Managing Smartphones for Teens- Part Two

This is the second part in this series about how to manage a smartphone for teens.  The first part of this series talked about the most recent statistics of smartphone ownership for teens, and how teens with phones are still teens and they need your help in managing a tool that can and will impact them the rest of their lives.  Your teen’s  digital footprint is permanent, so that includes selfies, what they have posted on line or commented on, and more!  What teens post will be there permanently and can affect employment decisions by companies and college admissions.  Parents need to have boundaries around this device just like the boundaries in any other part of parenting.

The first part of this series also talked about delaying smartphone introduction, and some tools to look at utilization rates across devices and to set limits through things such as using your router to set Wi-Fi times, using a device like Circle, and having set hours for a cell phone to be in use. If you haven’t read this post, go read it now and come back to read this part!

Other considerations for parents:

This big question parents ask is:  HOW MUCH TIME ON A SMARTPHONE?  I find this is what parents really want to know, but yet there are very few guidelines out there that seem realistic for teenagers, especially older teenagers.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 HOURS across devices in a day for all teenagers. This post is about smartphone use, and I agree we must look at smartphone use against the usage of all devices in a day.  However,  I feel in an age where teens especially are having to access homework from a portal and use technology during class and for school assignments, this may not be a realistic estimate for many teens, at least in the  American school system.  For homeschooling families, this may be an easier goal for younger teens, but for high school many homeschooling families are  also utilizing classes on line and certainly older teens involved in dual enrollment are most likely using technology.

There is another  brief article about number of hours acceptable per day here on Common Sense Media but there is a large difference between 5 year olds and 16 year olds!  An article here from the UK  looked at 120,000 15 year olds and somehow came up with the numbers that two hours a day on smartphone was “just right” for benefits versus health; about an hour and forty minutes for video game playing; and 4 hours and 17 minutes for computer usage.  If you add all that up, that’s almost 8 hours a day on a device (!!) , so I personally think that still sounds more like an adult working an office job and not what a teenager, even an older teenager should have!

So, the bottom line is that you are going to have to come up with the guidelines that fit your family and what is going on with your children, and check yourself. Are you using tech to check out of your family?  Are your teens using tech to avoid you?  Do they have device use for school?  How does that tally into the number of hours they are allowed on screens in total?  Are they involved in other things other than devices?  Are they younger teenagers or older teenagers?  Where is their balance in life?

Personally, I think wait as long as you can  to have a cell phone or require computer work (so if you are Waldorf homeschooling, this would probably be in high school just like Waldorf schools, so age 14-15); strive for 1-2  hours a day across devices for up to age 14, 2-3 hours a day for ages 15 to 16 and then lessen the controls across all devices for those  16 and a half or so and up in preparation for being out on their own.   You cannot hold it for them forever; at some point they have to become their own authority and manage their own usage.  

Here are few other ideas and tips:

Have a plan: Cell phone contracts can be helpful in the beginning, especially with teens under 16.  Here is an example.   Here is another example.  Again, I  think these are great in the beginning, and for younger teens, but to me once a teen is past the 16 year developmental change, I think the controls should start dwindling.  They are going to be off and on their own and need to learn how to handle technology on their own.

Have “no cell phone zones”  in the house (and this means adults too!) Many families choose the bathrooms and dinner table to be off-limits to phones, and to have all phones docked in a central place at night.  Less temptations.

Choose data plans wisely.  Here is an article about the best cell phone plans for kids and it points out that many times adding a child to your plan will enable you to have control over blocking calls or texts on behalf of that child; that you can cap the number of texts a child can send; you can have a  GPS or a location-tracker on that phone;  control access to mature content and more.  Decide what controls you want, and know that determined teens can get around many of the controls better than you might know, so there must be an element of trust.  This goes back to the age you start to allow these devices access to your teens!

No driving with smartphone in hand.  Not only is this illegal in many states in the United States, distracted driving is a major source of car accidents in the United States, and teens may already be distracted when they are new drivers.  This is a link discussing apps for safe driving with a smartphone that lets you mute incoming texts, etc during driving.  Many new smartphones have these sorts of features right on the phone itself.

Consider social media. The upside of social media is this is where kids are hanging out, whether you like it or not, especially for many girls.  If you think back to when you were on the kitchen phone for hours with your friends or walking the mall (very American in the 1980s and 1990s), this is what social media is today.  Things are so structured for kids, that this is a “unstructured” place to be. As much as many of us as parents don’t like this idea, it is what is going on.

The downside and horrible part of social media includes depression, rejection and exclusion (here is a great article on how to help girls dealing with social exclusion and social media), cyberbullying,  child predators, and more.2011 California study found that teens who were the heaviest users of social media where also the least content, the most depressed, and perhaps generally bored.

Talk to your teens about on-line safety with this article geared just to teens.  This includes not accepting friend requests from people teens don’t know, using privacy settings, not meeting people you meet on-line off-line, not posting things you will regret- remember, the digital image of your teen online is permanent.  For parents, if your child is on social media, you should be on social media and be friends with them. However, most teens are using far more than Facebook or Twitter. Here is a list of more to check out.   And another list, from Common Sense Media, one of my favorite resources. Also be aware that many teens have multiple accounts to keep track of under one platform.  You need to have all passwords and all accounts, and know what your consequences will be if this is broken by your teen.

Talk about the negatives:  Cyberbullying (girls are cyberbullied at higher rates than boys; this article also ties in what happens in real-life in a school setting); cyberaddiction; sexting, (know the sexting laws in your state if you are in the United States!  And make sure your teen understands sexting could be illegal in your state!), teens and Internet pornography (here’s a report on a Canadian study that 40 percent of boys grades 4-11 search out Internet porn).

If your teen is at risk for depression, obesity or addiction disorder, you may need stronger controls. Remember, it is the responsibility of ALL parents of ALL teenagers to  not only set limits, but to engage the child in family activities, activities outside the home, meaninful experiences and to provide that balance that there is real-life out there to be lived and relationships to be had in real life!  Having a smartphone means you have to be MORE involved in parenting, not less involved.  

If you are looking for more information regarding smartphones and teens, here is another link:  Microsoft’s Digital Skills page has great points – like pointing out that  all those selfies that teens post can also end up impacting job interviews and everything else.  The Internet is permanent!  Teach teens to protect their reputation on-line.

I would love to hear how this resonates with you, and what you do in your own family with children ages 12-14 and up regarding smartphones and device usage. How do you stay involved and provide balance?


13 thoughts on “Managing Smartphones for Teens- Part Two

  1. Hi Carrie,
    Perfect timing again for this post! Our son just turned 13 and he is using my old smartphone since Christmas. Our rule is pretty simple, he is only allowed to use the phone for 2 hours of gaming on the weekends, otherwise the phone gets turned on only when he is alone in the house, which happens maybe once a week for a couple of hours, or at a friends house. Basically when he might need the phone to call for help or needs to be picked up.

    Once he gets older I am sure the rules will change and I know already that the boundaries will be probed on a continual basis, like you said, once they have a smartphone they need to be parented more rather than less. I find myself keeping a closer eye on him since he has the phone.

    I do not even want to think about my daughter yet, I will try to push her phone usage even further out and wait longer with her, since she is such a social butterfly. I know it will be very hard for her to stay away from all those fun apps and maybe even social media sites.

    Luckily our son is not interested in social media sites at all, since none of his friends are on it. This is another big advantage of homeschooling I think, but I am sure once in high school and online class usage is introduced, social sites will also creep in.


  2. Hi
    Thank you for taking time to tackle this important topic. Is there a site or any way we can show that our social media messages, texts, pictures are permanent to our kids? Thanks

    • Not that I know of….I think just knowing that someone can always take a screen shot before a message, text, etc is deleted is often deterrent enough. Also knowing state laws regarding things like sending sexts etc can also be helpful in discussion. Blessings,Carrie

  3. Our daughter, who is 14 years old just got her first phone this month. She really wanted a smart phone which wasn’t what my husband and i really wished for her. Therefore we discussed it and explained if she wanted just a phone we would pay for it, if she wanted a smartphone she would need to pay for it. She does have a part time job which gives her a reasonable allowance.
    Not surprisingly she opted for the smart phone. We did discuss the limits on the phone which are 20 mins in the morning and evenings to check emails, as she is in lots of extra curricular clubs, plus her usual 1.5 hours on Friday and Saturday. She took it to school for the first week to show friends but doesn’t take it now unless she is going off site.
    She does find the limits hard to deal with, but we keep a real and open discussion constantly. She does feel it’s wasted time on social media but gets sucked in easily. She does appreciate the care we are taking on keeping her childhood a true childhood and not just opting out of parenting her at this most critical time of her brain and emotional development.
    I think the most powerful support we are giving her is the fact we lead by example.
    No smart phone for me plus dedicated technology time for everyone in the family.
    I found your post really helpful Carrie, as I did have a little self doubt that our expectations were unrealistic.
    I hope your son is doing well with his teeth, our daughter who knocked one out completely is still doing well. She knocked it out over a month ago and it looks like it may survive!

    • Laura,
      The way you approached it sounds fantastic!
      I am also so pleased to hear about your daughter’s tooth! Did she end up needing a root canal or no?
      Blessings and hugs,

    • Hi Carrie,
      Thanks for the kind words.
      The work you put into your blog really resonates so deeply with me.
      Your children are so lucky to have a Mummy like you!
      Regarding Esmee’s tooth, she has not had a root canel. We see our endodontist again today for an x-ray and a examination. He is happy with the way the tooth is healing and has a positive prognosis.
      I think the fact she is only 7yrs old and the tooth came out fully undamaged is why it is still in place.
      How is your son’s tooth doing? How is the treatment working?
      Thinking of you,
      Laura xx

    • Hi Laura! That is amazing about Esmee’s tooth. Kaj is most likely going to need a root canal on at least one tooth in June; we shall see. We can’t tell yet if the spot on the xray is a bone bruise or if it is damaged root. I guess that can take several months. Neither front tooth is feeling hot or cold yet, but I am hopeful. 🙂 The left tooth at least the xray still looks okay. I think it is amazing and wonderful that Esmee is doing so well! What a relief!! Hugs to you,

  4. I have two daughters aged 18 and 20, (whom were not homeschooled). They didn’t have smartphones until they were 16, but before that they had iPads and iPods for a few years. Our healthy older daughter is responsible with her device use, but our younger daughter suffers from depression and anxiety to the point that she dropped out of school, and spends much of her time attached to her phone, which definitely does not help her recovery.

    My point is that different personalities even in the same family react to technology in different ways, and when anxiety or depression is an issue, a smartphone sometimes becomes a constant “escape” from real life and a distraction from responsibilities. If I could have the last few years back, and even if anxiety wasn’t in our lives, I would be stricter from the start about keeping phones out of bedrooms at night – which we never really enforced, because our older daughter was responsible about not using her phone at night, so it was impossible to enforce those kind of rules later. It’s better to be strict at the start and allow more later, than try the reverse (apologies to all firstborns, I was one, too).

    Your readers might like to know about Circle Disney which is integrated into some routers or available as a device, it allows you to easily block apps and websites on any device on the home wifi from your own phone/device. You can also set limits eg 1 hour a day on YouTube. I wish we had had this a few years earlier, definitely worth it for safety as well as helping with self-control issues. (Doesn’t work outside of the home wifi though).

    Having said all that, I also have to say that we as a family have had lots of fun experiences messaging each other, sharing instagram stories and more, and it does provide a helpful “intercom” service between upstairs and downstairs in our house 😉 and there are plenty more worthwhile benefits to having smartphones at the right age.

    • Thanks for sharing your story! Yup, I think part one talked about the links between depression and phone usage at length and also Circle Disney, Great minds think alike! Many blessings to you, and thank you so much again for reading. Please share! Blessings,

  5. Hi Carrie,
    It is your website that I turn to when in doubt. Our daughter just turned 11. What has happened is that we moved to a new locality around 6 months ago. Earlier where we lived, she had a lot of friends and spent time playing all evening. But now she has no friends in the apartment building where we live. School+daycare done, she is home by 5.30 pm (monday to friday). Once she is home, she only watches TV or Netflix or Youtube Make-up tutorials or silly Vlogs of kids. She rushes through a screen-free dinner and goes back to her screen till bedtime, which is 8.30 as of now (I am trying to push it to 8). I allow her only 1 hour but I’m unable to control it. (I need to cook dinner and clean the house in the evenings). If I get firm with her, she reluctantly switches the screen off and picks up her slime putty. She loves playing with it. I feel it is a mindless activity but I still let her. She is not much of a reader, so reading books is out (I still read to her at bedtime). She loves to draw but has to be in the mood for it. She goes to a Waldorf school and gets to do a lot of art and craft in school but I feel a lot of her time at home is spent ‘unproductively’. More than the weekdays, it is the weekends that bother me. Weekends is either TV, Netflix, Youtube, slime putty or a bit of drawing (only when I scold her). She will play board games willingly with me when I ask her to. My problem is that:
    1. I have very little spare time at home to be playing with her.
    2. She’s already eleven. Shouldn’t she be amusing herself independently by now?
    3. How much screen-time can I allow her on weekends?
    4.She has dance classes bang in the middle of the day on weekends so we can’t take her out much. Plus the city we live in has nothing exciting happening. She isn’t interested in parks anymore. Her school friends, all of whom have siblings are busy on weekends.
    5. If not screen-time, what else can she do? Any ideas?
    6. I feel kids her age do a lot more and know a lot more. I don’t push her into competitive activities or a battery of evening classes She is a single child. I feel bad for her too. I sometimes feel I’m being too judgemental and harsh on her but I know her potential is much more. I know screens can affect the brain badly. What do I do? Carrie, please help.

    • Hi Priya! It is so nice to hear from you! Moving can be so hard and it is easy to fall back on technology during the transitions. So, I think since you have been in your new home for six months and have had a little time to settle in, now is a good time to think of a new after school and aftercare rhythm. I would say no screens at all or if you need to ease into it, no screens after dinner, period. I think 8:30 is a good bedtime! You are doing great. I would assign her to help you with chores and cooking in the evenings as well rather than just sitting on a screen while you rush around. Slime is all the rage and probably a good wind down before bedtime rather than a screen – put on some soothing music and you are done! Are Sparkle Stories appealing to her or does she deem them too babyish? That could be another way to transition and she could knit or play with slime while she listens before bed and then you could start your bedtime routine. I am glad you are still reading to her!
      I am sure the weekends are hard! I remember living in a furnished apartment in Chicago for an internship where I knew no one and the weekends were so long! So, I guess I would contact the parents of her former friends/neighbors and see if you schedule a month to six weeks out if you could garner some play time. Parks are always better with friends, or hiking trails if you can find them! 11 can be a really sluggish age and it is important to take 11-12 year olds outside and really plan that time. Roller skating and ice skating can also be a fun activity one day a week with or without friends. It is also an age where a little focused attention goes a long way, so even if it is stop in a coffee shop or diner on your way home from getting food for a week, that is a great tradition to establish and will help as she enters the teen years!
      I think just dance is perfect for her age. She has a full schedule during the week with school and aftercare. If you are looking for ideas outside of slime, audiobooks/audiostories, chores and cooking (can she learn to cook dinner one night a week?) (is she doing her own laundry, cleaning her own room?), I suggest popping over to Little Acorn Learning – there are after school activity guides there for each month with Waldorf flair and influence and might have some great ideas! I also might ask her teachers at the Waldorf School or the other parents in her class what sorts of activities their children are doing after school or what the teacher suggests.
      You are doing great! A stronger rhythm will help both of you have a more peaceful night. ❤ Thanks for writing in!

    • Thank you so much, Carrie, for taking the time out for me. Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions. Audiobooks are a great idea. And so is the coffee shop tradition. Wow! I will definitely put them to practice. Yes, about roller skating, I forgot to mention that she has signed up (voluntarily!) for the classes but she attends just 2 out of the 4 classes per week. I do subscribe to Little Acorn Learning on Facebook. It is a good place for ideas. As of now, I have taught her to run the washing machine. She does this most of the time without complaining. I have also hired some help yesterday, with cooking so that I can spend a little more quality time with her. This happened last evening: When I took away the laptop after she had spent the stipulated 1 hour, she was crying like a baby but talking like a 24-yr old! That’s when I felt, maybe she’s still a baby, and might need me for some more time. Thanks Carrie, you always bring such new perspectives. Much love.

    • All nice things to hear, Priya! I hope this year you and your daughter grow even closer. You are doing a great job – Blessings, Carrie

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