How to get your teenagers off their phones


Dear Adele,

Our teenagers are constantly on their phones and it is driving us bonkers! They are staring at their screens over breakfast, silent in the car with their faces glued to the devices, and distracted by every notification that comes in while doing their homework. Trying to talk to them over a meal has become impossible! Can you help us decrease the amount of time our teenagers spend on their phones without causing a gigantic power struggle?

Parents of Two Teenage Phone Addicts


Dear Parents of Two Teenage Phone Addicts,

Nielsen research has discovered that the average teenager texts over 3000 times a month! According to the New York Times “screen addiction is a serious condition.” It definitely sounds like cell phones have taken over your children’s lives and that some limits, with a better life balance might be helpful.

May I suggest you call a family meeting and bring your teenagers and the adults together for a serious talk about the impact of cell phone usage in the home. Run the meeting like a democratic business meeting, hearing from all members of the family.

As a group, establish a list of things that need to be accomplished in a balanced family life. Discuss jointly what things are not occurring, and why the over usage of cell phones has affected the accomplishment of salient life tasks and the facilitation of more positive family relationships. Brainstorm solutions as a family.

Try to come to a family understanding that there is a time to put away phones and a time to turn them off. For example, you might agree to have phones turned off during family meals, family meetings, and overnight in bedrooms, when everyone is expected to get a good night’s sleep.

You might also want to consider the use of parental control apps to monitor the phone usage of the children as one of your solutions.

Social psychologist Dr. Susan Newman suggests you avoid using phones as punishment because your teenagers’ cell phones are “their main lifeline in connection to the world.” You definitely do not want to have rebellion around this issue. Better to try to encourage trust, cooperation, and willing compliance.

An important point made by Cory Whalen in the Reader’s Digest article ‘How to Get your Kids off their Phones Without Bribing Them’, is modelling. You must develop a mentality and practice of ‘Do as I do’, says Whalen. Remember your children are watching you and if you overuse your phone in their presence, they will tend to do the same thing. So, if you are seeking to get your children off their phones remember to set similar limits for yourself.

Keep the list of solutions simple and short. Best to start with a few small changes rather than a complete overhaul of family lifestyle revolving around phone usage. Your chances of success will be better with this approach.

Be sure to involve the teenagers completely in making up rules which will solve the identified problems. When the children feel heard you are likely to get greater cooperation with the rules that are established for the family. Write them down and post them where everyone can see them.

Understand that your children may not like the new cellphone limits, and therefore decide that they don’t like you for enforcing them. Unfortunately, you may have to put up with this for a period of time, while you regain control of the balance in the family’s life that you think is important, but which has been attacked by your teenager’s addiction to their cell phones.

I will conclude with a few inspiring quotations:

Life is what happens when your cell phone is charging.” — Unknown

Teens who spend more time than average on-screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.”  — John Twenge

These days children can text on their cell phone all night long and no one else is seeing that phone. You don’t know who is calling that child.— Kamala Harris

Best wishes Parents of Two Teenage Cell Phone Addicts, for regaining control of cellphones in your family and restoring a better quality of family life and communications.

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

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