My 14-year-old daughter is addicted to social media, what should I do?

Michael RichQ: My 14-year-old daughter is seemingly addicted to her smartphone, particularly social media (Instagram and Snap Chat) and texting with her friends. I’ve never seen it this bad before. During the school year, she had no problem leaving her phone in her backpack while at home, and she’s always been a good student, with plenty of friends I approve of. As soon as this summer hit, though, she’s been driving our family crazy with her constant texting, picture taking and giggling over whatever is on her phone. It came to a head last week on our family camping trip when she had a meltdown over the lack of cell service. We eventually got her to go, but she fumed and pouted the entire time, and since back, seems more attached to her phone than ever. I’m worried that she’s missing out on quality family time, but every time we force her to be with us phone-free, she seems miserable. What can I do?

~ Dysfunction at Disconnection, NH

A: Dear DaD,

This sounds like a difficult situation, one that many parents of teens face. Your daughter may have replaced the face-to-face socializing that happens so easily at school with socializing with her friends, now scattered by summer, through her phone.

Adolescence is a time when young people individuate, exploring and establishing their identity distinct from family, figuring out what they like and who they are. As teens strike out into the adult world, they may distance themselves from family and pay more attention to their relationships with their peers. This developmentally normal behavior can cause frustration and hurt within the family—which she is experiencing when her attempts to connect with friends are blocked by lack of cell phone connection, and you are experiencing when your daughter happily swaps funny photos with friends, instead of participating in family activities.

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My suggestion is to start an open, respectful discussion with your daughter so that you can work together on this challenge. Although her behavior sounds frustrating, it doesn’t have the signs of addictive behavior at this point. Avoid characterizing her smartphone use as an addiction or even something wrong at this point. In a place where neither of you will be distracted by your phones, ask her, openly and honestly, how her summer is going. One fun way to do this may be to “phone stack”–take her out to a restaurant and pile your phones in the middle of the table—whoever reaches for their phone first picks up the tab or another chore.

Keep the following talking points in mind:

  • Ask if she is having fun. She may surprise you by letting you know that she is also unhappy and looking for a change in the way she is interacting with the family. Setting the stage this way shows respect for her, that you care about how she feels, and that you are giving her the chance to lead the conversation.
  • Ask what her goals are during and after the summer. Coming up with a list of activities she’d like to do and long-term goals she’d like to reach can help shift her focus from her phone to IRL (in real life) social interaction. Talk about options such as attending concerts, going swimming, or playing summer sports with her friends or even with family :)!
  • Explain that you are not interested in taking away her contact with her friends, but that her attention and involvement is expected and will make her happier during family meals and trips.
  • Let her know how her phone use makes you and the rest of the family feel. Avoiding blame or shame, explain to her how much her participation and presence during family times means to everyone. Get creative together about ways that she can be more present in those moments without feeling cut off from her friends.
  • Plan together how her summer and family time can be made better. Leave the conversation with a solid strategy for summer phone use and family time that works for both of you. Let her know that you will be there to support her, whether helping her find a camp or activity she enjoys or gently reminding her to put her phone away at the dinner table.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

~ The Mediatrician®