In today’s digital era, teenagers are practically married to their phones. As parents look on, perhaps with a sigh of relief that their teenager is quiet and preoccupied, there is an underlying problem. Some of us have acknowledged this problem, but not many. This article is an effort to reduce complacency and encourage action.
The Link Between Phone Use and Mental Health Issues
Few seriously consider the role of electronics in the dramatic rise in mental health issues among teens. Even though we often find children/teens isolated with social media, playing games, or surfing, we do not seem to have a heightened concern for such activities. We do not see joy, happiness, and increasing motivation to thrive when we observe our children during these times! Instead, we often see, and children report the opposite: frustration, embarrassment, anxiety, sadness… to name a few.
Mounting evidence suggests a direct correlation between prolonged phone usage and many mental health concerns in children and teenagers. It’s an alarming reality that compels us to do something different. With the explosion of social media usage among children, this technology has become the most common method for kids to connect and communicate. But with this connectivity comes an unintended consequence: a heightened risk for mental health issues.
Recent studies indicate that unlimited phone use can contribute to increased levels of anxiety and depression among kids. To explain this, we see that with excessive screen time, children are often subjected to an unrealistic portrayal of life through social media, causing them to form unhealthy comparisons and foster negative self-perceptions. They find themselves wanting more and more, often neglecting the many beautiful blessings of a good life. Cyberbullying becomes a looming threat, too, creating a hostile virtual environment that amplifies feeling of isolation and, in extreme cases, can even lead to suicidal thoughts. Much is now hidden from parents without parental objection when communicating with peers. The use of apps with disappearing content has become acceptable despite the data suggesting that unmonitored communications between teens will often erode into negative, profane, anxiety-producing conversations.
Of course, teens will argue that this is how they connect. However, it is only one way of connecting, and many options offer more excellent opportunities for healthy connections.
Why Parents Need to Take Control of Phone Usage
As parents, our role in managing our children’s exposure to cell phones cannot be overstated. We are responsible for understanding the gravity of this situation and taking decisive action. By taking control of their phone usage, we’re not merely limiting their screen time—we’re protecting their mental health and ensuring their overall well-being.
Most agree that limits are needed when this topic is raised in seminars or online surveys with parents! Yet, why do so many of us bend the rules and get lax on this over time? Admittedly, an underlying fear seizes many parents when setting boundaries on phone usage. The worry of being too controlling, having teens who don’t fit in, and most strongly is the somewhat bizarre FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). This social anxiety stems from the belief that others might be having fun while the person is not present. Therefore, FOMO often leads parents to adopt a hands-off approach. Yet evidence continues to flood in illustrating the clear correlations between excessive cell phone usage and escalated anxiety, depression, and even suicidal tendencies among teenagers.
Setting Healthy Boundaries with Phone Time
Setting boundaries doesn’t mean banning phones outright. Instead, we need to cultivate a balanced and healthful approach that respects the role of technology in our kids’ lives while preventing its misuse. It’s not difficult if we learn to parent by inspiration and wisdom rather than by fear. Fear-based parenting will always have us implementing strategies that produce more problems than they solve. Simple ideas that work include:
- Establishing mobile-free zones in the home, such as the table or the car.
- Setting times when the whole family is not using phones.
- Nurturing involvement in outdoor activities, sports, and recreational hobbies
- Establish time for mutual learning of topics or languages
- Insisting that we slow down as parents and lead with face-to-face conversations with family members
- Use technology to limit technology, with routers, software, and built-in tools that make this easy
- When children complain, don’t engage or keep answering the same question. The plan will erode.
By managing our children’s cell phone usage, we’re equipping them with the tools to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly—a skill that’s unquestionably essential in today’s technologically driven society. You can learn more about our behavioral and technology strategies by clicking here.