5 ways to get control of your teens' cellphone usage

By Brandon Comstock, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Mar 2nd, 2012 @ 7:37pm

HURRICANE — Not long ago, a teenager with a cellphone was unheard of. Today, more than 75 percent of those ages 12-17 own a phone — and not just for emergencies. A 2010 Pew Research study found that one in three teens send at least 100 text messages a day (3,000 a month).

For most parents, a cellphone-bearing teen is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, having access to your child at any moment offers great peace of mind. On the other hand, dealing with overages and worrying about cellphone dangers like texting while driving and sexting are enough to give any parent a few gray hairs. And that’s without mentioning the frustration of trying to have a face-to-face conversation with a teen who can’t stop checking a phone.

While these struggles aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon, there are some things you can do as a parent to limit the frustration while retaining the benefits.

Set a good example

Before you sit down to have a stern talk with your teen, it might be a good idea to take a good long look in the mirror. The fact is, in some key areas parental cellphone usage is not only just as bad as their teens, it's worse. “Nearly half (47 percent) of all texting adults say they have sent or read a text message while driving.” Pew Research in a 2009 study said, “That compares to one in three texting teens ages 16-17 who said they had texted while driving.”

Make no mistake; your children are watching. ... if you're not following the advice you give your teens, your call for cellphone change will end up dropped.

Make no mistake; your children are watching. Whether you’re texting and driving or just using bad cellphone etiquette, if you’re not following the advice you give your teens, your call for cellphone change will end up dropped.

Ask the right questions

While cellphones are a great way to increase communication, nothing can beat an old fashioned face-to-face conversation with your teen — especially about cellphone usage. Knowing what questions to ask can help you gauge how your teen is using a phone and how well he or she understands what to do if a situation arises.

What questions should you be asking? According to the Mayo Clinic, the questions should include things like “what features do you use on your cellphone? How many numbers do you have stored in your phone? Do you personally know all of these people? Who would you tell if someone sent you a text or picture that was inappropriate?”

Additional questions can be found on the Mayo Clinic website by searching for “teen texting.”

Establish cellphone-free times

Whether it’s dinner, church, homework time or 3 o’clock in the morning, there are some times that you just don’t want your teen sending and receiving phone calls and texts. The simple solution? Create a cellphone-free time in which your teen is expected to turn over the cellphone.

Along with giving your teen a chance to communicate in a way other than texting, your teen will be more careful with cellphone usage since he or she will know the phone will be in your possession for a period of time (where you can check what the phone has been used for).

Know the signs of addiction

While cellphone addiction may sound laughable to some, addictions of any sort will often share several similar characteristics, including participation in risky behavior. In other words, a child who is a cellphone addict might be more willing to participate in dangerous activities like texting while driving or sexting simply because the teen is trying to get a “high” that comes from communicating via the phone.


So how do you spot the symptoms? Along with watching for participation in dangerous activities, watch how your teen acts when he or she doesn't have the phone. Like drugs and alcohol, cellphone addicts will begin to have withdrawals when they go without their addiction. Addicts are likely to experience anxiety and nervousness, difficulty focusing and accomplishing tasks and in some cases feelings of depression and social isolation.

When you approach your teen with your concerns, you're not likely to get a response that “yeah, you’re right, I am an addict.” So be fair, give your teen a chance to prove the ability to function without the phone for a few days without any side effects. Once the designated time is past, sit down and discuss what evidence there is that your teen is or isn't an addict.

Spend time teaching your children etiquette

As irritated as we get with inappropriate cellphone use, most parents never take the time to sit down and formally educate their children on the do's and don’ts. Particularly when you are footing the bill, you have a right to expect certain things out of your teen in regard to cellphone usage.

After teaching your children what you expect, you may even want to include a quiz on what to do in certain circumstances that your child has to pass before being able to start using a new phone. When you go on vacation or anywhere that you will be as a family for an extended amount of time, have a cellphone etiquette awareness challenge and see who can spot the most etiquette violations or compliances. Just be careful not to violate etiquette protocol yourself.

Brandon Comstock is an instructor of religion at Hurricane High School seminary. He previously worked as a Career preparation mentor at BYU-Idaho and currently serves as the employment specialist in the LDS Hurricane 8th Ward.

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