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10 Ways to Get Your Kids Off Their Phone That Don’t Require Bribery

Talk may be cheap, but overage charges, not so much. Teens text over 3,000 times each month, according to the Nielsen Company. Even if you've got the best data overage plan on the planet, phone use, like all things in life, requires balance, and boundaries. Use these tricks to get your kids to look up from their phones, at least every now and then.


Practice what you preach

If you incessantly check email over dinner or answer texts during family outings, you may be contributing to your child’s overuse behavior (check these silent signs that you may have a cell phone addiction). “If you want your kids to get off of their phones, you need to get off of yours,” says social psychologist and parenting expert Susan Newman, PhD. Newman urges parents to remember that they are role models. It may not look like it, but kids are watching and learning from their parents all the time. Try having the entire family leave their phones turned off or at least put away during time spent together. And always switch off your ringer during events that are important to your child, such as school plays and sports games.


Set common sense limits

Teens are pretty universally tech-obsessed, but that doesn’t mean you have zero say in the matter. “It’s a parent’s job to establish limits for the safe use of technology, so their kids can learn how to use communication devices in a healthy way,” says Jamison Monroe, founder and CEO of Newport Academy, a mental health treatment program for teens. “You own your child’s phone. It’s your property. As a parent, you’re in charge of setting common sense limits on its use, just like you do around driving, drugs, and alcohol.” What’s more, In this era of cyberbullying and online stalking, this is a safety issue for many teens, he adds. According to the New York Times, screen addiction is a serious condition, which may lead some kids to view the cyber world as real, and the real world as fake. This behavior may be intensified if parents allow double-digit hours of screen time, especially when kids are young.


Don’t make it a punishment

Your child’s phone is the key their social world. If you want to establish boundaries around its use, taking it away as a routine punishment for overuse is sure to backfire. As reported by the Child Mind Institute, virtual communication has a positive role in your child’s life, and eliminating it entirely can damage trust. “Your child’s cell phone is their main lifeline, and connection to their world,” explains Dr. Newman. “Acknowledging this can help guide you when you’re setting boundaries and establishing consequences,” she adds.


Make meals a no-phone zone

For many families, a shared dinner is an oasis of hard-won together time, carved out between soccer practice, late nights at the office, evening meetings, and other obligations. Constant buzzing and heads downcast over phones can take away from the experience. “Growing up, if the phone rang during dinner we didn’t answer it,” says motivational speaker and single mom, Kristen Darcy. “Now, with all the chiming, ringing, dinging and vibrating going on, it’s challenging to be in the moment with your children.” When Darcy’s text chimes during dinner, she leads by example and lets it wait, but not before showing her children what their behavior looked like. “I sat down to dinner with my phone in my face, and basically ignored my children,” she explains of her experiment. “They were shocked. They got what I was doing, but it worked anyway.” Her favorite response was from her daughter, who indignantly said, “That’s not the way we act in this family.”


Use technology to control technology

Ericka Sterns’ seven kids range in age from small to how-did-they-get-that-big, and she is no stranger to technology use (and overuse) in the home. Sterns uses the OurPact parental control app, to control phone usage. “I can turn their phones off in a second if they aren’t listening, plus schedule off-time during school, and at night,” she explains. The app includes a downloadable contract that parents and kids sign, plus guidelines about how to create a balanced use of technology in the home. It includes an app blocker, and parental time lock. Carolyn Hawkinson-Pruett Osci, an artist and mother of two, uses a nanny program called Norton Family, which includes monitoring features and a time supervisor.


Be willing to be the Worst! Parent! Ever!

It’s not easy dealing with kids when they hate you. This may come as a spoiler alert, but at some point, all kids hate their parents. That being said, you still have to stick to your guns, even when your kids are having a breakdown about phone boundaries. “Before we got our kids’ cell phones, we had them sign an agreement about what is and isn’t appropriate,” says Lori Holden, a mom and open adoption advocate. “Sometimes, we also request that they be in the moment, and put down their phones. This doesn’t mean there’s no whining about it. I’ve been told I’m the worst parent ever, but I don’t cave in.”


Let your kids help set the rules

Including your kids in the cell phone rule-making process can help keep the channels of communication open. Your children need a chance to explain some of their usage to you, so they feel heard. For example, your child may need his or her phone for an hour (or more) of group studying time each day. “Whatever your family rules are, have your teens and tweens help you determine them,” Dr. Newman says. “They are more likely to follow the rules if they have a say in what they are.”


Dumb it down

“Kids practically come out of the womb on their phones,” Monroe says. If all other efforts to control their cell use fails, give your child a “dumb” flip phone, the kind that lets them call and text but has no bells and whistles. “The privilege here is to get back their smart phone, once they learn how to stay within the boundaries you’ve set,” Monroe says. “At the same time, organize family family activities that don’t involve technology, such as hikes, parks, and museums, and enforce the no-phone for anyone rule.”


Make sleep a priority

Whether they’re 8 or 18, getting kids to go to sleep at a normal hour can be an uphill climb, but it’s exponentially tougher if they’re in the middle of an epic snapchat dialogue, group text extravaganza, or Facebook messenger marathon. But since late-night gadget use has been shown to disrupt the sleep cycle, according to Mashable, it’s a good idea to require kids to unplug about an hour before bed. It lets their bodies and brains unwind, enabling them to sleep better. Support everyone in the household to make a practice of powering down before sleep, and enforce this rule by removing the phones from each bedroom—including your own.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.

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