What to Do with Screens, Tweens, and Teens?

I have a teenage son. Much like a cat, he spends a lot of time in his room and doesn’t tell me anything. He gets A’s, he does his chores, his overall mood is fine, he has friends, and technology is a part of his everyday life.

We have set some parameters regarding screen time. He turns off all his notifications besides texts and phone calls. Each night, he turns in his phone at the agreed upon time, to the agreed upon location (our kitchen). He doesn’t have his phone out when conversations are happening, or at the dinner table. And when someone gives him a ride, he knows that he is not allowed to use his phone.

Technology and Parenting

Erin Walsh of the Spark & Stitch Institute referred to these phone-free zones as “a container for connection.” A phone blows the lid off the container and allows the entire world to creep into that space. Conversations are difficult enough to get going with a teenager; the roar of the Internet makes it impossible. 

And so my teenage son and daughter didn’t really have any restrictions on their apps or WiFi or screen time, as long as the above limits were maintained. Above all, they were able to unplug. This was so easy as a parent! As a big-time free-ranger, I love just letting my kids figure it out. But then, at one of Erin Walsh’s classes, I had learned “your kids’ eyeballs are worth a lot of money.” I knew enough to have this sinking feeling that my teenage-cat might be sitting in the basement, becoming that puppet boy on the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.

And then I had a reason to thank my “tricky fellow”(the term I use for kids with more challenging behavior) once again. We held onto the “wait until 8th” for a phone so long that he got a nickname of “no phone kid.” We finally allowed him to buy a friend’s old phone for $25 that uses WiFi but didn’t have any cell service, when he was in 7th grade. We were hoping to allow him to communicate with his friends. However, the roar of the Internet was tough to compete with, and unmanaged screen time was something he just couldn’t handle.

This was not gonna be easy parenting. 

How to Keep Tabs on Screen Time

So what to do? How to manage without micromanaging? As Erin Walsh says, we were entering the messy space between the ideal and real. Luckily, my good friend Sue was there to help me. I don’t know why tech stuff comes so easy to her, but she’s better than Google. Sue got me started, and now I’ve learned some valuable things.

Here are some ways to monitor online activity, to set limits, and create boundaries. 

Track Screen Time

Under Settings, look at “Screen Time” on your own phone, your kid’s phone, and your kid’s iPad.  

There is reportedly a similar feature on Android phones called “Digital Wellbeing.” 

View All Online Activity

See how much time is being spent and what apps are being used.

Set App Limits

After evaluating how much time is spent on the phone and on what apps, agree to set some app limits. After viewing The Social Dilemma together as a family, we were all able to recognize the WHY behind making sure our thoughts are really owned by us. Set the app limit to “block at end of limit.” 

Create Downtime

You can set a time frame that you or your children only have access to the “always allowed” apps. This is great for distance learning, and for “tricky fellows.” I wanted to allow my son to always be able to text his friends/us and listen to music and check the weather and access his calendar. But I didn’t want him to always have access to YouTube, games, and the Internet.

Track Phone “Pickups”

You can also see how many times the phone has been picked up. Make sure YOU control your phone, and not the other way around. 

Setting Limits

My teenagers have some limits on their screen time now. I feel confident in helping my “tricky fellow” manage the Internet and technology. I have set some restrictions to prevent a time-suck. My kids, and myself for that matter, are taking control of our phones and our time.

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Erika has worked in the educational setting as a physical therapist for 17 years, after attending UND and NDSU. After recognizing difficult behaviors in her third child, she became an advanced trainer of the Nurtured Heart Approach®. Professionally, Erika is also a mentor, course-captain, and clinical instructor, and has served students in the Autism magnet program for 10 years. She recently served on the Pediatric Advisory Board for Curriculum Development at UND, and on a task force with the Department of Instruction to create the first school-based PT/OT guidelines in the state. She also is a mentor with BioGirls, leads a group of teenage boys at confirmation, leads a Girl Scout troop, and has coached baseball. For the past two Mother’s Days, Erika has hosted a Neighborhood Chalk Party, an event designed to further build relationships in neighborhoods on the principle of “it takes a village to raise a child.” She was born and raised in Hankinson, ND, and has lived in the Fargo area for over 25 years with her husband (who you may know as the radio DJ on Bob 95 FM: "Chris, John and Cori in the Morning"). Together they have four children: girl-boy-boy-girl, ages 10-16. Erika is passionate about empowering kids, preventative health, hiking, and national parks.

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