Your teen’s bargaining chip of “but all my friends have a smartphone” is not just another feeble exaggeration. All those teen friends do have a smartphone; in fact, Pew Research Center reports that 95 percent of teens have this device at their fingertips.
But just why is this device so common? It is after all a luxury right? Maybe not so much. Just as landlines were used as a household must have for safety, convenience and, most of all, easy communication, the smartphone is now the staple for communication.
While the convenience factor is a plus for parents and allows them to reach teens in case of emergency (or maybe just for convenience sake), the smartphone is obviously so much more than just a means for parents to call and text kids and teens. Apps, a built-in camera and constant access to social media accounts means that a teen is always plugged into the wired world.
They can play games, chat, text, post pics, post comments to everyone else’s pics (and updates), surf the web…the list really goes on and on. The constant access to friends, family, information and endless updates keeps many users glued to that device. The dependency is so common that half of teens admit to having a cell phone addiction.
A fear of missing out leads many teens to constantly grab the phone and check for any updates, emails or texts that they received. The prevalence of cell phone dependency often is rooted in a condition called nomophobia—or “no-mobile-phone-phobia.” Teens may feel anxious and edgy if they notice they left their phone or if the battery dies without having access to a charger.
Nomophobia also may coexist with the pervasive fear of missing out (or FoMO). Without the phone—without that access—teens feel like they aren’t in the loop on new info. Did they miss a Snap via Snapchat? Has a friend texted? Called? Are there new voicemails? New likes? New Tweets? Maybe a new video was posted via a followed YouTuber.
FoMO can encompass all of this and more. And the more social media sites a teen uses, the more that fear may be escalated. However, the dependence on the phone shouldn’t surprise parents. The problem likely has brewing for years; technology always advances, and the more capabilities and apps that teens use, the more feedback they may be used to receiving.
And it’s this feedback that nurtures an addiction. When a teen—or anyone—receives a like on Facebook, a share, a retweet or any positive form of feedback on social media platforms, the happiness factor goes up. Being liked makes everyone feel good, and so does being popular. Social media sites thrive on this. Teens, unfortunately, may use social media feedback as a measure of their self worth, their popularity or even their happiness.
This is how smartphones go from convenience to full on problematic. But the lure of relevancy and the enticement of online gratification don’t have to rule a teen’s life…or be a parent’s worst nightmare. When teens start displaying signs of cell phone addiction, parents need to take note.
So what exactly are the signs that point to an addiction? According to PychGuides, some signs include:
- Using the phone to soothe negative feelings
- An inability to control use time (e.g. ignoring important tasks like school work in favor of the phone)
- Withdrawal symptoms also may be present
- A need for more and more (like all addiction, the same ‘dose’ won’t cut it)
Ideally, parents should take steps to ensure that smartphone use never reaches the point of an addiction. Before a teen or pre-teen receives their own phone, parents should set firm guidelines and boundaries. Creating a cell phone contract can help lay out the rules of the phone and outline any consequences for abuse of the cell phone privilege.
A cell phone contract can include:
- Time limitations for the phone (e.g. the phone is put to bed at a certain time)
- Limitations on where a phone can be used (not at the dinner table, in the car, etc.)
- App restrictions (including social media sites that are off-limits)
- Passcode rules (most parents require teens to provide all passwords)
- Guidelines on images (what is appropriate and what is not)
- Who pays for broken/lost phones
- Data usage and limits
- Consequences for rule violations
These are just a few of the topics that parents can write into their family’s phone contract. However, families can tailor their contract to fit the needs and guidelines of their family. Some parents have extremely strict limitations on cell phone use, but others are more lenient in what they allow. No matter what your family’s cell phone contract includes, be sure that teens read and sign it. Then give them a copy for their own reference.
Parental Control Apps
Some parents create a cell phone contract and they also insist upon using parental control apps to ensure their teens aren’t breaking any rules or viewing any questionable content. Before installing parental control apps or software that monitors teens, always notify them about the software. The implementation of monitoring software is typically something parents insist upon when teens have their own phone.
However, monitoring is not the same as spying, and teens should never feel that parents are using the software in this way. That’s why a conversation is important, and so is the disclosure of the software. Being sneaky and installing parental control apps without telling a teen can quickly lead to mistrust and perhaps even cause teens to act out. Tell teens that the software will be used but also tell them why and how it will be used.
For many parents, using monitoring software can help provide peace of mind. And, for teens, it also might increase awareness and provide a heightened sense of accountability. The goal of the software is to help teens understand how to be more mindful online and make smart decisions. The internet is forever, and one inappropriate photo can have lifetime consequences.
Parents aren’t always aware at how tech savvy most teens are…until it’s too late. While parents can’t prevent teens from figuring out how to disarm the app, they can set consequences if their teen uninstalls or somehow turns off the app. If monitoring is in the contract, include actions that will be taken if teens violate this stipulation.
So what should parents monitor?
There are so many different types of monitoring software and parental control apps, and parents need to figure out what they need from the software they install. Here are a few capabilities that you should consider for parental control apps:
- Viewing screenshots
- Access to internet history
- Controlling app downloads
- Viewing texts and other messages
- Record data and receive alerts for risky behavior
- Receive reports on multiple devices that your teen may own
Some apps or software help parents lock the phone down during drive time, others prefer to monitor phones discreetly. Parents can research the parental control apps to find one that best fit their needs. Apps like Webwatcher help you become a responsible digital parent.
Cell phone addiction is incredibly common. Half of teens admit to being unable to put down the phone, and parents need to take the threat of addiction seriously. Create a cell phone contract and set boundaries for young smartphone users. Include time limits and other rules. But if parents insist on monitoring the smartphone via a parental control app, they need to be completely honest with teens about disclosing the software. Spying isn’t ok, and if teens find out that parents are monitoring their phone without their knowledge, trust can be violated. Whatever rules parents set for smartphone use should be communicated and agreed upon by parents and teens. Communication is the best way to keep teens safe, and boundaries are important to help them safely navigate the tangled paths of the world wide web.