10 Ways to Help Your Teen Take Back Their Emotions from Tech Distractions

By Jamie Siggard

Lately, I’ve been working on trying to be more human. I’m trying to feel it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I noticed my life was feeling superficial at times and void of depth, so I thought practicing feeling would be the perfect remedy. This has brought a lot of initial discomfort but incredible results. So often, we allow technology to swoop in and save us from uncomfortable or unwanted emotions. Our kids, digital natives, are even more prone to this.  

Here’s an example to illustrate. I feel uncomfortable talking to strangers. A few months ago, I was traveling by train to the airport. As I settled in for the ride, I got out my phone and prepared to isolate myself during the crowded commute. Sound familiar? 

As I listened to a podcast, an older gentleman got on the train and sat in the open spot near me. I noticed him, perhaps, because he was the only one on the train who didn’t have out a cell phone or headphones dangling. He was just sitting there with a slightly disheartened look. I kept having the thought that I should take out my headphones and talk to him. Then competing voices also came to my mind, “No, that’d be awkward. He probably wouldn’t want to talk anyway; don’t be weird.”  

So, yeah, maybe it will be awkward, but that’s okay. I made a conscious choice to cling only to what I thought would be most worthwhile: to take out my headphones and awkwardly strike up a conversation.  

It was delightful. We had a wonderful talk that helped me feel connected and profound gratitude for humanity.   

How often do we pass up feelings of connection, fulfillment, and friendship simply because we’re afraid of difficult or uncomfortable feelings?

The great part about being human is FEELING it all. We appreciate the good because of the bad. It may sound kind of crazy, but a lot of us really aren’t great at feeling emotions. The great news is this can be learned and taught. 

Next time your teen seems unsettled and turns to a buffer, or distraction, like a phone, help them to just feel by using the following 10 steps:

  1. Set aside distractions. Often in times of distress, boredom, discomfort, or anger, distraction. Ask your child to set aside the phone, tablet, loud music, or whatever the distraction may be.  
  2. Frame the situation. Mention to your teen that sometimes when we feel uncomfortable, we turn to technology, or whatever the distraction may be. Though technology can be used for good, emphasize it’s important we’re in control of and process our own emotions. After setting aside the distraction and framing the situation, help them to process their unsettling emotion.  
  3. Name the emotion. Have your child name the emotion they’re feeling. Help them recognize the emotion is compelling them to turn to distractions. Are they feeling disappointment? Anger? Frustration? Boredom? Sadness? Annoyance? Fear?
  4. Have them find the emotion in their body. Is it in their chest, stomach, or maybe it even feels all-consuming? Practice recognizing where your emotions show up so you can better help your child identify. For example, I often feel fear in my stomach.  
  5. Relax into it. So often we resist emotion by pulling out our phones or buffering in some way. Just have them relax into it. We’re human; this is part of the human experience.  
  6. How does the emotion feel? Ask your child how it feels. Have them pretend they’re explaining to an alien from another planet what it feels like. How would they explain their emotions? Maybe it feels hot, gooey, heavy, or tight?   
  7. Picture the emotion. How do they picture it? What does it look like? Does it look like butterflies? Chains? Slime? What color is it? Dark? Red? Black?  
  8. Allow them to feel the emotion until it subsides. As they relax into the emotion, it will subside. Often we think resisting emotion will allow us to escape; however, that just escalates and layers the emotions even more. 
  9. Encourage them not to be afraid of difficult emotions. As they practice feeling, it may be uncomfortable at first, but it will be worth it. Help them recognize their emotions are all inside of them, and there is nothing dangerous about those feelings.
  10. Why will it be worth it? If you’re planning to implement these tips, I think it’s safe to assume you think this is important. Why? When you numb sadness or other difficult emotions, you likewise numb positive emotions such as happiness and joy. Struggling and fighting against emotions often leads to greater suffering. Ideally, come up with your own reasons why you think this is important and share those with your teen.

Help and challenge your teen to practice setting aside distractions. Teach them how to FEEL. Be an example of what’s possible through your own actions. Knowing how to feel it all will help yield connection, depth, and friendship, which, as humans, we crave.

For more thoughtful conversation starters, engaging questions, and simple activities check out our book Noah’s New Phone. This book helps children see how the positive choices they make with technology create ripples of change that can affect their home, school, community, and the whole world.  


*Buffer: “A person or thing that shields and protects against annoyance, harm, hostile forces, etc., or that lessens the impact of a shock or reversal.” (Word Reference, 2019)

*Digital Natives: “A person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age.” (Lexico, 2019)

Jamie recently graduated with her degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University -Idaho. She currently lives in the greater Seattle area and works as a nanny. Seeking adventure, truth, and strong relationships are her recipe for happiness, and she hopes to help others find similar joy through her writing.  


Digital native: Definition of digital native by lexico. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/digital_native.Word Reference. (2019). Buffer: Definition of buffer by word reference. [online] Available at: https://www.wordreference.com/definition/buffer [Accessed 20 Nov. 2019].

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