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Unplugging: Methods to Combat Smartphone Obsession in your Teen

Words by
Stephen Dalby

JUL 24, 2020

Unplugging: Methods to Combat Smartphone Obsession in your Teen

We’re all familiar with the lure of a smartphone. The enticing light, the countless distractions, the blogs and the photos and the games—they draw us right in. And before we know it, we’ve been on our phones for an hour, mindlessly scrolling through a storm of content designed to keep our eyes glued to the screen. As adults, we know how hard it is to unplug.

Now, take this scenario, but imagine you’re a teenager, more prone to addictive behavior and less practiced in self control. This is the battle our kids are facing when they receive their first phones at younger and younger ages. Smartphones easily become an object of obsession in our children’s hands. 

As parents, our responsibility is to help them unplug and create healthy rhythms, teaching them how to incorporate technology into their lives without letting it rule them. This is no easy task, but it starts with creating good habits.

Good “Unplugging” Habits

Don’t Take the Phone to Bed

It’s far too easy to let our phones become the first thing we look at in the morning and the last thing we see before falling asleep. Studies indicate that the blue light emitted from our phones disrupts our circadian rhythms and hinders the production of melatonin. Reduced melatonin affects sleep, and poor sleep is inversely correlated to increased levels of depression and anxiety. 

Lots of teens use their phones as an alarm clock in the mornings, but a solution as simple as purchasing a $10 alarm clock and leaving the phone to charge outside of the bedroom can make a big difference. This is a practice the whole family would benefit from. Consider creating a “no screens after nine” rule or something similar and observe the effect it has on everyone’s health and mental well-being.

Allow an Allotted Screen Time

If you find yourself constantly telling your teen to put the phone away, it may be time to sit down and create clear expectations. Instead of constantly admonishing your child for being on his phone too much, make it clear that he is free to be on his phone for a certain block of time each day but then must put it away. Or, create a password-protected screen time tracker on his phone that locks certain apps after he hits his time limit. Our teens need these boundaries. Make it clear that you’re setting these guidelines out of love and a real concern for their well-being. 

Limit Phone Use to Public Spaces

Another way to encourage your teen to unplug and create safe phone habits is to limit cell phone usage to common family areas. Not allowing your child to take the phone to her bedroom can help her to avoid temptations like cyberbullying or pornographic content. When everything is done out in the open, where she’s aware you can see her activity, she’s much less likely to engage in unsafe activity.

Employ a Smarter Phone 

In reality, you aren’t going to be there every time your teen engages with his phone. What’s more, he will most likely not have the willpower to follow every guideline you put into place at all times. When your teen is away at school or hanging out with friends, how can you still do your best to ensure that he is practicing safe smartphone behavior? 

One of the solutions is to find a phone that takes away much of the temptation, such as access to the internet and social media. A phone like Gabb’s can give you the peace of mind that even when you’re away, your kids are employing a cell phone that’s designed to keep them safe and prevent an obsession with their device.

Give them Alternative Activities

Especially if you are doing the hard work of breaking your teen’s addiction to a device, brainstorm to provide alternative ways to spend their time. Simple things like family game nights, movie marathons, reading books, or even growing a garden can help your teen to pry his mind away from his phone and focus on relationships with the people around him. 

When your teen has friends over, help them find things to do that don’t involve a screen. Encourage lots of outdoor time and good conversation. It is hard work to unplug, especially if you have grown accustomed to bad habits. Make it easier for your children by giving them better options for how to spend their time. 

Model Good Behavior

If we want our children to cultivate healthy relationships with technology, we must lead by example. Long before your child receives her first phone, she should have a clear model of how a smartphone should fit into her life. Watch yourself when you find yourself scrolling during meal time or checking your notifications every five minutes. We have the weighty, unprecedented responsibility of demonstrating a positive, non-obsessive behavior towards smartphones and other forms of technology to our children, even as we’re figuring it out for ourselves.

The world around us is throwing every new gadget and device at our children, drawing them in with promises of coolness and entertainment. To create healthier and safer environments for our teens in light of a myriad of screens, we must do intentional work to help them. What ways have you found to help your kids unplug?

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