Q: We are constantly having a battle about cell phone usage at our house. It seems my child is addicted to her phone. What can we do? Noelle – Scottsdale

A: Cell phone usage has increased exponentially over the past 10 years. In fact, 78% of teens ages 12-18 have a cell phone.

One major concern is that teens sleep with their phones. Most of them will tell you that this is because they use the alarm feature to wake up. However, research reveals there may be another reason. There is a new kind of peer pressure to be “available” to friends 24/7. Teens don’t want to “miss out” or be out of the loop on major drama. However, this “on-call” mentality not only deprives the teen of necessary sleep, research and neuro-imaging shows that the back and forth texting floods the pleasure centers of the brain. The potential for addiction is not only possible, it is a real threat.

Habits of any kind form early. When a child is first given a phone, they need to be educated about the dangers and also the appropriate usage. A child or teen’s brain is still under development, so their ability to predict the consequences of their actions is limited. They are not even thinking about the long-term ramifications of sending an inappropriate picture.

Creating a contract between parent and child will address the boundaries of what is appropriate and what is not. Some of the issues to be addressed are 1) There is a time to turn it off. Have a specific time each night where the phone gets turned off and is outside of the child’s room. (Kitchens/dens serve as nice docking stations for everyone’s phone!). 2) Establish boundaries for usage. Research shows that limited texting for a teen versus unlimited encourages the child to self-monitor. They would prefer to monitor their own usage rather than their parents monitoring their usage. 3) Establish guidelines for care of the cellphone (where it is stored when not using it, keeping it charged, etc.), 4) Discuss the appropriate etiquette for differing situations (school versus home). There are many sample contracts on the Internet. Look over them and create one that incorporates all the issues you feel appropriate for your child.

In addition, make sure your child has downtime, which does not include an alternative piece of technology with an “on/off” switch. Research shows us that the major cross sections of the brain become very active during downtime. Downtime without stimulation allows the brain to synthesize information and make connections and foster development of a personal self (as opposed to self in relationship to others).

Lastly, most cell phones have a parental control feature where the phone can be shut off for a period of time. Although this is a great feature, it would be better for the healthy development of your child’s pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that learns to make good decisions!) if they can exercise self-control! However, it is important to remind your child that having a cell phone is a privilege, not a right. Learning to handle this responsibility is doing more than just teaching about appropriate phone usage. It is working to develop a healthy brain and that is the best way to set up your teen for success.

Lisa Smith, Ph.D has authored 3 books, speaks around the country about Parenting On Purpose and is available for individual consultation. You can check out her website at monsterproofyourchild.com or email her at Lisa@monsterproofyourchild.com



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