things occur, then I believe the child is not responsible enough to have a phone. You should also reserve the right to check all texts, emails, etc. Some parents find this invasive and don’t like to do it, some parents check daily or weekly, some have every text also go to them. Whatever you decide, I think at least reserving the right to check helps a teen remember that what they say in a text or on social media will follow them forever and isn’t to be taken lightly and should serve as a reminder that having a phone is not a right, it is a privilege. They could just as easily have a phone that only calls/texts or no phone at all, and for teen under 16/17, this may be the right approach. Don’t feel pressured into getting a smartphone if your individual child cannot handle it! One of the main issues I am hearing from families of middle schoolers is regarding their child being sent nude pictures by another student. Sexting is tied to sexual activity; this is an study about the emotional and behavioral problems associated with sexting in 12-14 year olds. Look at your child and see if you feel they are ready for the things that comes along with having a phone, and what your level of diligence in being a part of that will be.
Another way to track habits and limit time across devices for all family members is to use something like Circle with Disney (not affiliated). Here is a Cool Mom Tech review of Circle with Disney (this is what we have in our home). There are other devices like Circle as well on the market. The other place to consider restrictions is in using your router to cut off Wi-Fi capability at certain times of the day. A determined tech-savvy teen will then most likely try to access their data, so the phone may also need to be docked or otherwise restricted with a device as above. However, between these three steps of router/Wi-Fi blocking; physical phone containment; and use of limiting device, you should be able to help your teen and family manage their time. No teen, and not even us as adults, should have complete unfettered access to their device 24/7 for simple reasons of health.
The question that allows follows this is “Well,then how much time on a smartphone or across devices should I allow?” I am going to address that in Part 2 of this post, along with a lot of ideas and suggestions for smartphone management and teens.