Parents, Teenagers and Cellphones

Okay be honest, are you a hypocrite when it comes to cells phones and your teen? It’s a tough question but the truth is as we adults get m...

Okay be honest, are you a hypocrite when it comes to cells phones and your teen? It’s a tough question but the truth is as we adults get more comfortable and more reliant on cellphones we too are rarely without ours. It’s not just the teens anymore who seem to have their phone glued to their hand.
Parents have been complaining about cell phones since they became not only popular, but a necessity. We can’t imagine sending our teenager out into the world without one, even as we complain about it taking all their attention. And yet the next question is, are you less available for your teen because your phone has your attention? You can be right next to your teenager, but it you are checking messages or social media on your phone; you are not with your teenager. More and more, parents and teens are side by side, looking at their phones! Is this the role model you want to be?

Just a few years ago, it was parents and their computers. We had parents confess that they would say “Just a minute!” when their teen asked for a conversation, but it wasn’t tolerated when the teen said the same thing to her parents when she was engrossed in her computer. Now it’s the phone. It’s often the adult who has their phone in hand at the dinner table or is texting at the red light. If you find yourself complaining about your teen’s behavior regarding their phone, we urged you to look at your own behavior first. If you have little or no self-control then do not chastise your teen.

There are other double standards to watch for as well. I was once having dinner with a lovely 18 year old teen. As we left the house her parent reminded her to pay attention to me, not her phone. When we got to the restaurant we each put our phones on silent and in our purses so we could attend to each other. Hours passed in great conversation and we didn’t even think about our phones until the evening was winding down. It was great. But when she dug her phone out of her purse there were several angry texts from her mother demanding to know why she wasn’t responding. It felt very much like a no-win for this young lady.

We are asking you to honestly assess both your demands of your teenager and your own behavior regarding cellphones and other electronics. We have witnessed many times parents so engrossed in their own phone or computer they were missing the opportunity to interact with their teen. And then we watch those same parents reprimand their teen for always being on the phone and not even making eye contact. Sometimes your teen is hiding behind their phone, that’s true. Are you? Do you remove yourself from your teen by hiding behind your phone? Do you justify that what you are doing is legitimate even as you criticize your teen’s choice?

“Be the change”, as Gandhi said. Be the role model and put down your phone. Own that you do it, too; you remove yourself from your family with your cell phone, you don’t pay attention the same way when your phone is in your hand making the noise that says you just got a text, you just don’t.
This leads us to what we call “parent every day.” We get it that when you have a few minutes before school, a moment while you are waiting for the piano teacher, or quiet time at a restaurant while you wait for your order, it seems a perfect moment to check your mail, post that photo, or pick up that voice mail. Those moments are also perfect times to be available for your teenager, to ask a question, to listen to their story, to make eye contact.

When you make a place and time for connecting, then your teen knows that there will be chance to talk, to discuss, to be who he or she is with a trusted adult. When they know they don’t have to wave a red flag to get your attention, they will tell you more. So be the role model and be more connected ….. to your teen. Put down your phone.


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