We’ve all heard the horror stories. Boys in the back of a junior high school bus showing each other nude pictures of girls in their class. Girls stalked by much older men who pretend to be their “nice friend.”
Kids committing suicide over what’s shared via smart phones.
Those are just a few examples of the dangers teens can encounter through the little electronic doorway that fits in the palm of their hand.
Many teens own a smart phone. Those who don’t own one generally want what their peers have, and moms and dads don’t enjoy being the bad guy.
What’s a parent to do?
Is there a way to monitor where your child goes on his or her phone? Are there filters that can be put in place so your child can enjoy the benefits of technology, but without the dangers?
I’m going to suggest a more radical approach to your child’s well-being and safety.
A number of states are trying to pass legislation which would make smart phones illegal for minors.
That may sound shocking, but consider a parallel issue.
Alcohol is not permissible for teens. The teenage brain is not fully developed, especially the prefrontal cortex. If teens imbibe, they are at much higher risk for substance abuse and addiction.
Now consider this: smart phones are addictive, too.
In fact, technology has literally re-wired our brains—most seriously, the underdeveloped brains of children.
Don’t believe me? Try putting your phone away for just one day. You may find yourself edgy, depressed or anxious.
That’s because bright screens and clicking function as “brain candy.” These activities pump dopamine into your system, which is the feel-good hormone.
It doesn’t take much for adults to get hooked—and it’s much easier for teens.
According to Trace Embry at licensetoparent.org, what this means is if you provide a smart phone for your teenager, you essentially act as their personal drug dealer by supplying an addictive substance (a smart phone).
You’re also enabling them to visit the seedy side of town from the privacy of their bedroom.
Horrible thought, isn’t it?
For these reasons, here are my recommendations for parents regarding smart phones for their teens:
1. Don’t give them a smart phone in the first place. It’s not essential. To communicate with you, all they need is a flip phone.
2. If you’ve already given your teen a smart phone, plan on having an important conversation. Repent for not protecting them better. Let them know what the new plan is.
Between peer pressure and their addiction to their phone, this will not be an easy conversation to have—but out of love for your child and concern for their well-being, you must face the fire and not give in,
(See the resources below for help in framing this conversation.)
3. Be authentic and set a good example. Ask yourself, How much time do I spend on my devices? Where do I go online? Am I present with my kids, or do they suffer from “second-hand screen time” because I ignore them while I’m checking emails and social media?
Your teen needs your undivided presence. Teens are less likely to respect boundaries you don’t keep for yourself.
4. Use research and resources. Here are a few to get you started:
Axis.org (parenting guides – smart phone)
Growing up Social, Gary Chapman
Screens and Teens, Dr. Kathy Koch
The Techwise Family, Andy Crouch
The best thing you can do for your teen is love them fiercely by protecting them vigilantly. Do not allow their feelings and desires to be the basis for your boundaries.
Be the parent. Your teen will thank you one day.