How to Get Your Teen Off Their Phone (Without Them Hating You)

If you're like most parents of teens, you're frustrated and downright agitated about the phone and social media hijacking their attention seemingly 24/7. 

After all, humans (and yes, teens are humans, too!) have evolved over 100,000 years without cell phones and social media.  

This can't be good for their brains, behavior, and social skills...right!?

But what can you, as a parent, realistically do about it?

...And how can you set limitations on phone use without your teen sneaking behind your back, lying, and outright disobeying you because of their obsession over their phone.

You may be asking yourself other questions such as:

How dangerous is social media for my teen?

Is my teenager a full-blown phone addict?

Is the phone the source of serious mental problems such as anxiety and depression?

We'll answer these questions and more, and hopefully give a few practical solutions, too.

First, some background.

Being a parent born in 1977 (the year the original Star Wars movie was released) means that I was around back in the "dinosaur days" of land lines and pay phones.  I even remember my childhood friend, Matt, had a rotary phone in his kitchen!

But sometime after the mid-nineties - the days of the Motorola pager - we hit the new millennia and cell phones became commonplace. 

I remember a time when I was about 20-something-years-old, when my uncle Dallas, a man who was always ahead of the tech curve, walked into the grocery store I worked at with a giant, brick-like machine in the cart that looked like half car battery, half CIA operative device.

"What's that thing?" I asked.

"It's a cell phone."  He beamed, as he lengthened out the antennae like he was expecting an incoming transmission in a WWII beach front conflict. 

I knew it was something special, but I just didn't think it was practical...after all, the thing weighed about 10 pounds...hardly convenient, and barely portable. 

But just like all technology, at first it looks clunky, it's incredibly expensive and accessible by only those with the means to afford it. 

Then, seemingly out of the blue, the Silicon Valley tech giants create an affordable version.  As manufacturing costs are driven down, supply goes up, and the new tech spreads like a virus through our communities, especially after Steve Jobs first announced his new masterpiece on January 9th, 2007 - the iPhone. 

Now what had once been found only science fiction movies and comic books was in our pockets.  

We now had the power of a supercomputer, which a few decades earlier would have cost billions of dollars and would have taken up the space of an entire house. 

On our smart phones we could, of course, call anyone, anytime, but also access various apps, maps, our handy-dandy calculator, and the most influential, all-encompassing web of intelligence ever created...the internet. 

As the tech improved, so did the apps, the speed of the device, social media, the camera, and one of the biggest draws to the device, the ability to consume and record stunning, 4k video. 

Which leaves us to our teens today.

Not only can our teens consume video in stunning, high-resolution BUT they can create their own, interact, be "social" in apps such as Tik Tok and SnapChat. 

I remember in the beginning of it all how the perception of having a device that was ultra-connected to information and the to the World (have you seen the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon on YouTube?) was seen as being a true blessing in our youth accessing higher levels of connectivity, knowledge, and therefore to logically follow, success and achievement.

However, the reality as it's played out over the last decade has told us a different story.

Let's take consumption versus creation as an example. 

Apple devices are marketed as being made for creators to "Think Different".  

With apps like iMovie, drawing apps, and social media like Tik Tok, you'd think all our teens were modern day Steven Spielburgs, or Picasso's. 

While it's true there are now millions of creators making incredible art, music

Yet statistics show that our teens 

True, they can 

The Problem

With the second version of phones, the flip phones with keypads, teens had the power to call and their parents...and connect with friends. 

This was great for parents and teens.  Now, parents didn't have to fret and worry, driving around the school parking lot trying to find their teen to pick up after the high school basketball game.  Now, they just called them, and pick-ups (among other things) became much easier to coordinate. 

That was a win...especially for the parents!

But teens didn't yet have the ability to plug into the internet as they do now, with their smart phones. 

The real "problems" arose when cell phones became much more than communication devices, they became communi-consumption devices. 

Consuming information through social media and video really was the differentiator that created a hyper-connectivity that could not be undone. 

Social Media

The first social media wave of Friendster and MySpace, among others, created a fun, new landscape of connection for teens.  All of a sudden, you could collect friends like baseball  cards, you could contact and connect.    

To be able to display yourself to your friends graphically was like the old days of being able to create your own book cover with a brown paper bag and draw on it, but on steroids.  Now you could display your personality with images of movies, anime cartoons, pop culture, music...really anything you wanted.

Their were other things teens could use this for that were even more of a game-changer, for example, kids starting their own high school garage band could now create and collect followers and actually build a fanbase backed by real data that they could pitch and get signed to record labels.

This was power!

Twitter quickly became a popular force.  Who would of thought a simple idea of updating your life in under 40 characters could grow so strongly as to even bring in the News media and Presidents to use it as the defacto form of quick, public communication updates. 

Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey sent out the first Tweet on March 21st, 2006 which read, "just setting up my twttr".

As waves of social media grew in popularity with each successive generation, each platform became native to the group of teens that pioneered their growth.  

Of course  Facebook, the prodigal son of all social media platforms hit the world by storm.  

But like the music that gets turned away by the next generation, Facebook wasn't cool anymore for today's teens.

Why?  Because that's where their parents hung out!

The new photo-dominant social media that parents were not yet savvy with would later be bought by Facebook in 2012 for a whopping $1 billion dollars.

Instagram was all pictures. 

The once teens that were now in their mid-to-late twenties and thirties that tried to navigate over just didn't get least at first.

Just that all?

Facebook (and even Twitter) was a rich landscape and all about updating people on their lives through words and images, but Instagram was all pictures of booties, cars, and beaches.  Or at least that's what we first thought. 


Now, today's two most popular social media apps for teens - Snapchat and Tik Tok, take communication, connection, and the hidden problems that come with it to a whole new level. 

Enter Snapchat and Tik Tok

Both of today's era teen social media platforms brought about entirely new ways to connect and communicate. 

Snapchat, with it's flashy lenses and filters that could allow teens to express themselves with a dog tongue, or cute eyes, or as a cartoon figure would be the first to really understand that teens wanted to have control over how they appeared to others.

Beauty filter?  Yes please!  Want bigger muscles?  Check!  Look as cute as a Japanese Anime character?  Hey, now this is cool!

With a teens ability to change how they appeared, they could now have control over themselves like an avatar of their creation in a hybrid real and virtual world. 

Not only that, but Snapchat had an incredible feature that allowed teens to say and be who they wanted, without repercussions.  

The feature of a limited time post meant that 





First, it was the adults who could afford to access the new "smart phones", while the kids honed their thumb typing skills on Nokia flip phones