Have you started to rethink giving your child a phone for Christmas?
Many parents get frustrated when it comes to regulating their children’s cell phone use. As children grow up and become more independent, phones turn into a necessity. When kids start acting out, seem unmotivated or distracted, phones are often the first to be blamed and subsequently taken away.
Interestingly, experts hesitate to readily name just one reason for teens’ irritable moods or rude behavior.
Child psychiatrist Dr. Matt Swenson said: “The research is not definitive yet about whether cell phones are universally and unilaterally a problem in kids’ lives. You should be skeptical of someone who tells you otherwise. At the end of the day, even if we knew there was causation, I would question whether it would be helpful because of the societal influence [of cell phones]”.
Taking a phone away may be our first instinct when attempting to correct behavior, encourage academic focus, or as a response to a child’s moodiness and distraction. Because phones and social media are an essential part of today’s social landscape — especially for adolescents and teens — it may be harmful to use phones as a punishment or reward, even if it looks like there is an obvious correlation with their actions.
Dr. Swenson suggests switching the focus to what we do know about kids and emphasizing emotional connection.
Behaviors we attribute to “too much screen time” are often an indication of anxiety and depression. This increasingly common issue with teens and adolescents won’t be cured by the swift removal of a device or strict time limits. What research shows about anxiety and depression is that meaningful connection with an important adult can do a lot to alleviate symptoms in children.
Just like adults, adolescents and teens use their phones to connect with friends and family. Social media, video chatting and text messages are a significant part of maintaining relationships today. It is impractical to expect kids to know exactly how to self-regulate their phone use, especially when they see adults on their phones constantly, too.
Family and social connection comes in all shapes and sizes today. When phone use is distracting your teen from family time, express your desire to spend time together instead of telling them to “put the phone away and join the family” in exasperation.
Ask your child which friends they are chatting with without making it an interrogation. Take a few minutes after dinner one evening to have “family meme-sharing time,” and use phones to connect with each other through humor.
Instead of announcing new strict family phone rules, try talking with your kids about the positives and negatives of cell phones. It’s probably best to try this out at a time when the conversation won’t be emotionally charged.
Express confidence in their ability to make smart choices. Talk about the benefits of practicing self-discipline.
While the jury is still out on phones being the big bad guy, work together with your adolescents and teens to use them peacefully.
You may not need to regret that Christmas gift after all.