For many kids, the transition from summer to the new school year can be difficult. The days of staying up late playing games, listening to music, and texting or talking to friends are coming to an end.
Recently, my wife and I had a conversation with our daughter in high school about our expectations for her this school year. She’ll be starting her junior year and has a tough curriculum. Plus, preparing for and taking the ACT exam will add extra pressure and stress this year.
When we shared our thoughts about smartphone usage, the conversation changed and got emotional. I must be honest; I was a bit taken aback by how important her phone is to her. When we discussed potential consequences for certain actions/behaviors and poor academic performance, she told us she’d rather lose her driving privileges than her smartphone. Just last year she couldn’t wait to get her license.
Here are some tips that can help you manage smartphone use this school year.
1. Have an open dialogue. Technology isn’t going away. Therefore, it’s important to talk to your children about the benefits and negatives of smartphone use. In talking with our daughter, we explained to her that we’re not trying to punish her, but we’re striving to find balance.
2. Establish limits and expectations right away. Having a smartphone is a privilege. As with other privileges, there are responsibilities and expectations. Once school starts, your children’s focus needs to shift towards academics and any extracurricular activities they’re involved in. While smartphones can help them with their homework and keep them up to date on practice or work schedules, they can be a huge distraction if they’re buzzing every 10 seconds. Hopefully, setting expectations now will help with the transition into the new year and will alleviate future arguments.
3. Create and sign a contract. If you’ve had conversations about limits and expectations and your children disregard them, or still don’t understand what’s expected, consider putting together a contract. Putting your expectations in writing will help hold them more accountable. Writing down expectations can help clarify and eliminate confusion for your children. A phone usage contract can include sections on:
- Time management
- Proper behavior/etiquette
- Parent expectations
Lastly, keep the contract in a visible place. This helps serve as a nice reminder.
4. Give them a warning. Establishing a time period for doing homework each night helps develop a routine and hopefully helps students be more productive. If they’re on their phones goofing around, don’t take their phones away immediately. Give them a warning that the phones need to be turned off in a specified amount of time e.g. five minutes. Hopefully, by doing this, they’ll understand they need to get down to work and you can avoid an emotional confrontation.
5. Research available apps or services. If it becomes too difficult or time consuming to monitor their usage, consider researching available apps or services that can help. I’ve used an app that allowed me to create customized schedules throughout the school day. When the app is running, it automatically blocks games, social media, music, and the camera. Below is a schedule we followed last year when our daughter was struggling with grades and her phone usage.
- Morning classes – 7:30 – 10:00am
- Afternoon classes – 11:00am – 2:30pm
- Study Time – 5:00 – 8:00pm
- Bedtime – 10:00pm – 6:00am
When creating schedules, I recommend involving your children in the process. Likely they won’t be happy, but they know their school schedules the best.
Lastly, consider checking with your phone provider. They may offer services that can help you manage usage.
6. Set a curfew. In today’s over-scheduled world it’s important for kids to get a good night’s sleep. I know many families that have set curfews for their kids. At a specific time each night, all phones need to be placed in a monitored location in their homes e.g. kitchen or living room. Phones aren’t allowed in bedrooms for the remainder of the evening.
7. Lead by example. If you don’t want your kids on their phones 24/7 you shouldn’t be on yours either.
If you ask parents of teenagers, they may jokingly say that their kids are addicted to their phones. While there may not be an addiction, there may be some potential warning signs that there’s a problem. Here are some signs to watch for.
- Conscious use in unsafe circumstances e.g. texting while driving
- Excessive use that causes family conflict
- Anxiety or irritability if the phone is unavailable
- Interruption in normal sleep patterns
- Inability to attend or hang out with friends at social functions
- Declining grades
- Poor hygiene or eating habits
- Changes in mood that can’t be explained
If you notice significant changes in your child’s behavior, seek professional assistance.
Do you have any tips or information you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them; please share them in the box below.