By Katie Smith

While I’m scrubbing the downstairs bathroom toilet, my kids are checking their phones. 

When I run out to get a few groceries, as soon as I leave, I know their devices will be in their faces.

When I pick them up at a friends house, they’ll both be sitting on the front steps, heads bent down as they scroll.

I probably tell my three teens to put down their phones at least a dozen times before noon, and that's on a good day. They know I am going to take the devices away if they don't listen, which happens often because they can’t always fight the temptation.

However, as soon as the phone is back in their hot little hands again, they’re immersed in the phone– instead of reading a book or playing a basketball game. 

The excitement they used to have when I told them “we are going to the movies, the beach or out for ice cream,” has been replaced with "Do we have to?" And while I know some of the resistance is due to their age (what teenager wants to spend the day at the beach with their mom, anyway?) I also know their cell phones have a lot to do with their reluctance–they know I am going to expect them to stay off of their devices, enjoy the moment and actually talk. 

I'm tired of repeating myself, but and getting my kids to stay off their phones is truly the biggest struggle we have in our house right now. I don't want to have to hide the thing. Instead, I want them to know when enough is enough and put the phone down! But it's not happening.

So, what can parents of teenagers do to turn things around and get kids to enjoy their lives without being told a few hundred times a day to hand over the phone?

Is using willpower too much to expect? Or even better, the want to just put the phone down and not feel like they have to check them every five minutes?

Family Circle talked with psychiatrist and addiction specialist Indra Cidambi, who offered doable, easy tips for parents who’ve had enough of watching their kids pick up their phones and, essentially, live in them.

Diagnose

First, Cidambi says you need to get a sense of exactly how much time your teens spend on technology each day by keeping track of it manually, or using apps (such as Screen Time) to get a sense of how extreme the issue is.

Start Small

Next, Cidambi says going cold turkey is too big of a jump and will likely backfire, causing a lot of push back from your teen. Not to mention, parents want to be able to contact their kids when they’re with friends or are home alone. 

Instead, scale back phone use and "block off at least two hours a day to have family and friend time," says Cidambi. 

Keep in mind the number one reason your kids are reaching for their phones so frequently is because they’re bored. It's helpful to come up with a few healthy alternatives such as "planning a game night, banning phones at the dinner table or volunteering,” says Cidambi. “Activities that make them feel connected and recharged can help reduce the amount of times they grab for their phone.”

Practice What You Preach

We can't expect our kids to stay off their phone if we are always plugged into ours. "If you have a habit of spending more time on your phone than your backyard,” explains Cidambi, “or are on your phone as soon as you get home, your kids will pick up on that and do the same."

Make It A Challenge

Have a family meeting and make a goal for everyone. To make it even more fun, Cidambi suggests coming up with an award that everyone wins when meeting their goal. "Working together towards a common goal will also likely bring your whole family closer," she adds.

Getting teens to put their phones down is definitely not an easy feat. Among my mom friends with teens, it’s one of their biggest struggles. We see them spending more time on their phones, and less time truly bonding with friends and family. We want them to have the happiest, healthiest childhood possible, preferably in real time, with real human interaction, instead of scrolling through their feeds or chatting for hours on SnapChat. By creating a few boundaries for them between our kids and their devices, it’s possible.

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