8 Steps for Dealing with your Teen’s Smartphone Addiction

Recognize the signs of a smartphone use problem in your teenager son or daughter and apply these 8 strategies to moderate electronics use and address the issue.

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Almost Every Teen Has a Smartphone

Things were simpler when you were a kid. Smartphones didn’t exist yet, and parents could easily monitor their kids’ electronic use since most appliances were located in the family room. Today, almost every teenager owns a smartphone. WebMD reported that 85% of those aged 14 to 17 have a cell phone.

This connectivity can be beneficial in a number of ways, one of them being the ability to reach your teen at any time.However, when devices are abused, overuse can be harmful to a teen’s health and well-being. In fact, teens who spend too much time on their phones can even develop technology addiction, which requires professional treatment.

Recognizing that your teenager has a smartphone addiction is a great first step in the right direction. We review the two main signs of a smartphone problem here, and then outline ways to address it. You can use these eight (8) steps to help them learn how to use electronics in moderation.At the end, we welcome you to send us your remaining questions about recognizing and addressing a teen’s smartphone problem.

8 Steps to Self-Moderation

1. Identify Negative Behavior Patterns

Spend a day or two keeping an eye on your teen’s smartphone use to identify the following two negative behavior patterns.

1.1. Using their phone too often – It is important to have solid evidence of your teen’s smartphone addiction before you bring it to their attention. Often, teens aren’t aware of how much they are using their phone, or they think that it is normal since other teenagers seem to always be on their phone. Remember that even checking their notifications every few minutes is a sign of smartphone addiction.

1. 2. Using their phone for social media – You will also want to take note of how your teen uses their phone. Social media apps and other programs tend to be the reasons why many teens become addicted to their phones. If the reason they are on their phone so often is to check social media apps, this could indicate an addiction.

2. Open Up a Conversation

Once you are certain that your teen is dealing with an addiction and you have a few talking points, sit them down for a frank discussion. Try to plan your talk for a time when both of you are calm, and make sure that everyone is well-rested, has eaten, and is generally comfortable. This allows you to broach the topic of your teen’s smartphone use when they do not feel like they are in trouble.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

It is important for your teen to realize that you are approaching the situation from a place of love and not one of anger. Asking open-ended questions allows your teen to think deeply about the effects of their smartphone use. Here are a few examples of open-ended questions you could ask your teen.

  • “How do you feel when you are online?”
  • “How do you feel when you receive an insult on your social media post?”
  • “How do your current grades compare to your grades before you got your smartphone?”
  • Have your interests changed in the past 6 months/1 year? How?

The goal of asking these open-ended questions is to get your teen to notice some of the ways in which their cell phone use has negatively impacted them.

4. Set Firm Limits For On-Screen Time

Teenagers may be like mini-adults, but they still have a lot of growing up to do when it comes to self-control. For this reason, you will have to help them learn how to manage their screen time. Decide how many minutes you want your teen to be able to use their phone. This will likely depend upon their age as well as lifestyle factors, such as whether or not you have a home phone that they can use for making calls to their friends. Once you have set a screen time limit, let your teen know and define the consequences for not following the rules. Losing their phone for a day or two is one consequence that you can provide.

5. Create an Overnight Charging Station

Removing the smartphone from your teen’s room at night is an effective way to drastically reduce their screen time. However, you will also want to make sure to remove all electronics, since your teen will likely turn to their laptop or tablet if they are dealing with a smartphone addiction. Set up a charging station in your bedroom where your teen can turn in their appliances before they go to bed. Keeping the charging station in your room will prevent your teen from being able to sneak their phone away in the middle of the night.

6. Model Appropriate Behavior

It is also important for you to recognize the cues you are sending your teen about appropriate smartphone usage. For example, checking your work email or posting on social media during dinner sends the message that this type of behavior is okay. While you may have to take an important business call on occasion, it is also important to show your teen that you have the power to unplug. Make a habit of turning off your phone where your teen can see it when you get ready to engage in family time.

7. Consider Cutting Back Phone Features

When the first strategies do not work, you may need to go an extra step and limit the amount of time that your teen can have on the smartphone overall. For instance, you can choose a phone plan with a set amount of minutes and texts that your teen can only use when they need to get in contact with you. You can also install apps that allow you to monitor your teen’s usage so that you can shut off their screen if it reaches a certain limit.

In severe cases, you may have to use a cell phone that only allows calls to pre-programmed numbers for safety purposes, or you could have your teen go without a cell phone if they do not spend much time away from school or home.

8. Know When to Seek Professional Help

Smartphone addiction is becoming more common, and there are times when even the best parenting strategies do not work. When this happens, there may be an underlying mental health condition that your child is masking with their smartphone use. Teens who are depressed or deal with social anxiety sometimes turn to their smartphones in an effort to feel better about themselves. Addressing the underlying mental health issues gives your teen the strength they need to hang up their smartphone problems for good.

Got any questions?

Today, smartphones are an asset for many families who use them to keep track of their teen’s wellbeing. However, they can be abused, and you are doing the right thing by being concerned about your teen’s cell phone use. Knowing how to identify the signs of smartphone addiction and take action are the best ways to protect your teen’s wellbeing as they learn how to appropriately use their electronics.

If you have anything that you’d like to ask or share with other readers, please feel free to use the comments section below. We value your feedback and do our best to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate questions.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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