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4 Ways To End Your Teenager's Obsession With Their Smartphone

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Is your teenager obsessed with their smartphone?

If so, you're not alone.

By the age of 11, 53% of children in the United States now own a smartphone. And 84% of teenagers have their own smartphones,

And 45% of teens say they use the Internet “almost constantly" — which translates to more than seven hours per day for the average teen and nearly five hours for children aged 8-12.

Are you concerned your teenager's smartphone use is becoming an issue? Are you looking for solutions?

This article will give you four strategies to end your teenager's smartphone obsession that you can implement tonight.

First thing's first: Is my child obsessed?

Before we get into strategies you can use to curb your child's use or obsession with their smartphone, it's important to determine what overuse looks like.

The problem with diagnosing smartphone addiction is that many of the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of being 16 (difficulty sleeping, distancing from family or school, irritability, etc).

However, there are a few sure signs that your teenager's obsession is becoming more damaging:

  • Smartphone use is having a negative effect on "school, family, social, or emotional functioning"

  • Smartphone use continues despite negative effects

  • Smartphone use becomes impulsive and frequent

  • Smartphone use is impacting their ability to sleep

  • They're experiencing increased anxiety or irritability if their smartphone is not accessible

Is your teenager experiencing any of these symptoms?

If so, there are a few steps you need to take.

1. Start setting limits early

The best thing you can do to curb smartphone obsession is to anticipate it.

The earlier you communicate the limits of smartphone use with your child, the more accepting they'll be of those limits in the coming years.

Give them a phone with no limitations, and don't be surprised when they hit back when limitations are set.

A few limitations to consider:

  • Limiting which apps they have on their phone (Whatsapp and Instagram, but not Snapchat or TikTok, for instance).

  • Limiting their access to the phone (as you would TV) to after homework is done, not at the dinner table, and one hour before bed.

  • Taking their phone, or ensuring they turn airplane mode on, at bedtime.

  • Speak with their teachers about limiting access to their phone during class.

2. Be understanding

If your child is already in the grips of smartphone obsession, the limitations above may be a case of "too little, too late."

But there are still steps you can take.

Any parent of a teenager knows that the best way to encourage a child's bad behavior is to actively discourage it.

And the last thing you want to do is discourage smartphone use for your teen when you're, hypocritically, also on your phone all the time (the average adult spends three hours and fifteen minutes on their smartphone per day).

Instead, understand the draw of phones (after all, you're likely drawn as well), and educate both yourself and your child about the consequences of overuse.

Open the conversation and ask yourself and your child these pertinent questions:

  • What are you using the phone for?

  • Are you aware of the dangers of smartphones (cyberbullying, social media addiction, insomnia, etc)?

  • What limitations do you think are fair?

A great exercise for limiting smartphone use is to commit with your child to those same limitations. Plan "no phone" nights or weekends away. Ban smartphone use at the dinner table and, with your child, agree to use it only at certain times of the evening.

Even if you don't feel that you're as obsessed with your smartphone as they are, show solidarity by acknowledging where you could also step back.

3. Separate fun time from work time

Many businesses these days use just one device for all communication including calls, SMS messages, chats, and emails.

And the same goes for your teenager: Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, SnapChat, and TikTok are all on the same device as their email and school work.

So it can be difficult to differentiate between when your child needs to be on their phone and when they're choosing to be.

That's why it's important to separate the two. Like TV or a console, limit your teenager's access to the "fun" of their phone while taking into account the "work" necessities of it. This can be done by only allowing certain apps or alternatively, providing your teenager with an older phone that they can use for fun — a phone which goes away when they're not using it.

4. Prompt a test period

We mentioned it above, but a "test period" for both you and your child to step away from your phones may be just the thing you need to break the cycle of obsession.

A philosophy professor recently gave his students extra credit in his class if they'd give up their phones for nine days.

Here's what he found:

"Without their phones, most of my students initially felt lost, but after just two weeks the majority began to think that their cell phones were in fact limiting their relationships with other people."

One of his students wrote that not having the phone “Felt so free [...] and it was nice knowing no one could bother me when I didn’t want to be bothered.”

Another wrote that she started “sleeping more peacefully after the first two nights of attempting to sleep right away when the lights got shut off.”

The lesson here is simple: Test a "no smartphones" period, both of you.

Share their pain. You might just find it rewarding.

And, even if after a week or two you decide to go back to the alluring blue light of your smartphone, perhaps the exercise will shine a light on how much you're using your phone and what you both might be missing.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.