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Ask Dr. Meg: Is Limiting our Teens Screen Time Too Strict?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Hi Dr. Meeker,

I need your help! Our 16-year-old daughter is a beautiful young lady. We love her. However, we feel the time she is spending on social media is ridiculous. She is on it all the time. Going to her room after dinner and on social media for probably 4-6 hours a day and then more on the weekends. She is a very good girl but we don’t like how much time she is on it. How much time should she be allowed? We told her a few minutes in the morning to check to see what her friends were saying and then an hour in the evening and that’s it. Is that too strict?

– Worried Parents

Dear Worried,

Nope. This is absolutely not too strict. The reason you doubt yourself is because you are responding to your good instincts while your friends aren’t. Here’s the deal. Teenagers cannot monitor their time on social media because they can get addicted to seeing what others think of them. Also, they have no clue how much social media can harm them. This means that you need to be the tough guy or gal and make some really hard and fast rules about social media.

Here’s what I would do:

Tell her that having a phone is a privilege. But, because you are a parent who loves her dearly, you must make some rules about spending time on it because it prevents her from doing other things that are better for her – spending face-to-face time with you, friends, etc. Also, it interferes with her creativity – being away from screens/social media will actually stimulate her brain growth.

Tell her that she can check her social media quickly in the morning. At school, she is not allowed on. Tell her that you will be able to tell how much she is using it (you can get programs that follow what she is doing – or you will talk to her teacher.) When she gets home, she’s allowed on her phone for 1 hour (using another device to get on social media counts, too.) After that, her phone goes in a specific spot that you can see easily – a basket in the kitchen, etc.

When you tell her that this is what’s happening, tell her that the whole family is working on spending less time on phones. Talk to everyone else in the family and ask them to comply. Kids are far more likely to go along with a rule if they know they are not being singled out. This means that you and your husband, along with other kids need to put your phones in the same place as hers to show that you are working toward the same goal.

Finally, get ready for a knock-down drag-out fight when you tell her this. But DO NOT let this bother you and under no circumstances should you give in. She will scream and complain for days but know that what you are doing for her is literally life-changing. This move will change her brain development. She may threaten to run away and tell you that you are a bad parent. Oh well. Often, the more extreme kids react – this is a clue that they are addicted. They act just like an alcoholic who has had alcohol taken away.

I hope that all you other parents are reading this. I am convinced that if we all stick together and take control of our kids’ phones, kids will be much more willing to comply. And remember – YOU own the phone. Using it is a privilege, not a right for our kids.

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