Friday 23 March 2018

Dear David: My teen despises me for supervising his phone use

Advice from psychologist and parenting expert David Coleman
Advice from psychologist and parenting expert David Coleman
Teen boy on smartphone - it's important to give them some control
David Coleman

David Coleman

Advice from psychologist and parenting expert David Coleman on why it is important to give a teenager some power over their phone use.

Q. I have a 14-year-old boy. He has a phone and an Xbox. He has never really been able to manage himself with devices. It has always been a row. We have installed the Screentime app, which gives him a set time on certain applications. He absolutely hates Screentime and hates us for imposing it on him. We have explained the reasons for it and the reasons for boundaries and limits. He is becoming more aggressive and disrespectful as the weeks go by and it all stems from us denying him free reign on his phone. How are we going to manage all of this?

David replies: I wasn't familiar with the Screentime app, so I had a look at it. I can understand why your son has such an issue with it! It seems to be targeted at parents of younger children and the nature of it means that you have a huge amount of control over his use of his own phone.

I could see why he resents the imposition of an app on his phone that then allows you to say when he can and can't use certain apps (like YouTube, Snapchat and so on), including giving you the choice to interrupt and pause his use of his phone.

It probably sets him apart from his peers and may even limit his opportunities to socialise.

I wonder if the issue you have with your son isn't the fact that you are trying to limit his time, but the manner in which you are doing it?

Back when your children were young (and small) you may have had a lot of control over them, what they did, when they did it and how they did it. Not just in an online world, but in the real world too.

That is the natural order of things. Children need us to set up the boundaries and to help keep them safe and on a track that we think is best for them.

But the process of parenting is then to slowly and gradually give our children more and more responsibility to make choices for themselves, as they get older.

Ultimately they need to choose their own track, independently of us. Teenagers do still need limits and boundaries, including those that are imposed on them, but they need greater say in what those boundaries will be and how they will be imposed.

I could imagine that your son feels like he hasn't had any opportunity to be involved in a really open discussion of his device use. I don't get a sense you have asked his opinion. He may feel that you have lectured him and then imposed a totalitarian regime upon him.

I do hear you say that he has always struggled to manage his time on his devices. That is a really common problem now for lots of children and parents. However, I'd suggest to you that using an app to monitor and control his device use, won't help him to learn how to manage it any better.

As long as you are fully in charge of how much and when he can access digital media, he doesn't get to be. That means he never learns how to manage himself.

Even if you continued to impose the device-use app on him, how do you plan to wean him off it? Or, does he wait to go to college and then be free from your control? When you remove the app, how better able to manage his device use will he be?

It seems to me that, in the longer term, using such an app is only delaying his maturing sense of responsibility, since he currently has to take no personal responsibility for when to switch himself off from his online world.

In the shorter term, its use is causing an increasing rupture in your relationship with him.

Although you reference your rationale for using the Screentime app, you don't mention what his objections are. It is worth listening carefully to him to try to understand his perspective.

For sure you have to reach an agreement with him, about what are wise and safe limits for using his phone, and any appropriate consequences for misuse, but he needs to buy into it more and feel some ownership of the decisions, if he is to start working with you, rather than fighting with you.

At the moment, I think he feels so powerless, regarding his phone use, that he is trying to regain power by fighting with you.

So, give him back some power over his phone and make it his responsibility to use it wisely.

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