Does your teen’s smart phone have more influence than you?

By Matt Bulkley | Blog Education Series

STAR Guides Wilderness - Smart Phone Addiction in Teens

An increasingly common frustration we hear from parents is the competition that exists between them and their teen’s smart phone. Parent complaints cover a wide variety of concerns including trouble listening/focusing, obsessive game playing, viewing porn, sexting, cyber-bullying and staying up all night watching videos to name just a few. We all are aware of just how consumed we can become in our phones and of course, teens are no exception. While it is a fact that most teens are now packing smart phones, our belief is that there should not be a competition for a teen’s attention. Parents should always trump a smart phone. If you are losing this competition and your teen’s smart phone has more influence than you do, then we have eight suggestions for you to take control of the situation:

  1.  You as the Parent owns the phone—The teen needs to know you bought it, you pay the bill and you are simply “loaning” it to them. You set the password and you have the right to take the phone whenever you want.
  2. The primary purpose of the teen having the phone is for YOU to contact THEM. The teen needs to understand that whenever the Caller ID says MOM or DAD that the call NEVER goes to voicemail.
  3.  You as the parent set the curfew for possession of the phone, and yes, there needs to be a curfew. The teen should not have possession of the phone beyond the time you set in the evening. You as the parent charge the phone in your safe keeping overnight and then assign to the teen’s possession again in the morning.
  4. It is the teen’s responsibility to care for the phone. Lost or damaged phones are on him/her, not you as the parent.
  5. There is a zero tolerance policy for dishonesty, deceit or manipulation of others. Any involvement in cyber-bullying or conversations that are hurtful to others are not tolerated. Parents are to be accepted as followers on all social networks. Message to the teen: Do not text, email, or say anything using the smartphone you would not say in person or with me as the parent in the room.
  6. No porn and no sexting. Message to the teen: Search the web for information you would openly share with me. If you have a question about anything, ask me as the parent. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Do not send or receive pictures that in any way are revealing or sexual in nature. The development of a cyber-sex addiction will not occur on my watch.
  7. Face to Face conversation always takes precedence. Message to teen: Never allow your smart phone to interfere with a face to face conversation with someone else. Do not text or browse while speaking with another human being or while you are supposed to be listening or paying attention to adults. You are not a rude person; do not allow the smart phone to change that.
  8. The smart phone is an earned privilege. Message to teen: You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You may lose internet access on the phone or you may lose the privilege entirely. You must show me you can be trusted to possess a smart phone. Post the rules in plain sight and draft an agreement. Once you’ve set the ground rules, make sure the rules for your teen’s smart phone usage are crystal clear.

About the Author

Matt is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working in the field of youth treatment and psychotherapy since 1995. He did his undergraduate work at BYU and earned his M.S.W. at the University of Utah. He has worked in a variety of treatment setting in his career ranging from wilderness therapy and residential treatment to outpatient treatment and state government.

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