All of my clients are having conversations about screens right now. This is a conversation that needs to happen frequently, whether you want to get it right setting up limits for a younger adolescent or if you have an older teen who’s been using devices for a while. Spoiler: screens are always an issue!
When Should You Get Your Kid a Phone?
That’s up to you! You get to decide when you want to bring this dynamic into your family. There is no rush! I don’t think kids in elementary school need their own phone, but consider if they have a landline they can use. Or do you let them use your phone to connect with their friends? You get to decide what works for your family here. It seems like kids are getting phones earlier and earlier, but there’s no rule. You don’t have to get them a phone because other kids in their class have one. Don’t get pressured into it when your gut is telling you your child isn’t ready! Validate with your child that it’s hard not to have one, and acknowledge their feelings about it. Offer hope. Be ready to share your concerns and what’s keeping you from feeling like they’re ready. It really is okay to say,
“Nope, not yet! I love you, and it’s okay to be disappointed.”
When You Are Ready
The good news for those of you that are about ready to get a phone for your child, is that companies are getting smarter. Troomi is a smartphone that doesn’t do anything other than text and call. (Get your discount with code = joyfulcourage!) I wish that would have been available to me for my kids! There’s other brands of starter phones or you can even start them off with a flip phone. If you are getting your child a smartphone, do your research and get information so you can dumb it down before it hits their hot little hands.
Use Automated Functions
I’m not the loosest or the strictest parent when it comes to screens. I set up automated functions so I don’t need to think too much about keeping up with my kids phone use. I use the screen time app on the iPhone where I can set app limits. I also have something through our WiFi provider called downtime where the WiFi turns off all the devices at a certain time of day. That’s what works for me. We have had times where I turn off the downtime feature, and my son goes way over his time. I don’t get mad. This is exactly why we set the guard rails around the phones. Kids don’t have the tools (nor do we, honestly) to monitor their use of screens. We have lots of conversations around screens at my house, and it doesn’t get emotional. It’s not perfect, but we keep it open, light, and solution-focused.
What Should Limits Be?
Listen to your gut and think about your values. What works for you and your family? When I talk about limits and downtime with my kids, I focus on health and well-being. I center the conversation around sleep, activities, and real-life connection. I do encourage you to consider a downtime limit. A lot of people say “get the phones out of their room!” I agree, but honestly, I do let my son have his phone in his room. The downtime is set so that he can only use his alarm, Spotify, and weather app. That’s what my gut is telling me is okay and what works for us right now (he’s 16).
I have conversations with my kid about how much time he wants to spend on his phone. We talk about kids who spend 8 hours a day on their phones, and I stay in that curious space. Right now, his app limits are set at about 3 ½ hours a day on his phone, and both he and I feel good about that. On iPhones, you can see how and when they’re using it – all of that data is available and useful. Look at it with your kids, so they can see too and have that awareness of how and when they’re using their device.
Kids will grow out of the limits you’ve set. Be willing to listen and hear them out. You will have to negotiate. Keep bringing it back to your family values. Maybe it’s health and well-being, maybe it’s something else.
I do encourage you to wait on social media. They don’t need social media in elementary school! Take TikTok – it’s fun and creative, but it’s a huge time-waster. That’s actually the only app in my son’s phone that has a daily time cut-off, and that’s per his request. He’s grossed out when he sees he spent two hours on TikTok – and a lot of kids are on it a lot longer than that!
Be ready to get on social media & follow your kids once they do get on. Be in that arena with them.
This comes back to you and your values too. What are you comfortable with? I do think it’s appropriate for younger kids to have an adult monitor their screen use. It’s good to have access to their devices, especially if you’ve seen any red flags. That being said, I don’t think it’s appropriate to read your kid’s text messages on a daily basis. Would you listen to their calls? Would you read their diary? If you’re doing a lot of monitoring, take a step back and ask yourself why. What skills do you believe your child is missing here? Instead of using your time looking at their phone, think about how you can support them in growing those skills so they can use their device appropriately. Do any monitoring in front of them, and let them know you will be checking things out periodically. At the end of the day, we want to treat our kids with dignity and respect.
Be aware of the unintended consequences & ruptures that may show up if you take away your adolescent’s privacy. It’s a balance!
Privileges & Consequences
Phones, consoles, laptops, TVs, and all screens & devices are privileges. Privileges come with responsibility, and I don’t mean earning screen time. I’m talking about having coherent conversations with your teen about limits, keeping a critical mind about how the devices make them feel, and if their usage is getting in the way. You are the leader of your family! If you have a child who is unwilling to talk about these things, then are they responsible enough to have a device?
Also, be careful about using the phone as leverage or consequences. In Positive Discipline, we want solutions (not consequences) to be related, respectful, reasonable, and revealed in advance. If they’re fighting with a sibling, taking their phone away is not at all related to the situation and isn’t going to build any skills in getting along with their sibling. It can be tempting to use it as leverage because they really care about their phone!
Comment and ask questions below. Give me all of your feedback. Screen drama is real and ongoing. We’re here to support you!