6 ways to get your teen off their phone: A parent's guide

Do you feel your teen is constantly on their phone or other digital devices? Are you worried about the impact this is having on their mental health? The truth is that it's not all bad and that there are benefits to digital devices. The need to have social connections is a strong driving force in young people. They absolutely need social interactions with their friends but you need to help them realise that there needs to be a balance between screen time and real-time.

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So, how do you get them off their devices without starting a fight? And what is happening in their developing brains when it feels like they have their beautiful eyes stuck on a screen all day long?

New tech is coming in all the time - the average three to four-year-old spends three hours a day in front of a screen, increasing to six and a half hours by the time they are teenagers. This means our teens are spending more time with digital devices than they spend at school!

Excessive screen time impacts sleep, physical activity, and real face-to-face time.

Try to see it from their side

As their parent, you must see this from your kid's perspective. Friendships are very intense at this age, particularly so for girls. They feel that they have to be available 24/7 (and that their friends must also be available at all times). It can feel that not getting an immediate answer or response means that you don’t like or care about me. They can feel the need to be permanently on call.

So, they are not addicted to their phones; they are addicted to their friends. If you take away their phone, you’re taking away their access to their friends.

Social media

As parents, how do we keep up to date with social media where it seems a new app is appearing before we've got to grips with the old one? At the end of the day, all the various social media apps are similar - they are about seeing and keeping up with what others are doing. Don’t get too hung up on which app.

Making mistakes is an important part of adolescence, so it’s important to know that you aren't trying to control them but want to work withthem. 


Red flags

Their need for social connection alongside their tendency for risky behaviour means there are certain areas where, as a parent, you need to hold a firm boundary.

Points to keep in mind when managing teenage screen time:

  • bullying - it happens 24/7 and is relentless
  • the impact on their sleep
  • the access to porn and disturbing content

Make sure that you are always looking for ways to connect with them. Listen to them and show them that you value time with them. This is how you pick up on potential issues early on - through cooperation, not control.

How to work with them

  1. Talk to them about what they’re using their phones and screens for.
  2. Let them know what your worries are around this - it's always best to be open and honest.
  3. Expect your teens to find you annoying as a parent - pulling away from you is a natural part of their move towards independence. Now is the time for you to reframe your family home as a place where they are valued, and listened to and where they feel connected.
  4. Expect some pushback, that's to be expected and is OK - see it as an ongoing conversation.
  5. Find out their school’s policy on phones - you can use that to set boundaries around phone use at home
  6. Set boundaries around phone use for the whole family - these boundaries are not just for your teen. This needs to be a household conclusion.

It’s hard for all of us to limit our screen-time - phones are designed to keep us looking. You’ll never get to the end of Instagram!

Could it be you who is digitally distracted? We can all become mindless when on our phones. They are designed to take your attention but this impacts your sleep and connection to others just as it does our kids'.

There is a time and a place; when you’re with people that you care about, your phone should not be there. At the dinner table for example or at the coffee shop. It’s rude to look at your phone, text or message when you’re with someone - this is something we can all get better at.

It’s great for them to see that this is hard for you too - it gives them the feeling that we’re in this together. You should support and help, rather than judge and punish. 

Don’t let their phones or online time feel like their only access to support - that needs to come from you too. Again, collaborating, not control is where it’s at - you all need to work on this together. So, lead by example.


Safeguarding sleep

One of the best things you can do to safeguard your child's mental health is to safeguard their sleep and, to put it bluntly, this means no phones in the bedroom at bedtime. This can feel like an impossible dream, but it can be done.

We all need to recognise that we use our phones too much and that it impacts our sleep. This needs to be tackled together - it won't work to have one rule for you and another for them.

Expect to get a big push back to not having phones in bedrooms, particularly from girls. This is because of feeling a need to be available should their friends need them. They can be genuinely fearful that they might miss something important - this is more than FOMO.

Management strategies

  • Banning phones at bedtime does work, but you need to work with them.
  • Have a chat about the benefits - they will know how they feel when they don't get enough sleep, for example.
  • Put all the family’s phones on to charge in one place overnight.
  • Use an old-fashioned alarm clock rather than a phone alarm.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 1DH
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Written by Jennifer Warwick, BACP Registered Counsellor (Postgrad Dip Counselling)
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 1DH

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for a free initial chat by phone.

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