Technology Tuesday - Talking with Teenagers: Phones


I’ve recently heard about two different advances in the world of technology…particularly the world of teaching kids responsible technology use, which is maybe the one I’m most interested in.

The first is a movement called #waituntil8th.  It was started in Austin, TX, by a mom who wanted to help kids wait until the age of 14 to get a smartphone.  There’s been a lot of research as to the negative effects of screen time usage on the developing brains of kids, and this movement has therefore caught a lot of steam with schools and families.  And it’s one that even kids are jumping on board.

There is also an app called Moment that I’ve been talking with kids a lot about in my counseling office.  In fact, I had several groups of girls who downloaded it as their observance of Lent.  It not only monitors your screen time, but it goes so far as to monitor your pickups.  It has a coaching component where it suggests things like, “Go 2 hours today without picking up your phone.”  “Download your most used app.”  And, “Put your phone out of reach while you’re riding in the car.”  It’s a convicting, enlightening app—I’ve downloaded it myself, so that I can talk about it with the teenagers in my life.

For both of these advances, this is maybe the concept I love the most:  you do it with the teenagers you love.  They’re built around conversations.  As we talk about lots, we talk at kids way too much—especially about the areas where we have some fear.  Technology is one of the biggest of those.  Instead, what if we asked these kinds of questions:

Have you heard about wait until 8th?  What do you think about it?  When do you think kids should have smart phones?  Why?  When do you think you’ll give your child a phone?  

How much do you think you’re using your phone these days?  (and talk about your own phone usage in a conversation that is back and forth, rather than a lecture).  What are the apps you use the most?  Does it ever feel like it starts to control you?  What would you want to change?  How do you think phones have changed the way people relate?  

I had the girls in my group lead the conversation about Moment.  They got really excited about limiting their own screen time.  The talk started at 7 hours per day and went down to 2, as a goal…which, in this day and time, is a pretty good goal for high schoolers.  

What can you do to engage them in conversation?  Relate to them around their phones where they feel heard and like you really do value their input?  For more suggestions (and guidelines), check out Taming the Technology Monster.  We want to be teaching the kids we love responsible phone use.  It’s their phone use, not ours.  We want them to learn…and, to do so, they need to formulate their own ideas and find their own voices in all things, not just technology.  Let’s ask questions, listen, and give guidelines and consequences when needed.  They’re much more likely to respect us when they feel we’ve listened to them first.

-originally published in Parenting Teens magazine