Not including schoolwork, teens spend an average of 7.5 hours a day consuming media on cell phones or other devices. That’s about half their waking hours. No wonder so many parents ask, “is my kid addicted to their phone?”

The answer? Well… maybe. Cell phone addiction is real and knowing the signs and symptoms can help you assess your teen’s phone habits (and your own). These six strategies are proven to help kids (and parents) stay in control of their digital lives instead of being controlled by their devices.

  1. Be honest about your own not-so-great habits. Many frustrated teens say they can’t bring their phones to the dinner table, but parents get around the rule by saying, “I just have to check my work email,” or “I can’t miss this call.” Our digital lives are hard to escape, and everybody needs more of what journalist Catherine Price calls “Screen/Life Balance.” Price’s 30-day Break Up with Your Phone Challenge offers tips to assess your screen time and set realistic goals for yourself. Getting your teen on board is easier when digital detox is a family project, and not just focused on fixing their bad habits.

  2. Set sensible limits – together. Teens are old enough to help set boundaries on their phone use. If you’re worried about their habits, it’s likely that they’re also noticing some of the negative effects of being tethered to technology. They may be more open than you think to an honest conversation and some guidance. A few starter suggestions for adults and teens: Turn off push notifications for most, if not all, social media apps. Maybe text messages, too. The constant dings and blings are one of the main drivers of cell phone addiction. It also makes sense to stick to one screen at a time (i.e., no texting while playing video games) and plan phone-free time after homework and chores are done.

  3. Agree on family “down-times.” Talk to your teen about which times of the day and week make sense for everybody to take a break from their phones. Meal times are an obvious choice, as is the hour or so before bedtime. Look for other times, too, based on your family’s unique needs and schedules. How about phone-free time in the morning, when you go for a hike, or on the drive home from school? Talk it over with your teen so everyone involved has buy-in.

  4. Set up a family charging station. Whenever you and your teen decide it’s “down-time,” set up a single charging station for all phones that can be monitored. This keeps everybody accountable, plus you don’t have to search the house for a million missing chargers. Some families use the station at night to remove the temptation of phones after bedtime, too. (Digital alarm clocks are a low-tech lifesaver when phones disrupt a teen’s sleep. You might try it, too!)

  5. Focus on fun. Most of us scroll for entertainment and to feel connected to others. But YouTube videos and social media feeds don’t actually deliver the good vibes we crave. Phones and apps are designed to be addictive. Catherine Price offers a simple solution: we all need to remember what real fun feels like. Find a whole-family activity to replace phone time with fun time. What does your teen suggest? From board games to bike rides, pajama parties to pickleball, a little creativity makes it easier to forget the phones and build healthier habits.

  6. Take it to the next level. Digital detox works best when we’re motivated by wanting to spend more quality time together as a family. With this in mind, families can plan outings or fun days with the understanding that everyone will be phone-free. If kids are involved in the planning, they’re much more likely to agree to try disconnecting for a while. Plan a trip to the movies or a family soccer match with just one phone in case of emergencies, and talk together about how it felt afterwards.

By being an authentic role model, keeping communication clear, and involving kids in planning for screen-free time, parents can empower teens to find balance with technology. Along the way, these strategies help the whole family get happier and healthier together. 

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