How to Stop Yelling at Your Kid About Using Their Phone

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You can’t blame teens for being super attached to their phones. We gave them technology that provides limitless access to their friends and the entire world, of course they are going to want to use it as much as they can. (Don’t you?)

According to a Pew Research study in 2022, 95% of teens in the U.S. use YouTube, 67% use TikTok, 62% use Instagram, 59% use Snapchat, and 32% use Facebook. And 35% of teens said they are using one of those top 5 sites “almost constantly.” Jim White, parenting coach and author of How to Be the Parent Your Teenager Needs You to Be, said more than any other question, parents of teenagers ask him about how to navigate their kids’ phone use.

“I would suggest that responsible use of social media is the number one issue faced by parents today,” White said. “Parents worry about the loss of social skills, the impact on health and school work, the risk of inappropriate posts, sexual predators, and their children being bullied.”

That is a lot. But White shared with us his three-step approach for helping kids use their devices more responsibly, and it comes down to including them in the process rather than dictating hard and fast rules.

Step one: Shift your mindset

The sad fact is, your ability to control your teen’s digital life is only going to lessen as they get older. Instead of control, make your goal to empower your child so they can make choices and regulate their own online activity.

“Move from trying to control what your teenager does on social media to empowering them to make responsible choices,” White said.

To move away from controlling toward empowerment, become more aware of how you’re reacting to their phone use.

“The next time you are experiencing some conflict around social media with your teen, create a pause. Notice how you are trying to control what your teenager does,” White said. “Then ask yourself, how could this circumstance be an opportunity to build connection or empower my son/daughter to make a responsible choice?”

Step two: Be curious and build connections

“The ability to influence or empower a teenager is directly related to the quality of the connection between the teen and their parent,” White said. He suggests starting the conversation about phone/social media use with these questions:

  • What social media platform do you like the best?
  • What do you like about it?
  • What is the biggest benefit of social media?
  • What are the downsides of social media?
  • What would happen if you couldn’t use social media for a whole day?

“As your teenager responds to these questions, resist the urge to dismiss their opinions or judge them as wrong,” White said. “This is the quickest way to shut your teen down.” Remember, this isn’t a debate, and you aren’t here to correct their opinions. You are information-gathering so you can understand your child better.

Step three: Empower your teen to use technology responsibly

Finally, work with your child to create a plan so your teenager can get the benefits of using social media while minimizing risks. Remember, this is about giving them the power to make good choices.

“For each relevant topic, I recommend having the teen share their thoughts and opinions first. Next, the parents share their thoughts and opinions. When there is a gap, develop a plan to bridge the gap,” White said.

Kick off your planning session with these topics:

  • Where, when, and how much social media usage is appropriate?
  • How can you stay safe online?
  • How to practice good social media etiquette
  • What’s OK to post and what’s not
  • How to know if you should believe something you read on the internet

In theory, following this format will mean both parents and teens know what’s expected, because you collaborated to define the boundaries.

“I encourage parents to never underestimate the power of their expectations,” White said. “If you see your teenager as a thoughtful and responsible young adult, you may be surprised by how thoughtful and responsible they can be.”

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