Tweens and Teens Constantly Checking Their Phones?

Monday, April 17, 2023

The dings! The buzzing! The non-stop notifications coming from my kids' phones! It drove me absolutely batty! I felt anxiety creeping in when I'd feel the couch cushion vibrate from my daughter's notifications, and they were one after the other. As I was going through my own digital wellness journey, I was often sharing what I was learning with my kids. Sometimes I got the polite sighs of, "here goes mom again", but other times, I actually got their attention, and that was usually with statistics (third party validation, not mom!). Regardless, drip feeding began to work, and eventually, the notifications were being silenced on their phones, as they realized not only what it was doing to me, but what it was doing to them. Is it perfect? No. But did they take a step towards wellness, yes!  Just this weekend, this very topic came up, as my daughter's phone "dinged" twice while on the couch. I was surprised by the notification, and she said she now turns notifications on just for certain times, such as making plans in that moment, so that she can get back to the person. Great! That's what I do! When we're done, notifications are turned back off.

As a parent in the digital age, it can be challenging to help your tweens and teens develop healthy phone habits. While technology has its benefits, excessive phone use can negatively impact your child's mental and physical health, from the anxiety inducing notifications, to the loss of engagement in the actual world around them. In this blog post, I'll discuss why teens feel the need to check their phones constantly and provide some ideas for you to help your children develop better digital wellness habits.

Why Do Teens Check Their Phones So Often?

There are several reasons why tweens and teens feel the need to check their phones frequently. Here are a few of the most common ones:

Notifications: With so many apps on their phones, tweens and teens can receive multiple notifications throughout the day. Whether it's a text message, social media notification, or email, each notification triggers a response in the brain that makes them want to check their phone. How many of you do it too? I'm always working with adults on this one...turn off the notifications! 

FOMO: Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a significant factor in teens' phone use. They worry that if they're not constantly checking their phones, they'll miss out on important social events or news. I get this, there's a world constantly happening online. Have you ever checked out the Internet in a Minute infographic??? Even I wonder what's happening, what my friends are doing and find myself slipping back online just to see.

Boredom: Many teens turn to their phones as a way to fill the void when they're bored. With so many apps and games available, there's always something to do on their phones. They might be waiting in line, procrastinating from doing work, sitting in an awkward social situation, or the oh so boring 'sitting with my parents at an adult dinner party'. Makes sense, right?

Social pressure: Teens may feel pressure from their peers to be constantly connected and available on their phones. This pressure can make it challenging to disconnect and take a break from their devices. If their friends are expecting immediate responses, or if their chat is blowing up and they're missing the conversation, there's pressure to check and respond. It would be a great step forward if our kiddos would share their digital wellness goals with their friends, at least notifying them of some small changes they're making, in hopes of their friends supporting them, and even taking on those habits themselves!

Ideas for Helping Your Teen Develop Better Phone Habits

As a parent, you can help your teen develop better phone habits. It might not happen right away, but like my drip feeding scenario at the beginning of this post, you can make headway. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Identify triggers: Encourage your child to reflect on what triggers them to check their phone frequently. This can include feeling bored, anxious, or simply habitually reaching for their device. Once they have identified their triggers, work together to develop strategies to manage them, such as practicing mindfulness or engaging in a substitute activity. I was constantly talking about my triggers with my kids, which eventually led to them sharing with me what their triggers are. One even admitted that the notifications are what get her back onto her phone at any moment in time.

Manage notifications: Help your child understand the impact of notifications on their phone use and encourage them to manage them more effectively. This can include turning off notifications for apps that are not essential, or setting limits on the frequency and type of notifications they receive. This was my first step towards digital wellness, and it was life changing. Seriously. My kids watched me go through it, and eventually realized that sounds and buzzing aren't necessary. Just taking that away can make a big shift in your mental health.

Address FOMO: Talk to your child about the fear of missing out (FOMO) and help them develop a healthier perspective. Encourage them to focus on the present moment and the activities they enjoy, rather than constantly checking their phone for updates on what others are doing. We are still working on this, as a family! This one takes a lot of work and a conscious effort, but it is doable. Even just setting time blocks for checking is a great step!

Establish tech-free areas and times: Create designated tech-free areas in your home, such as the dinner table or bedrooms, and establish specific times of day when phone use is limited. This can help your child develop healthy habits around their phone use and create a more balanced and mindful relationship with technology. Even with a 14, 16 and 18 year old, phones are a no-no at the dinner table, unless our conversation needs some research or we're playing a family game while waiting for food, such as Ticket to Ride.

Foster open communication: Maintain an open and non-judgmental dialogue with your child about their phone use. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings, and listen actively to their concerns. By communicating openly, you can help your child feel heard and supported as they work to develop healthy digital habits. This took a bit of work on my part, but my kids got to the point that they really did share a lot with me about their phone use: why, what apps, what they do, etc. I don't helicopter parent anymore. We've shifted to a place of respect both ways.

Promote substitute activities: Encourage your child to engage in activities that promote mental, physical, and social well-being, such as reading, exercising, or spending time with friends and family. By providing substitute activities, you can help your child find joy and fulfillment outside of their phone.

Practice mindful use: Encourage your child to practice mindfulness each time they pick up their phone. This can include taking a deep breath, checking in with their thoughts and feelings, and setting intentions for their phone use. By developing a mindful approach to phone use, your child can become more intentional and present in their daily life.

Helping your teen develop better phone habits can be challenging, but it's essential for their overall health and well-being. By understanding why teens feel the need to check their phones constantly and providing strategies for healthier phone use, you can help your child build better digital wellness habits. Remember, it's never too late to start developing healthy phone habits as a family, and the benefits will be worth it in the long run.

 If you would like to help your tween or teen further balance their screen time, please check out my workbook!  Or dive even deeper with my course!

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