If your child's addiction to their phone is worrying you, you're not alone. By the age of 14, the average child will have sent more than 35,000 texts and 30,000 WhatsApp messages, and racked up more than three weeks of video chat. They will have also spent the equivalent of six months looking at their phone, averaging 135 minutes of use a day.
Other stats from the survey by smartphone provider Monqi reveal that six in ten under-14s said their phones are the first thing they check in the morning and the last thing at night, and 40% of teens said they would feel 'lost' without their smartphone for a day.
While it's inevitable that your teen will overuse their phone, you can help them navigate usage with clear boundaries, rules, and by setting a healthy example.
Here's everything you need to know about a digital detox for your teens.
What is a digital detox?
A digital detox is simply taking a break from digital devices for a set period of time. It could be for a few hours a day, a whole day, or even a weekend a month. The aim is a break from screen time to create healthier digital habits and less smartphone dependence.
Why digital detox?
Even though teens love their phones, they are also a constant source of anxiety for them. The continuous messaging, the FOMO, and the lure of social media all means phones keep teens hyper-vigilant to notifications and messages. This means many cannot find a way to disconnect, even when they want to, and this is where a digital detox can come in handy.
Of course, the idea of no phones may send them into a spiral of panic, but ultimately regular detoxes (see below) will help them to know that they (1) can live without their phone, (2) feel better without always having to check their phone, and (3) that nothing will happen if they switch off for a while.
How cell phones hinder teenagers
Although there are obvious advantages to cell phones—like communicating with friends or great social media content that’s educational or inspires a hobby, like cooking—there are some disadvantages too.
Here are just some of the ways that phones can sometimes be more of a negative rather than a positive to teenagers:
- Phones can distract teens from school
Having their phone on them at school can mean that teenagers aren’t as fully engaged as they should be. The lure of emailing, texting, playing games, and checking their social media accounts can mean they’re constantly glancing at their phone and not paying attention in class. At home, phones can also provide the same distraction when it comes to studying and doing homework.
- Using cell phones can interfere with sleep
Teens need sleep for emotional and physical health, as well as for better memory and focus at school. Research shows that 57% of teens who use technology at bedtime have problems sleeping. Exposure to blue light, constant notifications, and watching entertainment or playing games can keep teen brains active and delay or interrupt their sleep.
- Teens may neglect face-to-face time
Connecting in the real world is important for making and maintaining relationships with friends and family. Using phones can mean teens neglect giving enough time to face-to-face interactions or are distracted when you do try to talk or connect with them.
How much is too much social media for teens?
Research shows that teens spend an average of 99 minutes daily on TikTok. Followed by 84 minutes per day on Snapchat and 39 minutes on Instagram. Every child is different, but signs of social media overload include frustration, headaches, trouble sleeping, and concentrating, fear of missing out if they are away from their phone, and anger if you try to take their phone away.
Limiting their usage and getting them to use their phone more mindfully (rather than just passively scrolling) is a start to getting them to understand the benefits of time away from their screens.
How to stop teens from overusing social media
It's important to know that while our teens get plenty of education around online safety, technology, privacy, and how social media works, we often forget to give them the skills and information they need on how to disconnect and why it's crucial for their mental health.
There are several ways to have a digital detox. Some tactics are about limiting the phone's functionality; others are about physically removing the phone. Whatever you choose to do for your family, build up to going for a full day or weekend detox slowly. Going cold turkey is daunting for teens and what will help is to start with tips that get them to disengage slowly.
Here are the top 10 digital detox tips:
- Open a discussion around screen time
Have a family chat about disconnecting, discussing who finds it hard to do. Also, talk about how everyone feels when they've been on their phones too long. Then get each person to come up with an idea of how to limit screen time. For example, no phones an hour before bed and/or first thing in the morning before school. Then, devise a family goal you can all work towards, such as everyone having to drop their daily average screen time by 45 minutes a day (you can view this on your smartphone).
2. Create no-phone areas in your house
No phone areas in the house can help with a digital detox as it means you use your phone more consciously (unlike passive scrolling just because your phone is there). Try making all bedrooms no phone areas after 9 pm, or having the dinner table always be a no phone zone.
3. Plan a digital detox day
Once a month, have a digital detox day for everyone. Prep your teen for this and stay firm. Living without phones, even for a day, is hard for teens addicted to connection, so be sure to distract them with activities and tasks that keep them busy. If your teen likes cooking, enlist them in making a meal for everyone. If your teen loves videos, have a family movie marathon.
4. Be a good role model
No teen will digitally detox if they see you on your phone 24/7. Even if you use your phone for work, model good behavior around phone use, and follow your own rules. If there are no phones at dinner, don't have yours nearby. Put yours away, too, if you agree to no phones an hour before bed.
5. Rewards for detox time
Your teen probably isn't the only one who needs help unplugging. So set digital detox goals for the family, and build in rewards. For example, have everyone log their screen time report at the end of the week and let the family member with the most significant improvement choose a family night out.
6. Digital detox apps
Try a digital detox app like Offtime or AppDetox, which block a selected number of apps or incoming calls. Set the timer for a number of hours, then go about your day with fewer distractions from your phone.
7. Turn off push notifications
A push notification is an automated message sent by an app to a user when the app is not open. It could be about a sale, a game, or a new social media post. Encourage your teen to disable push notifications; this not only improves concentration but lowers stress as they won't constantly be distracted. The goal is to show your teen how to use their device intentionally instead of letting every alert pull them into their phone.
8. Try technology-free hobbies
Getting your teen involved in an area that focuses their attention in the real world is a covert digital detox. Sport is a natural choice, and so is drama, dance, music, arts, and volunteering. Talk to them and see what catches their interest.
9. Keep screens out of sight
Researchers say that even having a phone in the same space can make us want to pick it up—it's known as "the iPhone effect." So make your teen's digital detox easier by choosing an out-of-sight drawer or bowl to store technology when detoxing (and turn the phone off).
10. Be consistent with your detox rules
It's so easy to slip with digital detox rules and think to yourself, "just for today, I'll allow phones at the mealtimes", BUT if you want the detox to become part of your teen's life, be consistent, and stick to the rules even when you don't want to.
Learn about the parental control features of GoHenry
When you set up a GoHenry account, you have access to a great range of parental control features that will give you peace of mind and help you support your children's money management. For instance, you can set a range of limits:
- ATM transaction limit
- How much can be spent in one transaction
- How much can be spent each week
- Where the GoHenry prepaid debit card can be used (online, in-store, and ATM)
You'll also receive real-time notifications about your kids' spending, including what they've purchased and how much they've spent. Parents can easily change the limits on their child's account by logging in to their GoHenry parent account and going to the rules page.