This article was written by BCC Counselor Brandon Lowery as part of our new series on addiction. In this series, our counselors are sharing how everyone can understand, overcome, and find freedom from addiction.
My twelve-year-old son looked up with a sheepish frown as I walked into his bedroom. He was gripping the smartphone we had gifted him a couple of months prior.
He wasn’t looking at anything inappropriate, yet he confessed, “I just feel like I can’t put it down. I don’t understand – Why does it feel like this?”
We sat down on the edge of his bed and talked. Much of this article is the conversation we had on that Tuesday evening.
Technology, especially social media, is addictive. In fact, social media is deliberately designed to be addictive – think video poker slot machine addictive.
Association between social media usage and depression, anxiety, isolation, and suicide are common fare. Just this spring, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Snap, Apple, and Google due to the alleged abuse and grooming of a victim between the ages of 12 and 16.
It is no longer enough to simply identify social media as a pain point in parenting. It is crucial that you help your teens and tweens navigate this dangerous environment.
Here are 4 ways you can H.E.L.P. your teen with their tech addiction:
H – Honestly Observe Your Tech Patterns
“Do as I say, not as I do” defenses will not work. The average American spends 7 hours on screens per day.
As quoted in a Common Sense brief, “54 percent of children felt that their parents checked their devices too often, and 32 percent of children felt unimportant when their parents were distracted by their phones.”
Teens are looking for community, identity, and purpose. They are building models in their minds by looking to you as a parent.
Your children see you spending time on your device, whether it is placing a pickup order for Walmart, reading a Kindle book, or sharing memes on Facebook. They see you building your community, identity, and purpose through your tech patterns.
Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Jesus’ words are often confrontational and direct, and this is no exception. You get the point. However, this command to address yourself is not all negative. The positive result is that “you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Through humbly empathizing with your teen by observing your own patterns, you will be more believable and effective in building healthy tech patterns in your family’s life.
As a practical exercise, journal your technology use for a week. Create categories for utility purposes such as reading books or doing your bills, and for entertainment such as social media or chatting with friends. Allow your teen to point out your habits without becoming defensive.
E – Educate Yourself and Your Teens
There is much about modern technology you don’t understand; the trending social media platforms, the free games, the snap streaks, the apps, the ads – all those ads!
Proverbs 18:13 “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”
Before addressing the frustrating situation with your teen, take some time and educate yourself in the area of social media.
Look into the whistle-blowing documentary, The Social Dilemma. Maybe start with some quick videos here. Read 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You or The Tech-Wise Family. Talk with other parents, especially those who have walked through these resources and situations recently.
After you have educated yourself in some of these areas, invite your teen to watch some short videos or read excerpts of books. Let them know you care enough about the situation to find resources they can relate to.
As important as it is to learn from outside sources, let your teen educate you about how technology feels from their experience. Schedule a once-a-week, 10-minute conversation with your teen where you share resources or stories about social media from the week.
L – Listen to Your Teen and Scripture
Listen to your teen. Do not shut them down when you disagree with their experience or rationale. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the correction part soon enough.
Be curious about what your teen is fearing, valuing, and prioritizing. Ask follow-up questions and give them an opportunity to explain their thoughts. Click on the articles above to review their motivations.
Proverbs 18:2 “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
“When I was your age” maxims will not win the argument when it comes to technology. Tech is ubiquitous in our modern culture. You are dependent upon technology. Listen to their experience and identify areas where you see these same motivations in your technology use.
Listen to Scripture. The Bible is sufficient to guide you and your family through the dangerous environment of technology and social media.
2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Scripture reminds us to:
- Consistently communicate about spiritual things (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
- Actively direct children to appropriate habits (Proverbs 22:6)
- Intentionally discipline children (Proverbs 29:15)
- Thoughtfully lead children toward Christ (Ephesians 6:4)
In addressing the heart of your teen, you will be able to more effectively practice biblical parenting.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 “We urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
After discussing a topic with your teen, sit down and journal what you heard them say, what you think they meant, and into which category from 1 Thessalonians 5:14 they might fit. Share this with your teen and allow them to speak into your notes. After a few discussions, you will be able to better address the heart of your teen.
P – Plan and Participate with Your Teen
Don’t be reactionary. I was in a conversation with a parent just the other week when their child rudely stood between the parent and me. The parent quickly chided the child, “If you are going to ask about your phone, you’ll be grounded from it for a week!” In my head, I was praying the child didn’t ask about their phone. Less for the child’s sake, more for the parent.
Luke 14: 28-30 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.'”
Reactionary parenting leads to doling out consequences that will inevitably be reneged upon, leading the child to believe the parents’ consequences are only suggestions to be bartered or negotiated.
Consider the cost of consequences. If you take your teen’s tech, will you relationally engage with them? Will you feel safe knowing they’re disconnected?
After doing your research and talking with your teen, consider clarifying a few foundational boundaries, schedules, or rules about technology and social media. Write these foundational expectations out on a piece of paper along with the consequences if the expectations are not followed.
Next, plan a time to sit down with your teen, communicate the expectations clearly, then follow through together. Communicate with your children as clearly and thoughtfully as possible. This will keep you from emotionally reacting and making promises you can’t keep.
The truth is we will live with technology. Social media is here to stay.
As an alternative, build relational and activity-based options and engage in learning outside of electronics. Go to the library, take a class, or paint a picture with your teen.
You can navigate this dangerous territory and help your teen do the same.