★ Park the phones in your bedroom: Give your teenager the gift of disconnecting by taking their phone at night. Although they may be angry--it will result in better sleep and much needed reflection. Really though, the battle with technology compulsion is a human problem. Teenagers cannot help themselves to use the device that is next to their bed. Sleep is crucial to teenage health and vibrancy. Research suggests that the phone can disrupt sleep purely based on the light it emits. On a practical level, the phone keeps them connected and disallows them the opportunity to unplug and withdraw into themselves to rest and reset. Another bonus of keeping their phone at night is that the fact they know you will have their device in your room will inherently decrease low-key sketchy behavior when they do have it.
★ Identify a phone-free period for academics: Without fail, one of the first strategies employed by teens when you take or limit their phone use is to assert that they need it for school work. I’ll give this a 50% accuracy rating. What they mean, is they rely on it for quick information such as assignments, grades, and interacting with peers for work completion, help and collaborative efforts. The phone is the number one efficiency killer of student studying—it has significantly more negatives than positives. Students can gather their needed information prior to beginning their studies. If they need their phone to do this, allow them a grace period of 10 minutes to gather that information, or simply provide them use of the family computer, that is in plain sight. If you commit to weening your teen off the phone while they study, you will see an increase in progress. It’s undeniable.
★ Use your phone provider’s available parent control features: Phone providers have easy to use systems in place that allow you to limit your teen’s accessibility to apps and even data (Internet)--thus, they still have the phone, but not its most distracting features. This is a great option if you simply don’t want to take the phone away. This move is more symbolic than practical. There are workarounds to most parent big-brother type moves, but the more you try to monitor and help limit its use, the less likely they are to end up severely abusing the device or using it for ill. Unfortunately, many parents don’t take advantage of such technology until they are given a reason. I get it, you want to trust your teen, but we don’t require teens to only take driver’s education if they get into an accident. I support the concept of a gradual release. It’s far easier to start with firm supports in place, and then gradually ease out of them with good habits and use.
★ Embrace phone-free dining: I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this one. It’s simple. When you are eating together, or they are eating a meal, no phone. The phone is an isolative device within the home. Yes, it establishes their sense of connection to others outside the home, but in another sense, it serves as a communicative and relational barrier. That means…no phones for parents either. No work calls, no Googling, nothing. Just old fashioned awkward silence and family conversation. The more you do it, the easier it will be—as it becomes the one reprieve from their habitual use.
★ Use them as the motivator that they are: Phones really are the golden ticket with most teens. It is far more powerful than you might realize, or they will even admit. Many teenagers don’t know how to navigate socially without one—further proof that they truly only know life with the smartphone as an extension of their being. Phones should be treated as a true privilege and only given to those who can comply with family directives and goals. I’m not saying to take it at every turn, but know that it is very powerful in the motivation game. Parents tend to worry that taking the phone further complicates their own parenting—not being able to reach them etc. You did it, so can they. If nothing else, swap their smartphone out with a flip phone.