AdviceHelp Me Rhonda

My Teen Son Is Obsessed with His Smartphone

Teens and Phones

My teenage son spends what seems to be a lot of time on his phone. Not talking on it, obviously, but texting, gaming and doing other stuff I don’t fully understand. (What is a Vine?) He’s holding his phone so constantly that it appears to be an extension of his body. His friends seem to have similar usage patterns, but it seems like a lot of time to me. It’s always present: after school, while he’s doing his homework, when the friends he presumably texts are right there at our house, and recently my younger son said something about his brother using it late at night. His grades are fine, so it doesn’t seem to be causing a problem in that regard, but I’m still concerned. His mother and I have never had cause to take it away, but he is very resistant to being without it. The furthest it ever gets from his hand is his pocket. He won’t come downstairs and leave the phone upstairs. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but something about it seems problematic. I don’t like his constant attachment to it, but I can’t articulate a good reason for him to spend time without it. Am I out of touch? Should I just let this be? And is there anything I can do about this without sparking a huge battle at our house every night, which is the last thing our family needs?

Old-fashioned Dad

Yes, phone-as-extension of arm. A common syndrome. It might seem as if this has been the case as long as cell phones have been ubiquitous (about 15 years, if I’m remembering correctly), but it’s really only over the past four or five years, with the rise of the smartphone, that they’ve become so adhered to their human owners.

You’re asking yourself if it’s a good idea to allow our children and ourselves to carry smartphones and look at them at regular and increasingly smaller intervals—a very good question. As a parent, it’s your role to set limits that promote health. You wouldn’t let your son eat ice cream for every meal, even if he resisted when you took it away. You wouldn’t let him drive on the highway longer or farther than he’s ready to, even if he complained about wanting to see his friends. He may whine, but that’s fine. One important but sometimes forgotten tenet of parenting: Whining is not necessarily an indication that something is wrong.

Your gut feeling that his phone use is too much is reason enough to act. Don’t dismiss it because you can’t quite articulate what you don’t like. I suggest doing a little research about attention, electronics and teenagers. A good place to start is The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. It doesn’t focus specifically on phone usage, but it does talk about fracturing our attention and will provide some of the vocabulary you need to pinpoint the problem with phone over-usage.

Once you’ve got that in place, set boundaries around phone usage and enforce them ruthlessly and without apology or anger. For instance, if you decide the phone needs to be turned off and put away while your son is working on homework, tell him that and follow that rule consistently. Don’t apologize for it, and don’t use it as a bargaining chip, but don’t engage in a fight with him about it, either.

Prom Dates

I’m a junior in high school, and my prom is coming up. My friends have been telling me that this one guy is going to ask me, and he’s a nice guy, but I really really want to go with this other guy, a senior. The senior and I don’t know each other that well, but we do talk sometimes, and I’ve kind of been getting the feeling that he’s going to ask me. I’m so afraid the guy from my grade is going to ask me first, though, and I’ll have to go with him. If he asks me, I can’t turn him down; it would hurt his feelings. But I just want this other guy to at least have a chance to ask me! I’ve been kind of avoiding the first guy, so he won’t have a chance to ask, but I don’t know how long I can do that. Help!

Pretty in Pink


What do you mean you can’t turn him down, because it would hurt his feelings? You can absolutely decline to go to the prom with him! You can turn down any date at any time for any reason! I advise being kind and polite about it, which I’m sure you can do. You can just say something like, “Thanks so much for asking me, but no, I don’t think I’m going to be able to go with you.” End of conversation.

It can be hard to be that direct, but it’s a worthwhile skill to cultivate. Once you’ve got it down, you can use it for the rest of your life to decline things you don’t want to do. Best to master that now.

If you’re not quite at the point of being able to do that, you could enlist a friend to—kindly and considerately—let him know that you’re not interested in going with him. That would save him the asking and you the answering. (Then, enlist that same friend to encourage the senior to hurry up and ask you.)

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