5 Ways to Help Kids Navigate Cell Phone Use

5 Ways to Help Kids Navigate Cell Phone Use

Kids and cell phone use.

From mildly annoying to bordering on addiction…

Their interactions with these devices give us plenty to wonder (and stress) about.

Let’s look at how you and your child can navigate this challenging landscape together.

Read on for 5 ways you can help your child navigate cell phone use:

1. Establish (and re-establish) clear boundaries.

No two families are alike. Which makes it especially surprising how few parents take the time to set clear expectations for cell phone use in the household. Some worry this type of conversation is doomed to end in tears and tantrums. But, in reality, clear boundaries are actually a source of relief: When everyone’s input is heard, and everyone knows what to expect, there’s no more need for the constant tug-of-war.


On your own (or with your partner), consider your own goals for cell phone use in the household. Be sure to take your child’s developmental stage into account. Talk to a trusted fellow parent or two if it’s helpful (but beware of the temptation to keep up with the Joneses when it comes to cell phone use). Then sit down and talk (distraction-free) with your child. Ask what they think a reasonable set of guidelines might be, and why. Commit to coming up with a set of clear boundaries, together, that everyone agrees to.

2. Do your research.

From messaging to social media to gaming, streaming video, and apps, it can feel overwhelming to get up to speed on your child’s cell phone use. This leads many parents to adopt a black-and-white stance of either restricting all cell phone use… or ignoring the matter completely. By taking the time to do some thoughtful research on your own, you’ll be equipped with some key terms and topics when you sit down to talk with your child.


Spend time exploring online education resources (e.g., Common Sense Media’s cell phone guide for parents), as well as various apps/tools (e.g., OurPact) to see what might be helpful for your family.

3. Engage with them.

Maybe you’ve got a list of your child’s passwords. Maybe you’ve even got a monitoring schedule in place. But, when’s the last time you sat down with your child and asked them curious questions about how they use their phone? Continue to review the privacy settings and other safety measures you have in place, by all means. But, by taking a genuine interest in who they’re talking to and how they’re using the device, you’re communicating an important message: “Not only do I trust you to make wise decisions, but I care about you. I’m interested in you.” 


Ask your child to show you some of their favorite apps on their phone. Resist the urge to commandeer the phone or make demands. Stay curious. Let them teach you something new (even if it’s not something you’re particularly interested in). Ask follow-up questions.

4. Crowd out, don’t cut out.

So, you’re worried your child’s cell phone use might be starting to dominate their reality? As tempting as it might be to limit their use, this strategy actually can be counterproductive. Instead, start by facilitating opportunities for alternative ways to spend time: play dates with friends, one-on-one time with a parent, family activities, etc. By building more of these opportunities into the calendar, there will naturally be less time for cell phone use. And again: This helps you step out of the role of “withholder of fun”.


Brainstorm with your child to come up with a list of things they’d like to make time for this week, month, season, etc. Don’t mention cell phone use at all; simply make a list and then choose 1 or 2 to prioritize on the calendar.

5. Examine your own habits.

At the end of the day, all parenting challenges offer a mirror into our own behavior. No need to send yourself down a shame spiral… just be honest about your own cell phone use.


Review your own cell phone habits (how, what, why, and when you use your phone). Apps (like Apple’s ScreenTime built into the iPhone) can help you monitor your own cell phone use and set goals for habit change. Be transparent with your kids. Let them hear from you when you’re struggling with a social media limit; let them celebrate with you when you find yourself using your phone more mindfully.  



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