My teenager just woke up, walked into the kitchen, and said, “Mom, what day is it?” The days are running together, kids are staying up too late, we are trying to get out of our PJ’s before lunch, we are eating too much and not exercising enough, and everyone needs a haircut. We have lost structure, schedules, and routines, but believe it or not, our teens need to lose their smartphones too.
I know your kids are telling you they need smartphones for distance learning, to keep up with their friends, and to fill downtime because they are so bored. They also want to eat ice cream sandwiches all day and have popcorn for dinner. These phone excuses are as empty as the calories in their current quarantine diet. Their teen brains are attracted to the endless Instagram scroll, but not the endless possibilities of learning new skills and hobbies. They have no idea how rare and valuable but how dangerous this gift of extra time really is. That requires you, the parent, to step in. Which is why it is time to figure out what day it is: the day we put those phones on a vacation.
Here are five reasons to ditch your teen’s smartphone, especially during the quarantine:
Distraction in virtual class.
If your teen tries to tell you smartphones are necessary for learning, think again! Your teen does not need a smartphone for school in a normal setting and he certainly doesn’t need one now. Texting and gaming during class is more prevalent with distance learning. It is impossible to pay attention in class when you are playing Fortnite on your phone, talking with your friends or shopping for shoes on Amazon.
Too much idle time.
If you think your teen was wasting time on her phone before the quarantine, she will waste even more time on it now. With the shelter-in-place orders, our schedules went out the window and so did what was left of our teens’ self-control. Teen brains are wired to crave the dopamine release found in low-effort/high-reward smartphone activities. Your teen will not naturally be drawn to productive activities, she needs redirection from an adult.
Exposure to risky content.
Safety is the most popular reason that parents give their kids a phone in the first place. But right now, we know exactly where our kids are. Physical safety is not our concern, but online safety is. As idle time increases, so do temptations of drifting into risky online activities. There has been a spike in online predators and free access to porn sites during the quarantine. Your teen’s smartphone is the most unsafe place they can be right now.
Your teen always feels judged on social media, but it is worse now because her old part-time social media job has turned full-time. She has more time to dwell on how every photo reminds her of how un-perfect she is and how much she needs to fix her identity. It doesn’t matter how much you tell her not to worry, she will. Her stress and anxiety are also compounded with the paralyzing fear of rejection by peers who expect instant responses to every post. She needs a break.
Unreliable parental controls.
The quarantine will mark the time when you lost the parental control battle. It is not realistic to manage small personal screens hidden in a teen’s pocket. Parental controls are necessary, but with more idle access to their phones your teen will get around your parental controls and you should absolutely care about that. In addition, with multi-age siblings trapped in the house together, you can’t control what younger siblings will see on older siblings’ devices. Our job is to protect all of our children, the little ones and the big ones.
Your teen may be the most intelligent in his peer group, but he is not mature enough to resist the persuasive design of a smartphone. And having another tech talk with him isn’t the solution. Since every mindless minute on a smartphone is time taken away from developmentally better activities. Try replacing it with a talk/text phone. Find ways to reduce the amount of time: collect her phone after a 30 min daily allowance, use the “grayscale mode,” (as the color icons will trigger more use), and never allow your teen to go to her bedroom or isolate with her phone. She can use video chat to stay connected to friends. She can even text from her laptop.
The most powerful tip is to remove your kid’s phone distraction all together so you can begin to spend time being present with your teen. Use this time to learn a new hobby together, have more conversations, and reset your priorities as a family. Let’s not look back on this quarantine as the moment when we lost our teens to their virtual worlds, but rather let’s remember it as the moment we got them back.
If you know it’s time to rescue your kids from their smartphone, we are here to help you. Try a non-addictive text/talk phone and take our free ScreenStrong Challenge to get started. During the challenge we will guide you through the first week of no smartphone to give you a glimpse of what life could be like when our kids enjoy real life again.