Smartphone use pitfalls and how to avoid them

February 27th, 2020

As parents, we’re very aware of the amount of time and the impact our children’s smartphone use has on their lives.

But firstly, let’s acknowledge that YouTube, social media and smartphones are not inherently bad things.

Most young people’s devices provide all manner of positive experiences, from deeper connections with friends to learning and experiencing the world, such as watching online videos or being able to navigate public transport.

In many ways, the smartphone is an excellent tool for young people as we support them to develop more independence and move towards being competent and confident adult members of society.

However, with that come the pitfalls and these are not just experienced by our children, but by adults as well. Today’s devices are designed to capture our attention and social media platforms are hungry for attention. From Snapchat streaks to notifications to the scroll-down mechanism to refresh, all of these are deliberately designed to keep us on our phones more.

This means it’s not enough to just tell our children to get of their phone. Willpower is not enough to help children (and us parents) improve our experience using our phones. We need strategies and we need to work together. If you want your child using their phone less, then you also must use your phone less. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne found this in its National Child Health Poll, where the amount of screen uses a child had correlated with the amount a parent had.

So, what can we do?

Shared charging area and set ‘no-phone’ time

Create a space at home where all phones can be charged together and set a rule that this is where the phones will be when not in use. Simply not having your phone in your pocket will reduce how often you pull it out. Also, set family ‘no phone’ time, perhaps at dinner or after 9pm. If you create space where phones aren’t being used, you will find as a family you come up with other ways to fill the time and spend it together.

Play ‘what are you doing on your phone?’

The idea of this game is that every time anyone picks up their phone to look at it, they need to call out what they are doing. So, if you pick up your phone to read a text message, you call out “reading and responding to a text”. If your family do this for just one hour, you will be amazed. When I played this and was calling out the third social media check in 10 minutes, I realised that it wasn’t just my children who were wasting time on their phones.

Sit down and change your settings together

Phones are in part designed by behavioural psychologists and they have functions that deliberately manipulate our behaviours. One way to monitor this is to actively manage your phone. So, sit down with your teens and look at what you can do to reduce the number of times you look at your phone. Can you remove an app or two and just look at that on a computer? Can you turn off notifications? Did you want to set some time limits on different apps so you only use them for a set period of time each day before being locked out? Doing this with your child shows that you also recognise the need to change your own behaviours.

Do as I do. Model good technology behaviour

Do as I say and not as I do just doesn’t cut it anymore. Your kids won’t take you seriously if you are telling your kids to get off their phones, while you’re staring at your phone. The best way to help change behaviours and foster positive phone use in your household is for you as the parent to model it. Be explicit and share the values and the ways in which you use technology and ask the same of your child. If you can’t do it yourself, then they are not seeing the benefits and value in the messages you are sending.