During our last webinar, someone asked about back tracking and placing restrictions on their child’s technology when they had not previously. Maybe you dread the thought of having this battle with your child. Here are a few statistics that might give you a little piece of mind. It's not just you:

According to a Pew research study:

  • 54% of teens felt they spent too much time on their cell phones.
  • 66% of their parents felt they did as well
  • 51% of the teens felt their parents were distracted by their cell phones when they were trying to talk to them



What example are you setting for your kids? It’s important to model for your kids limits and boundaries. If you are consistently engrossed in your own device, then you’re not setting a good example and this conversation could be more difficult.


You might be surprised

This discussion with your child might actually offer boundaries and limits they need but don’t know how to get. Staying so connected places a lot of pressure on kids. In my sexting classes, their devices are confiscated by law enforcement. Repeatedly, participants tell me once they recover from the initial shock of losing their device they actually feel better. Parents report their interactions with the family improve and they seem less stressed.

And it’s not only social media. Video games are designed to keep them engaged for longer and longer periods of time. Maybe they’re noticing their gaming is negatively impacting their school, relationships, health, and social life. They might appreciate you stepping in and helping them make some necessary changes because they don’t know how to on their own.

Here are some ways to help.

Is there a problem? Questions to ask

  • Do you think technology is controlling you, or are you controlling technology?
  • Is looking at a device the first thing you do in the morning? The last thing you do at night?
  • Is technology causing conflict in your relationships? Are you fighting with people or feeling criticized for how much time spent on technology?
  • Do you like the way technology makes you feel? Do you feel happy and connected, or sad and excluded?
  • Does it make you upset to think about taking a break from technology?

(Parents, these are also good questions to ask yourself.)

Educate them

  • Technology is designed to be addictive and controlling because they want to keep us hooked. YouTube and Netflix have auto play, scrolling on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is endless, and Snapchat streaks guarantees people will use the app every day. Video games release updates or new versions, and "limited-time" offers regularly.
  • Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain when posts are liked, shared, or retweeted. Notifications and receiving emails provide the same rush. The dopamine rush is a reward to the brain and it's addictive, luring the user to want more and more.
  • Technology is making people more distracted. It's difficult to stay focused when notifications pop up. People typically stop what they're doing to look.
  • Face-to-face contact with people teaches the social skills that will help in the future, including understanding body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. Too much technology use limits learning these skills.
  • There is a link between violent video games and increased physical aggressive behaviors over time.

How to talk about it

Honesty: I’ve been doing research on the topic. I think I wasn’t making decisions in your (or the family's) best interest by allowing unlimited access to technology.

Ownership: I struggle sometimes with using too much technology and feel like it's negatively effecting me.

I-statements: I am noticing after you (insert activity here) you're acting (insert emotion here). I’m worried about you. I am concerned you're feeling (insert emotion here) after you (insert activity here).

Discussion: Can we talk about what you think would be a reasonable amount of time to be using technology?

Research together: Can we both look into the impacts of technology?

Family-wide restrictions: Set limits for the entire family (dinner time/ technology curfew, etc.) and plan device-free family activities.

Brainstorm: Together, come up with ideas of things they would enjoy doing in their free time.

Don't reinforce bad behavior

If you set limits on devices and they pout, argue or fight and you give in, you are reinforcing bad behavior. They are going to test you and see if their response will affect your decision-making. You’re making it worse for yourself in the future if you give in, they will continue to act out to get what they want. This also could have long-term negative impacts on your child's life since they are learning it’s not important to respect boundaries.

Common reactions and how to respond

"So you’re saying I’m a bad kid?"

No, I am saying I don’t think I was making good parenting decisions by not putting some structure in place. Kids and parents make bad choices, it doesn’t make them bad people.

"I didn’t do anything wrong!"

I know that, however, the stakes are higher now for mistakes on the Internet. Ten years ago we weren’t all walking around with computers in our pockets. We're all learning how to navigate this properly.

"Don’t you trust me?"

Love and trust do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. I'm doing this because I love you and now see there is a need for some limits.

"You don’t know anything."

At your age, your brain isn’t wired yet for you to think about long-term effects. I care about your well being enough to be paying more attention to this.

"This is what I do to relax after a long day."

Yes, it’s important to find ways to unwind and de-stress. However, it's also important to find coping skills to manage your stress levels other then technology.

Validate their feelings

Recognize your child might have strong feelings about limiting his or her technology time. Acknowledge those feelings, because kids need to feel heard. To understand their feelings better, notice your own feelings about setting limits on your technology use.

Validating statements

  • I'm guessing you are feeling …
  • I think what I hear you saying is…
  • It’s okay to be feeling … change can bring up some strong feelings.
  • This could be difficult at first. I'm feeling …. myself around cutting back on my technology use.
  • You have every right to feel…

Afterwards, stop and listen! You don’t need to agree with what they're saying to reassure them it's okay to have strong feelings. Telling your child you understand their feelings is not validating, that can feel like your minimizing their feelings.

Remember, you are the adult! Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours per day in front of any electronics.
  • Remember, no teenager in the history of teenagers said to their parents, “I really appreciate you caring about me enough to set the boundaries and limits I need to be a successful adult.” Chances are you won’t hear the thank you until they are a well-adjusted adult.
  • If he or she has an ongoing negative response to this intervention that could be an indication they have a problem and you need to intervene before things become worse. Intervention from a mental health professional might be necessary.

Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.