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3 Phrases Parents Should Avoid Saying To Their Teens

Parents don’t need someone telling them that technology is everywhere in our society. They see it at home with their kids, in the workplace at their own desk, and in a world with digital recreation like streaming. 

In regards to technology use, parents are rightfully concerned when it comes to their teens. 53% of kids have their own smartphone by age 11, and nearly 70% have one by age 12, granting unprecedented access to their peers, social media, gaming, and the world wide web.

And nearly 62% spend more than 4 hours a day on screen media and 29% use screens more than 8 hours a day, according to a report by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that helps kids, parents, and schools navigate media.

Parents’ concerns surrounding screen use and screen time have been building, and the parameters they need to set around their children’s screen time can be confusing.

Experts can agree that families need deeper understanding and better clarity around our significantly digital lives. To the point of this article, parents need advice on how to communicate their concerns regarding screen time and usage. 

Parents should be aware that the way they talk to their teens can have a huge impact on their ability to become smart and well-rounded adults. Especially when it comes to potentially divisive topics like technology usage, relationships, and school, it’s best to encourage open and honest communication with careful use of language.

To discuss technology usage with your teen, here are three common screen-time statements it’s best for parents to avoid.

3 Phrases Parents Should Avoid

“You’re completely addicted to that phone.”

This statement is so easy to say, but it’s a blanket statement that could be creating tension between you, your teen, and his or her device. Here are two things to be aware of:

  1. Your teen most likely does not fit the criteria of technology addiction. 
  2. Your teen is more likely attached to a certain game or application, rather than the device itself.

Take a moment as the parent to determine your true motivation behind the statement. Is the problem that your teen isn’t participating in outdoor activities or interacting with their friends in-person vs. online? Are you concerned about their online safety?

If so, reframe your question with the idea that they could participate in a different engaging activity. For example:

  • “It’s a beautiful day to get some physical activity in. Let’s go for a bike ride!”
  • “I noticed you haven’t spent time with your brother this week. Why don’t you take a break and find a board game to play or go out for ice cream?”

“You’ve been playing that game for too long.”

This is a seemingly harmless statement that could be problematic. This statement focuses on the length of time your teen has spent on one activity but doesn’t address why that is a concern.

Your teen could spend two hours doing their homework or two hours reading a book, and you as a parent most likely wouldn’t say anything. You might even commend them for their focus! 

You should instead reframe your statement to explain your thought process surrounding the value of the digital activity. For example: 

  • “What other applications could be valuable to have on your phone? You could download Kindle and discover new books or try out a game of strategy to take a break from scrolling.”

Another version of this statement is: “Stop staring at the TV all day.”

This statement, similar to the one prior, is a matter of digital balance. You’ll need to portray the value of spending time away from a screen, not devaluing their digital activity. For example: 

  • “This is a great opportunity to have a conversation around finding different hobbies to balance your free time. Do you have any activities you’d be interested in trying like volunteering, basketball, etc.?”

“You need to be a normal kid and interact with real people.”

This statement isn’t relevant when oftentimes your teen is interacting with real people – just not face to face. Getting to meet and interact with new people is one of the advantages – and of course, dangers – of the online world. Teens can gain new perspectives, make friends with shared interests, and discover new passions. 

This is, again, a question of digital life balance. Developing a healthy balance between online and in-person social interactions is crucial to cognitive and social development. If you are concerned about your teen purely about their amount of screen time and not about their interactions on devices, you could try these statements:

  • “Your family is all home today. Let’s spend some time together!”
  • “Check and see if your friends are free. They are welcome to come over!”

Find Parent Resources

As a parent, you can make a significant impact on your family’s digital usage. Find more information on creating a positive technology balance and developing healthy media habits with helpful resources.

Scroll down this page to find additional resources via Digital Detox 101!