4 Ways Your Teenager’s Phone Is Trying to Replace You

There are a lot of items I had as a teenager that have been replaced by apps on my phone. My phone has replaced my camera, scheduler, Walkman, address book, maps, and even my guitar tuner. When you add those to the various games, video streaming, and social media apps we can use for entertainment, it’s no wonder most adults don’t go far without cell phones. This is doubly true for our teenagers—they are often inseparable from their phones.

While it’s great that phones have replaced our Walkmans, these innovations also come with risk. Most of us pay attention to how much time our kids spend on their phones and what they’re looking at. But another risk is that our kids go to their phones before they come to us. Here are 4 ways your teenager’s phone is trying to replace you.

1. They search for answers on their device first.

With all the information they could possibly want just a Google search away, it’s no wonder teenagers take their questions to the internet. This can be harmless if they’re trying to remember a song lyric or learn a new card trick. But it’s far more dangerous if they’re seeking advice about relationships or other crises they might be going through. As their dads, we want to be the first place our kids go when they are looking for answers to difficult questions. Make sure your kids know you’re always there to answer their questions, and make sure they see you asking other people for help too.

2. The phone is their primary coping mechanism.

Before smartphones, when a teenager had a bad day, it used to be that she would vent to her parents. She might cry, yell, or slam the doors. Today, many kids are instead sharing their frustrations and anxieties on social media. While this might mean less after school drama at home, it begs the question: Is it safe for her to vent to the internet? And who is listening to our kids and giving them advice? Try not to overreact when your kid is venting. Once she’s through the emotions of the moment, ask her how she’s doing (and listen to her answer).

3. Their phones are telling them who they are.

Dads play a key role in raising children into adulthood, but this takes a lot of work, and dads aren’t always good at it.  It’s not uncommon for a dad to struggle to be present to his kids or to have a healthy relationship with them. Unfortunately, social media is ready to step up and fill the gap we leave behind. Instead of allowing us to help shape their identity, they are finding themselves in the likes and follows on their social media accounts. Help build your kids up by praising their successes often and out loud.

4. They’d rather spend time on their phone than with you.

Tech companies have learned how the human brain works and develop apps with algorithms that will keep their attention. The beeps and buzzes of cell phone notifications can set off a dopamine reaction in the brain that keeps the user wanting to come back for more. These algorithms are why teen cell phone addiction is a thing. It’s also why you must compete with a phone for your teenager’s attention. Many teenagers would rather stare at the small screen in their hands than spend time with parents and family. When you’re spending time with your kids, make sure you’re putting your phone down and letting them know you’re all in with them.

Sound off: What do you do about teen cell phone addiction in your house?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Why do you think it’s important to limit the amount of time we spend looking at screens?”