Teens & the Cell Phone: How Can You Set Limits?

If there’s anything synonymous with adolescence, spending hours on end on the phone certainly tops the list. Of course, this behavior isn’t unique to today’s teens. Think back to your teen years. Remember those carefree days of conversing with your friends about such vital matters as what to wear to the baseball game, a secret crush, or the oppressive rules your parents had laid down?

In many respects, today’s teens are no different. A couple decades back, a study by the University of Illinois found the average teen spent 2–3 hours a day on the phone—although only half that time was likely spent in conversation. At the time, that seemed excessive to many parents.

Psychologists say teens need such opportunities to socialize so they can broaden and strengthen their social networks. This need for constant socializing during the teen years might appear to be a lack of responsibility or shortage of other interests. However, it’s crucial to your teen’s sense of identity and social development.

Still, the amount of time teens spent on the phone and media only 20 years ago dulls in comparison to today. Videos, movies, music, video games, books, and social media are now always at our fingertips. A 2019 report by Common Sense Media reveals kids ages 8–12 now spend 4 hours and 44 minutes per day on their phones. Teens average a whopping 7 hours and 22 minutes daily!

How widespread the problem has become is evident in that 89% of all teens now own cell phones, according to a 2018 study conducted by Common Sense Media. Interestingly, more than half of teen-owned cell phones are purchased by parents to alleviate their worries about their kids’ safety and whereabouts, says the Detroit News. The resolution of one problem, however, has created another.

Other problems have risen with teen cell phone use. These include high cell phone bills, distracted driving, and cyberbullying.

Another issue has also evolved. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 20% of teens surveyed say online correspondence has become their primary means of communication with their peers. This means they’re growing more isolated when it comes to real-world socialization.

Rules and Solutions Your Family Can Live With

Parents do need to allow their teens to socialize, but teens must earn that privilege by adhering to rules.

To ensure their cell phone doesn’t consume an excessive amount of your teen’s time, set rules regarding its use. Allow your teen’s input though, and try to make some compromises, so your teen is more willing to adhere to the rules established. Here are some suggestions:

  • Specify what times cell phones may not be used, such as at mealtimes, while doing homework, and after a particular hour at night.
  • If your family members share cell phones, set specific times that each adolescent can use the phone and ask them to plan their use accordingly.
  • Require homework and chores to be completed before using cell phones. Or allow only a short amount of phone time before chores and homework are complete.
  • Require everyone to put their phones on the chargers at night, which should be someplace outside kids’ bedrooms, such as the kitchen.
  • Don’t allow teens to take their phones to school. Have them leave their phones on the charging stations where you can see them.
  • Require your teen to pay a determined portion of the cell phone bill.
  • Buy prepaid minutes to keep teens from racking up high cell phone bills.
  • Don’t allow your teen to text or talk on the phone while driving. Parents should also adhere to this to set a good example.
  • Set the consequences for not abiding by cell phone rules. Loss of cell phone use for a specified period is appropriate.