Amid the growing body of research pointing to the negative effects of constant smartphone use, especially among today’s youth, parents may well wonder how to act to rein in this pernicious habit in their own kids. Indeed, obsessive smartphone use has been linked to depression, insomnia, high stress and a host of other ills, not to mention a significant decline in face-to-face interaction — which may have long-term consequences for development of social skills and self-presentation. Smartphone obsession has also contributed to a steep decline in reading books, whether in print or on an e-reader such as Kindle.
Kids growing up today haven’t known a world without smartphones, so you can’t blame them for using them — especially if you promoted that when they were young as a convenient distraction.
Now, though, things may have gotten so out of hand that something must be done about obsessive smartphone use. Consider these 10 tips to help curb that habit.
Model by changing your own behavior.
Children mimic adult behavior. In fact, keen observation by children as young as toddler age shows a pattern that parallels what their parents do. If you’ve always got your smartphone in your hand, drive while texting, using social media, dashing off an email or checking directions, making a reservation and so on, guess what? Your kids learn by the behavior you model. While the habit may currently be tough to change, on both sides, you can make a conscious effort to reduce your digital distraction, put down the smartphone and pay more attention to your kids one-on-one. After all, there’s no greater connection than that which exists between parent and child. Besides, limiting your time on electronic devices is healthier for your own well-being as well.
Insist on device-free meals.
How long does a meal last? Surely this time can be devoted to talking with each other about the day’s events, future plans, interests, anything concerning, laughing and showing affection for each other as a family. For this to happen, though, you must insist that smartphones be turned off, put on silent or, better yet, left in another room. If it’s not sitting on the table beside them (or you, for that matter), it can’t serve as a distraction from what is supposed to be a time of family bonding. Besides, recent research found that even minor phone usage during meals made diners feel distracted and reduced their mealtime enjoyment. Pew research also found that when one person uses a cellphone at the table, others are likely to follow suit. Your kids are going to object, probably quite strenuously, saying you’re being unreasonable, that they have to be available for an important call or text. Be the parent. Make mealtime smartphone-free time.
Make a house rule that phones are turned off at bedtime.
Considerable research on the harmful effects of blue light from electronic devices in the bedroom should be enough to convince you to incorporate a new house rule: all phones are to be turned off at bedtime. At the very least, make sure they’re left in another room so the temptation to glance and use won’t interfere with sleep. Expect another outcry from your kids. Tell them this is the appropriate time to charge the phone’s battery. Everyone wants a full charge, the better to do all that streaming, right?
Plan outside activities where phones can’t be used.
You can’t use a smartphone when you’re playing sports, or skiing downhill, water skiing, tobogganing, sledding and countless other outside activities. The more you can encourage your children – and model by example, doing things together as a family – to be outside and active, the less likely they are to have their necks craned down tapping texts into their smartphones. A bonus is that being outside in nature is conducive to lowering stress levels and boosting overall physical and mental health.
Invite your child’s friends over for face-to-face get-togethers – no phones allowed.
Since kids today are prone to use smartphones rather than hang out together, one thing parents can do is to encourage their children to have their friends over. With little kids, this is called play dates, but the principle is the same for adolescents and teens. Have a Friday night pizza night, maybe after a school football game. Have holiday parties, like a Halloween costume invite. While it might be tough to say that no phones are allowed, if there are activities to keep the kids busy, they’ll have less time to be on those phones and staring at those screens. Depending on the age of the kids, parents may be in the room, helping out with refreshments, etc. For older adolescents and teens, just make sure your presence is known, checking in with them from time to time.
Monitor your child’s screen time.
How do you know what your child is looking at on the smartphone, or the computer? There are cyberstalkers out there and dangerous situations kids can get themselves into without knowing it. If you feel queasy about such monitoring, talk with other parents or do some research online on how best to do this without coming off as overbearing and intrusive of privacy. Again, remember that you are the parent. You have to be protective of your child’s welfare and that entails monitoring screen time.
Insist that homework comes first.
Kids can talk for hours – make that text, send IMs and hang out on social media. This can definitely result in plummeting grades. Let your kids know that homework comes first and communicating with friends comes later. Of course, you’ll have to monitor what they’re doing to ensure that the activity is homework. Another caution: don’t fall for the excuse that their friend/classmate is involved with them in a project and they have to communicate. If that’s the case, invite the friend over so the two can study/work on the project together, in real time.
No games (such as Fortnite) on school nights.
Maybe your teen or adolescent is hooked on video games. One popular one in our family is Fortnite. It’s become so much of a problem that we’ve put guidelines in place: no games at all on school nights. And, in addition, time spent on such gaming is limited when it is allowed. No endless hours spent with the controller, eyes glued to the big screen. One recent study estimates that 160 million American adults play Internet-based games, although another survey found that 0.3 to 1.0 percent of the general population might qualify for a potential diagnosis of acute Internet gaming disorder.