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Learning About Healthy Cell Phone Habits in Your Teen

How can you help your teen develop healthy cell phone habits?

Cell phones and social media are a big part of your teen's life. You may have heard your child say, "This is how I stay in touch with my friends." But it's important to find a healthy balance and set some boundaries.

Here are some tips for creating healthy cell phone habits.

  • Understand the appeal.

    Too much time on our phones isn't good for our brains, our self-esteem, or our bodies. And it can keep us from getting other things done. But that doesn't reduce the strong pull of the phone. Like anything that has an unhealthy or addictive side, we have to work hard to resist the forces that compel us to spend more time on our phone.
    The effects of using technology are sometimes compared to the effects of substance use addictions. This includes brain changes and how you respond to treatment. This is why some teens may need counselling and other professional mental health and addiction support.

  • Lead by example.

    Kids learn their screen habits from us. So if you're using your cell phone at dinner or are always texting, your child will think it's okay to do that too. Use your kids as motivation to set boundaries and form healthier habits. For example, make dinnertime, bedtime, and car time "no cell phone" zones. And charge your phones at night in a common space—not in a bedroom. (Our brains need time away from the screen, especially before bed.)

  • Encourage kids to invite friends over.

    It may seem old-fashioned, and your teens may be out of practice, but face-to-face socializing often leads to deeper connections and more fun. When friends come over, suggest a game or activity. Make a music video? Invent a new type of pizza? Sketch the cat?

  • Suggest other activities.

    If kids are busy doing something they enjoy, they'll forget about the phone. Have your child pick an activity or class at a local community centre. Or your child can join a club, help a neighbour, redecorate his or her room, or organize a time for friends to play in a nearby park.

  • Keep it safe.

    Learn who your kids are calling or texting. Teach them to only respond to phone numbers they know and not to share any personal information that could be used in a harmful way. Remind your kids that after a picture is sent, that picture will be out there forever. They won't have control of where it ends up. This is why it's important to teach your kids not to sext or harass or threaten anyone in a text.

  • Recognize when it's unhealthy.

    Encourage your child not to send or forward mean messages or inappropriate photos. Discuss how it's good to use the phone to feel connected, but not so good when phone time makes them—or others—feel left out or anxious.
    There is a link between too much screen time and mental health issues. This is why it’s important to watch for warning signs, including spending too much time alone, not getting enough sleep, worse physical health, and not taking part in healthy activities.

  • Set limits and goals together.

    Your kids are more likely to play by the rules and achieve goals if they have a say in creating them. Design a contract together that says where, when, and how long it's okay to be on the phone. You and your teen can even make a plan together for everyone in the family to follow. Then post it where everyone can see.

  • Have consequences.

    If your child can't stick to the limits, ask your cell phone provider about parental controls that let you set daily limits. Or download an app that disables the phone when your child hits the limit. Or make a deal that your child has to pay after reaching a certain data limit.

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