By Michael Klinkner, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Almost five hours a day! That is how much time the average American tween, ages 8-12, spends on electronic devices each day. Teenagers’ average is even higher at close to 7.5 hours a day. These estimates include time on phones, entertainment apps, video games, TV and movies, but do not include screen time spent doing homework.
Too much screen time has been linked to problems like increased obesity rates, interference with social activities and family time, and elevated risk for depression and anxiety.
While every family needs to determine what the “right” amount of screen time is for their child, one thing is for certain, getting a teen or tween off of their electronics can be a daunting task.
Here are five suggestions to help you regulate your child’s device use:
- Set a good example. If there’s one thing teens and tweens don’t respond well to it is hypocrisy. If you want to cut down your child’s screen time, you first have to reflect on your own screen dependency. For example, telling a child they can’t use their phone at mealtimes while you flip through your own emails will no doubt lead to a heated dinnertime duel.
- Treat them like adults. For most parents this is counterintuitive. Teens and tweens are in a hurry to grow up and treating them like children by carping at them will only give them more motivation to retreat. Try a different tactic. Instead of demanding change, ask for your child’s input on when, where and how often electronics should be used in your home. Have a candid discussion about the negative impact of screen exposure, but also be realistic about expectations. A teenager isn’t going to willingly step away from TikTok no matter how compelling your speech about mental health is.
- Create family boundaries around phone use. Ask every family member (including yourself) to not use phones in bed, during dinner or in the bathroom. Similar boundaries around time can also work, for example, no phones after 9 p.m.
- Find activities that are more fun than using a phone. The best way to curb your teen/tween’s phone use is by filling their time with activities that are more fun than scrolling endlessly. It might not be “cool” to do things with your parents, but an age-appropriate activity can go a long way to keeping kids off their phones and cultivating strong family bonds. Take up pickleball, start an art project or crack open a puzzle that’s been gathering dust in the garage.
- Turn off notifications. Another way phones keep us engaged is by sending notifications at regular intervals. Imagine your teen is hanging with friends or family and every few minutes they get notifications from social media apps, games and texts. It’s very difficult to stay engaged when your phone keeps pulling you away. To avoid this, adjust your phone’s notification settings.
Don’t feel bad for addressing the digital elephant in the room. It’s your job to help guide your child – no matter their age – towards finding interests outside the screen. While limited exposure to electronics will feel uncomfortable at first, in the long run dedication to engaging with your loved ones in a more direct way will have mental and physical health benefits that will last for years.
Michael Klinkner is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Neurolinguistic Programming. He is also certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Klinkner provides individual, group and family therapy to children, adolescents and adults in Central Phoenix and Gilbert, Ariz. Klinkner focuses on treating a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, trauma and ADHD. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/michaelklinknercounseling/ or https://instagram.com/michael_klinknercounseling