Ask: How can I get my teen to put down the smart phone?

Orenstein Solutions is a psychology practice located in Cary.
Orenstein Solutions is a psychology practice located in Cary.

Q. My teenage son is addicted to his cell phone! He'll sit down in the living room with us for family movie night, but he's texting the whole time, so it's like he's not really here. Should I limit his phone use, or is that just how teenagers are these days?

A. Does this sound familiar? “You’re addicted to that cell phone. You spend more time texting your friends than spending time with your own family!” Well if it does, you’re not alone. Teens text. The amount of text messages a typical teenager sends on a daily basis averages between 50 to 100 per day depending on age and gender, according to a 2011 teen survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. Teens text at home, during dinner, in the car, at breakfast and, yes, even during class. With an activity so time-consuming, it is bound to create friction with parents, who often have different agendas or ideas of time efficiency than teens do.

As a psychologist, I am often asked, “should I limit my teen’s phone usage, or is this normal?” Before I begin offering my opinion, I ask the parents about their own cell phone use and texting behaviors. Always keep in mind that you are key role models for your teens. Your teens are watching you (yes, probably to gather evidence), so if you are checking your smart phone during dinner or family time, you are sending the message that it’s okay to multitask during family time. If you engage in these behaviors and have no problem with your teen’s texting habits, stop reading this and go text a friend. However, if you are also a texter extraordinaire and you try to get away with telling your teen to curb his habit, read on and take notes.

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH Teenagers are notorious detectives of inequality. You can prevent creating this double standard by following the simple adage “Practice what you preach.” If you have family rules in place regarding cell phone use, make sure you’re following the rules, too.

CREATE A TEXT-FREE ZONE Set limits with your teen. As a parent, you’ve set boundaries on curfew, dating, spending, and outings, so why not texting? Explain to your teen when texting is and is not allowed and why. Help them understand that you understand that texting is a useful fun way of communicating, but there is a time and place for everything.

EXPLAIN THE BENEFITS Share your rationale for having a text-free zone. For instance, if it’s family night that’s the issue, explain that this time is dedicated to connecting with family, focusing on one another and enjoying the moment with your loved ones. Approaching your teenager with respect will foster reciprocation of just that.

If you have a question about your child's health or happiness, ask Orenstein Solutions or any of our experts by sending email to

Dr. Joel Dillon is a psychologist with Orenstein Solutions in Cary who offers services to children and adults with disruptive behaviors, ADHD, substance abuse and anger management difficulties. Contact Orenstein Solutions at (919) 428-2766, ext. 0, or visit
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