Any parent who has taken away electronics, knows how difficult it can be to set limits. There is the young child who throws a fit without their TV time, the middle school boy who gets angry and violent when video game time is up, and the high school girl whose attitude deteriorates when the smartphone is confiscated. I hear about it frequently as a counselor of teenagers and have experienced it myself as a parent. The challenge of electronics for many parents is too overwhelming to address. Others want their kids to learn to self monitor and hope, like other areas of life, love and logic will prevail. Children will suffer their own consequences for their choices and make better ones in the future; at least, it is the hope. Parents are tired of fighting with their children about electronics. Our parents fought about TV, computer games, or video games (depending on your age). This generation of parents has to regulate all that and more: kindles, chrome books, laptops, Mac books, iPods, smartphones, and even watches plus whatever new electronic device comes out next.

Eliminating electronics in our lives (or the lives of our teens) is not realistic. As adults, we struggle to balance our own relationship with our electronics. There is even a generation of children who have to fight to get their parents attention because the parents are so plugged in. It is not a teen issue as much as it is a human issue. The only difference is, as adults we make the decisions in our full grown brain.  Our children, with their incomplete brains, look to us to set the rules and lead by example.

The correlation of depression and anxiety with the smartphone and social media is undeniable. Suicides, anxiety, and depression amongst teenagers have skyrocketed in the last decade as we became more digitally savvy. While every child is different, those who struggle with impulsivity need even more boundaries. The more screen time, the more likely your child will be diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Part of creating a safe environment is by setting limits, modeling, and monitoring screen access in our teenager’s world. Screens are the teenager’s pacifier and just as babies learn to self-sooth, so we need to help our teenagers develop a healthy relationship with their devices rather than rely on it to manage their negative emotions. Here are some common conversations and electronic ideas to help in the struggle of maturing your child’s relationship with their devices.

Sleep: The National Sleep Foundation encourages 8-10 hours of sleep each night for adolescents. They often need more than adults. A sleep deprived teen is at a much higher risk to struggle with anxiety and depression.

  • Gold Standard: Bedtime for everyone should be device free and especially for those whose brains are still developing. Avoid letting teenagers sleep in a room with any device (TV, Laptop, Smartphone, etc…). Having electronics of any sort at night has a high risk of interfering with sleep. Sleep deprivation does not need to be a teenage rite of passage. Have a family ritual of staying off electronics an hour prior to bed. A well rested family runs so much more smoothly. It also reduces the risk of anxiety and depression. It helps to have a set time on school and non school days for when electronics are turned in.
  • Silver Standard: For parents who, for whatever reason, are unable to implement no electronics at bedtime, use OurPact App or Parental controls/Screen Time (on IOS) to shut down apps like social media and texting at night. Use a red filter (there are apps or settings that are adjustable depending on your device) in addition to lowering brightness an hour before bed to eliminate the blue light effect. Encourage phones be placed on airplane mode or DND to limit interruptions. Don’t be surprised if they don’t/won’t follow the advice. Their brains have a difficult time ignoring the positive reinforcement smartphones give which is why follow-thru and boundaries are imperative.
  • Why? Vibrations or audio notifications interrupt sleep regularly for many teens. When teenagers have disrupted sleep, they often turn to their electronics to avoid boredom or check on notifications status which stimulates the thinking process that should be turned off for sleep. The blue light from the device also shuts down melatonin production in the brain which is required for sleep. When the developing brain doesn’t get enough sleep, the frontal cortex of the brain suffers. It grows best in a well rested brain. It is this part of the brain that will help your teenager to make wise decisions and help balance their emotions. A sleep deprived teenager will have problems making wise choices and managing their emotions.
  • Overcoming barriers:
  • Let your teen access appropriate music if they need it at night to fall asleep without a smartphone. If your home has an Amazon Alexa speaker system, give them their own Echo speaker to play music they want, OR have music downloaded onto a non Wi-Fi connected, minimal apps device (make sure new apps cannot be downloaded), OR get them a CD player,  OR offer the radio.
  • Make sure they have an alarm clock they know how to use.

Create phone free zones: There are several ways to set boundaries with devices

  • Keep unmonitored Wi-Fi or data accessible devices out of bedrooms.
    • Why? An unmonitored device in a room places your child at a higher risk for pornography exposure/addiction, cyber bullying, sexting, and so much more leading to anxiety and depression.
  • Have times where the phones are off limits: Ex: dinner, school, drive time, homework, the living room, family get-togethers, or social events are times to consider staying device free. Have a no tech day a week or go tech free on vacations (minus the camera and music).
    • Why? Creating time or places that are device free encourages calmness, being present, social engagement and connectedness not found online. They may get bored but boredom is the invention of creativity. Some boredom will allow adolescents to tolerate negative internal emotions more rather than rush to an electronic distraction.
  • For parents who use their phones for work too, use DND or silent (not vibrate) modes when you are at home and want to focus on your family. This models containing stress as well as being present where you are versus all too easy distractedness.

Social media ideas to help your teenagers

  • Have a family account for social media for younger teenagers.
    • Why? This allows them to engage in it but with less risk associated with young brains being exposed to anything allowed on the sites.
  • Set time limits: Avoid going from no phone to unlimited access on phone and social media. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of sedentary screen time daily for under 18 years of age. Taper that down per year.
  • Why? More than 2 hours daily, escalates the risk of physical and mental/emotional issues. The more someone is on social media, the higher the risk for depression, anxiety, low-self esteem, eating disorders and all the symptoms associated with these problems.  Model appropriate time usage on social media.


17 years 60 minutes social media

15-16 years 45 minutes on social media

13-14 years 30 minutes on social media

Notice I didn’t max out to the full 2 hours allowed, because I’m assuming this teen will use an hour on a TV, computer, texting, or other device during the day.

  • Under 13, no social media unless it is on a parent’s account, brief, and highly supervised.
    • Why?   For legal issues is why the companies are set up that way. Developmentally, there is no magic number when a brain should be exposed to social media although many experts recommend on holding off as long as possible up to 16 years of age.
  • Use software/apps designed to make it easier to limit and monitor devices. There are a few out there and more all the time. OurPact and the IOS screen time features, are particularly helpful, and have been recommended to me by parents.
  • Have access to all passwords for emails/social medias/phones, etc…
    • Why? Everyone does better with accountability. It is not a trust issue. It’s a human nature issue.

Before they get a smartphone:

  • In middle school and in to high school, utilize flip phones or minimal apps on a Smartphone versus a fully loaded Smartphone.
    • Why?   This allows them to learn to manage a phone slowly without the additional temptations and distractions of social media.
  • Have a family phone versus a personal one.
    • Why? This allows them to learn to manage a smartphone without the possessiveness of their own phone and with high monitoring from parents.
  • Consider reviewing a phone contract before giving your child a smartphone that includes expectations and consequences. Acknowledge that you as the parent abide by many of the same rules. Don’t expect any contract with a teen to expect they will actually follow it.  However, it does prompts good conversation and lets teenagers know the standard you will be holding them too. (Examples below)


  • If you use removing electronics for discipline, know that taking 1-2 devices away, but leaving other devices has little effectiveness regardless of duration of time. What research has found to be very effective, is taking ALL electronics away for short periods of time. ( ESD 112 will be funding summer parenting classes for high risk teens in Clark County this summer that uses this technique.


  • Encourage focus time; avoid multiple electronics at once. Avoid watching TV while surfing through social media or playing computer games. This reduces the ability for our brain to focus and reduces attention span. This can lead to more reactivity and less calmness overall. Our teens don’t need more help in being emotional. The brain is not meant to multitask and when we do, we do ourselves and our families a disservice. If you don’t have time to do something, rather than doubling up, let it go, delegate, give up the commitment, or ask for an extension. It is ok to not have the time to make it all happen. Be aware of multi tasking on devices as a form of self-soothing, to make us feel better in the moment, but not helpful in the long term.

Part of the electronic attachment is due to FOMO (the fear of missing out). Let’s teach our children JOMO (the joy of missing out) instead.  Brene Brown recently posted “JOMO – the Joy Of Missing Out: Feeling content with staying in and disconnecting as a form of self care.” What a gift to give the next generation! What tips have you found to help monitor or limit electronics in your family?

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