Teens and Cellphones / 7 tips for managing your teen's cellphone use

Julie Carbery
August 27, 2013
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There is a new attachment object for kids and teens (and moms) everywhere – the cellphone. Our teens and tweens are overly attached to their phones, which represent freedom and unlimited connection to peers. It is convenient for parents to be in constant contact with their kids by cellphone, but from what I see in my office daily, cellphones are taking over the lives of teens at an alarming rate. Parents wishing their tween or teen would see beyond the smartphone screen can follow these seven simple steps to manage your tween or teen’s cellphone usage. 

1. Set clear boundaries
Teens feel most stable and secure when parents are in charge and follow through with consequences. Parents desperately need to set boundaries on “who is in charge” when it comes to cellphones. Teens need to be aware of parental expectations regarding all media usage. 
2. Create a cellphone usage contract
One of the best ways to spell out expectations for cellphone usage is to create a contract that your teen signs. I suggest using guidelines from commonsense.com, which provides free forms and contracts for family discussions about media use. These handy tools can be used as “preventive medicine” even if your teen is currently using her phone responsibly. 
3. Restrict your teen’s cellphone usage as a disciplinary measure
A great way to utilize your contract is to establish the fact that cellphone usage can be restricted if chores are not completed. After I asked my daughter to unload the dishwasher twice with no action, I turned off her cell service while she was at school. After that incident, she paid closer attention to parental rules and expectations.
4. Set a curfew
Your teen’s cellphone should sleep when she does. Cellphones should be docked each night in a common area. If your teen goes to bed with her phone, she may be tempted to text friends at 2am.
5. Don’t let your teen restrict you from accessing her phone
Many teens create passwords on their phones to prevent their parents from reading their texts. While being a teenager is all about wanting more privacy and independence, parents want to make sure their teen is being safe and making wise decisions. Your teen should not expect complete privacy until she is paying for her own data plan and making responsible choices with her usage.
6. Practice “digital blackouts”
Our family is practicing a “digital blackout” for three days while we are on a vacation this summer, which means no TV, video games, phones or laptops. I will admit that this is also difficult for adults, but I am willing to sacrifice technology for the sake of conversational skills and family life. If the digital detox goes well, we are thinking of declaring Sunday digital blackout day in our family. 
7. Be a good role model by limiting your own cell phone usage
Stay balanced by being mindful of how much time you spend in front of screens and prioritize relationships and other activities over cell phones.
Julie Carbery, L.P.C., Ph.D. is a mother of three children, ages 22, 17, and 8. At her private practice in Dallas, she assists children and teenagers in communicating on family and friendship issues. For more information, visit drjuliecarbery.com.


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