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Recently, more and more parents are reaching out to me because their teen struggles with cell phone “addiction”. Sometimes the parents are describing unhealthy habits that haven’t developed into a destructive “addiction”. However, all parents who have children struggling with their electronics use can benefit from these five tips.

Don’t know if your child has an electronics addiction?
Ask yourself these ten questions to find out.

1. Set Firm, Consistent Boundaries

Before your teen gets their first cell phone, it should be explicit when they should use it. Some parents create “no cell phone zones” during homework time, dinner time, and after bedtime. Your child may need to physically hand over the phone during these times to help them disconnect. But, whatever you decide to do, be consistent with the boundaries you set. Inconsistency will lead to endless attempts to negotiate.

2. Create Consequences for Breaking the Rules

Teens like to test boundaries. That’s part of normal development. Because of this, you’ll need to create some consequences. Whatever you decide is the consequence, just be sure it’s crystal clear: If X, then Y. And, of course, be consistent with your follow-through. If you’re inconsistent, be prepared for lots of boundary testing!

3. Consider Creating a Contract

The word contract sounds so cold and formal, but sometimes using that word makes your teen take it more seriously. If you think contract will be at turn-off, you can call it a cell phone “agreement” instead.

How do you make a contract? Clearly outline the boundaries and consequences (being as specific as possible), then put two signature lines on the bottom. One is for you and the other is for our child.

4. Remember, You’re the Adult

When discussing the boundaries and consequences, it’s good to give your child space to share his/her thoughts and opinions. However, as the parent, feel comfortable with taking or leaving their requests. Having a cell phone is a privilege, not a right. And, since you’re likely paying for your teen’s cell phone, you definitely have the right to set boundaries around its use.

Also, remember that adolescents’ brains are still developing. They’re prone to risky behavior. It’s up to you, as the adult, to educate your child about healthy cell phone use. And it’s also up to you to model good behavior, too! So, if dinner time is a no cell phone zone, then you should put your phone away, too.

5. Maintain a Positive Relationship

If your relationship with your teen is strong, it will survive arguments and struggles over cell phone. Any tension from cell phone use will likely stay contained to those conversations. However, if your relationship is already strained, setting firm boundaries may trigger endless power struggles and fights.  Check out these six ways to maintain a close relationship with your teen.

Also, having a cell phone usually comes with more frequent social media use and opportunities to engage in risky behaviors (e.g., sexting). By maintaining a positive relationship with your teen, your teen will be more likely to come to you if they’re struggling. Keep lines of communication open so you know if there’s bullying, sexual harassment, or other things going on.


Does your teen or emerging adult have a cell phone “addiction”? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee for a free 20 minute consultation to see how she can help.