Q&A: Limiting your teen's cellphone useWritten by Jennifer Antonsen
What's inside this article
Question: My 14-year-old is up late every night on her cellphone, even though we have tried to put restrictions in place. It doesn’t seem to matter what we say. We’ve tried taking it away, but she just gets mad. Help!
It sounds like you and your spouse need to have a serious discussion with your teen. Let her know that you understand how important connecting with friends by phone is to her, and that you are more than happy for her to use it for a certain amount of time per day. Also let her know, however, that there are important reasons for her to limit her cellphone use.
Risks of overuse
Aside from the cost, each minute she is on her phone means less time doing other activities – such as engaging in hobbies or sports, reading, relaxing, doing homework, and connecting face to face with family and friends! Late night use can also lead to problems falling asleep or sleep deprivation.
Ask your daughter for her input on what would be a reasonable time of night to end her phone use. At that time, she should willingly come and hand the phone to a parent.
Self-control and temptation
Part of the discussion should include ideas about growing in self-control, and overcoming temptation. These are important spiritual disciplines (see 1 Corinthians 10:13 and Galatians 5:22-23)! Ask your daughter how you can support or help her to practice self-control regarding screen time. Engage with her about different ways she can handle temptation (the temptation to not give the phone to you, to be sneaky or deceitful about it, or to have a poor attitude). Help her to brainstorm other activities that she can replace her screen time with – a variety of healthy and "life-giving" activities that will help her to live a balanced and full life.
Ask also for her ideas about consequences for not doing this – perhaps a day without a cellphone? Or no cellphone use at all in the home for a period of time?
If this continues to be an ongoing battle, a natural consequence could be a more long-term break from cellphone privileges. Please don’t be afraid to "make her mad." It’s okay for her to not enjoy or approve restrictions that you know are in her best interest.1
Finally, Mom and Dad, make sure you are modelling the behaviour you want your daughter to emulate! Show healthy limits on screen time for yourself, and show her by example how to be wise about her screen habits.
1. If you need encouragement in being firmer in your parenting, pick up a copy of Boundaries with Teens by Dr. John Townsend. Screens and Teens by Kathy Koch is another great resource!
Jennifer Antonsen is a counsellor on staff at Focus on the Family Canada.
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