8 Ways to Help Your Kids Put Down Their Phone

8 Ways to Help Your Kids Put Down Their Phone

By: Courtney Cagle and Melody Bergman


It’s happening all around us: the zombie apocalypse. What’s that you say? You don’t hear chainsaws or see gory corpses staggering through the streets? Ah, but look more closely…

On a recent beach trip I saw them, a flock of teens staring eerily ahead–not at the balmy seaside, but at the glowing little boxes in their hands. They’re everywhere. On the street, in the mall, walking to school, in restaurants. With that blank stare and those stumbling steps. The little glowing boxes slowly sucking out their BRAINS!

Now in all honesty, our kids are not the only ones addicted to their phones. We know that. But they are definitely the ones who are at the most risk, especially because their brains are not fully developed. In fact, technology has developed so fast that the research about how it actually affects our brains is having trouble catching up. In essence, the rising generation is the guinea pig generation. We are just starting to see the effects of tech saturation in the statistics that are beginning to surface. And the news isn’t good.

According to national surveys, our children are more anxious than ever before, and juvenile depression and suicide rates are skyrocketing. Incidentally these statistics correlate with the invention of the smartphone. And although there is no proof of direct causation, many mental health professionals suspect these little glowing boxes are at least partly to blame (Mansfield, 2018).

Of course, at Educate and Empower Kids, we are not anti-technology. We strongly believe that tech–including phones–can and should be used for good. But just like all good things, our phones should be used in moderation.

Sometimes phones can get in the way of life for adults, but for kids a phone can end up controlling their lives. They become obsessed with social media and texts from friends, which they depend upon to show them how much people “like” them. They become addicted to the alerts from their phone and every time they hear it, they have to pick it up (Ungar, 2018). In this way, the phone doesn’t just get in the way of life; it starts becoming their life.

When it comes to our kids, we need to be smarter than the smart phones. We need to set boundaries and rules–it can’t be a free-for-all. As we work together as a team, we can help our kids break bad habits with their phones before they become an addiction.

Here are 8 ways you can help your kids put the phone down:

1. Lead by Example

Actions speak louder than words. Kids are more likely to follow what you do, not necessarily what you say. And they are always watching. They see your behavior with your phone, and they will copy what you’re doing. If you’re constantly texting, scrolling through Facebook, or checking emails on your phone, then they will think it’s natural for them to be on their phone a lot too. Even if you are using your phone for work, all your kids see is that you’re on your phone. Try to set restrictions for your own phone usage. You can do this by:

*Timing yourself

*Setting your phone aside when you are talking to your kids

*Not texting and driving

*Making and following rules for yourself about phone usage, etc.

You may not think that your kids are watching what you do, but they are. You are their role model. If you want to see them using good behavior on their phones, then you need to be willing to set the example. (Kwan, 2016), (Whelan, 2017).  

2.Set Boundaries Together

When you’re creating rules regarding phone usage, make sure to involve your kids in the process, so that it feels like a team-building experience rather than a punishment. Kids use phones to communicate with friends and stay connected to the world. At times it might be necessary to take away their phone as a consequence for inappropriate behavior, but when they are constantly losing their phone, it can damage your relationship and set the phone up as a “forbidden fruit.”

You want to set boundaries WITH them and make the rules WITH them to establish more trust and help your kids feel included and invested in these rules. They will also be more likely to follow the rules if they participate in the process. By setting rules with them, you are giving them the chance to explain why they believe they need a phone at certain times (Whelan, 2017).

3. Have Family Meals With No Phones

Family mealtime is a great time for everyone to put their phones away and connect with one another. Help your kids understand that when anyone at the table has their phone out, it sends a message to everyone else that they are not as important as the phone.

My dad would always have us put our phones on the counter before eating dinner at the table. This allowed us to great conversations as a family, because we were free from technological distractions.

You could also start a communal tech bucket where everyone places their phone before sitting down at the table to eat. This way no one will be tempted to look at their phone while sitting at the table. Make sure the volume is off so that if it rings or beeps, no one picks it up.

You can make it a little more interesting by making the first person who picks up their phone clean all the dishes or do another household chore. Maybe your kids won’t mind the cleaning if they get their phone or maybe they will try not to be the first one. Try it out and see (Kwan, 2016), (Whelan, 2017).

4. Set Time Limits

Most kids use their phone too much, too early in the morning, too late in the evening, or all of the above. It’s becoming an epidemic. However, there are ways to set time limits on phone usage.

Try creating a family charging station where everybody, including parents, places their phone to charge at night. This can be done in a public area of the house, so no one has access after bedtime. Set a specific time where everyone has to plug in their phones. You can also filter or monitor their phone. For more information on filtering and monitoring phones, check out this article.

Some filtering and monitoring apps, like Disney Circle and OurPact also allow you to control the kids’  phones with your phone. You can set times that you’d like the phone to turn on and off, whether it be at school, when they go to bed, or both. You can also turn their phone off with the app instantly if they aren’t listening when you call them downstairs. Apps like these may also include a time lock and an app blocker. It’s important for kids to get their sleep, so having a system where their phones are not with them or turned off with the click of a button is a great way to help enforce bedtime (Kwan, 2016), (Whelan, 2017).

5. Create a Reward System for Reduced Phone Time

Kids love positive reinforcement. So why not create a reward system to help regulate phone time?For example, you could have your kids go two or three days without screen time to earn a fun weekend outing of their choice. If you think they will choose something expensive, maybe create a list of possible fun outings and have them pick from that list. You can also invest in annual passes to the zoo, a theme park, or any other place in your area that they can choose from for their fun weekend. This will help them to stay off their phones and also allow the family to do something fun together (Kwan, 2016).

6. Have Them Earn Technology Time

One way to ensure more productivity is to make kids earn time spent on technology. For example: for every 30 minutes straight spent doing something productive, like homework, reading a book, or playing an instrument, they can earn 30 minutes of tech time. After they use the technology of their choice, like a phone, then they need to do another productive activity in order to earn more tech time. This is a great way to teach kids they have to work hard to earn something they want. It also helps them spend more time doing  important, productive activities (Kwan, 2016).

7. Give Kids a “Dumb” Phone

If your kids’ phone usage is getting out of control, don’t be afraid to downgrade and give them a flip phone that only texts and makes phone calls. You are the one who purchased the phone, and they need to respect that. If they can’t live by the rules, maybe they can’t handle the responsibility that comes with a smartphone. Teach your kids that they need to earn your trust by respecting the boundaries you have set together. After they have demonstrated that they can obey the rules, you might decide to provide a way for them to earn back the smartphone. (Whelan, 2017).

8. Help Kids Make a Schedule

When we help children plan out their day, they are less likely to constantly turn to their phones. Busy children accomplish more. They are happier and more confident. Help your kids fill their schedule with options that don’t involve a phone, like playing an instrument, reading a book, going on a walk, playing outside, drawing, crafting, or other activities that bring them joy.

You can teach your kids great life lessons through something as simple as spending less time on their phones. It takes time and effort to lead by example, to set boundaries and consequences, and to put some of these systems in place. But the rewards are worth it: healthier, happier, more mentally stable kids. And a few less zombies walking the streets!

Here are some great resources to help teach kids how to use technology for good:

Available in paperback or Kindle!

Courtney Cagle is a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho graduating in Marriage and Family Studies. She loves kids and wants to help create a safe environment for all children to learn and grow.

Melody Harrison Bergman is a mother and step-mom of three awesome boys, founder of Media Savvy Mamas, and a member of the Prevention Task Force for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications and has been writing and editing since 2002. Her mission is to motivate leaders and community members to educate and protect children and families.

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Kwan, M. (2016). 8 Creative Ways to Get Your Kids Off Their Phones. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://cellphones.lovetoknow.com/cell-phone-guides-how-tos/8-creative-ways-get-your-kids-off-their-phones

Mansfield, B. (2018, March 24). The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids. Retrieved June 4, 2018, from https://www.yourmodernfamily.com/scary-truth-whats-hurting-kids/

Ungar, M. (2018, January 16). Teens and Dangerous Levels of Cell Phone Use. Retrieved May 31, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/nurturing-resilience/201801/teens-and-dangerous-levels-cell-phone-use

Whelan, C. (2017, February 10). How to Get Your Kids Off Their Phone. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://www.rd.com/advice/parenting/get-your-kids-off-their-phone/