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Are your kids addicted to their phones?

Posted May 12

More than 50 percent of teens in a recent survey said they are addicted to their mobile devices. How can parents cut the cord? (Deseret Photo)

We’ve all seen the teens who appear to be the walking dead, eyes glued to a cellphone or a tablet. Maybe you’ve even run into one of these “walkers” because clearly they are too busy with whatever is on their screens to make eye contact or even mumble an apology when they walk into someone.

It’s pretty much accepted now to see kids zoned out on some sort of screen, but how do parents know if their kid has crossed over to the land of the tech- addicted?

Fifty percent of teens are addicted to their mobile devices, according to poll results from Common Sense Media that were reported on CNN.com. Nearly 80 percent of the teens surveyed said they check their phones hourly.

This is bad news.

It’s not just the junk teenagers are absorbing on their devices, but also all the life and social interaction they are missing while looking down. Exercise. Sunshine. Friends. Social cues. These are all happening off-screen, and so many kids are missing them.

The result? I think their attention spans are getting shorter and their ability to interact with other humans is declining, as is their understanding and tolerance of people who might not share all the same “likes” as they do on Facebook. High school hallways used to be filled with chatter, but now they are filled with kids looking down at phones, completely avoiding the other people walking by them. They have their “network” of social media friends; who needs anyone else?

There’s no way around the tech. Our kids are going to use it, so how do parents cut the cord and keep their kids from becoming tech-addicted zombies?

The best and most important advice I’ve seen is to set a good example. If you hold whole conversations with your kids without even looking up from your phone, your children will one day do this to you. Step away from the screens. Set up parameters for yourself, such as when and why you will check your phone.

One important parameter is mealtime. Phones have no place at a table. Talk. Eat. Sit in silence. Just don’t stare at a phone during dinner.

Establish other non-negotiable family tech rules, such as a time limit on certain days, homework time without a phone nearby or maybe even no-technology days once a week.

These rules will be met with resistance and a full-on whine campaign about how there is “nothing to do.” But here’s the secret phrase we use around our house: It’s OK to be bored.

Embrace boredom. It can lead to imagination and creation, but only if you resist the urge to curtail it with the quick fix of a screen. Allow your kids to have “nothing to do.” Don’t rob them of the chance to innovate their way out of boredom.

My daughters don’t have their own phones yet, but I’m already tired of hearing, “Can I see your iPad?” and “Can I use your phone for just one quick thing?” Even when I don’t know they have my phone, I find roughly 10,000 selfies shot directly up my 9-year-old’s nose. She told me one series of such selfies was her attempt at “being a teenager.”

One day, she will be a teenager, and I hope she’s not the walking-dead-earbuds-in-world-tuned-out kind. While other kids are looking down, I hope she and I are both looking up — at all the real life happening around us.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 9-year-old and 5-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.

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