Q: 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 …
Q: Our family moved recently from the U.S. to Mexico for my husband’s job, and while most things have been transitioning smoothly, I am concerned that my 14-year-old son is spending too much time with screens and not enough time making friends. Since moving, he spends a lot of time Skyping or playing video games with his friends back in the United States. Last week, I even found out that he is using YouNow to stay connected with friends all the time…even when he is sleeping! I know this move has been tough, and I want to support his transition, but I’m concerned that if he continues to spend all of his time online with his old friends, his social life here will be non-existent. Any help you can offer me will be appreciated—thanks!
~ Figuring out friends, Mexico
A: Dear Figuring,
It is normal for your son to be struggling with the move and for him to want to stay connected to his friends back in the U.S. Moving to a new community can be an especially difficult transition for teenagers, who are figuring out who they are as individuals (separate from their parents) and rely heavily on peer relationships in that process. Today’s technology can help your son stay connected with those important people who are far away, and used mindfully, it can be helpful in his transition.
That said, if your son actually stays connected nearly 24/7 using YouNow, Skype and video games with his old friends, he may end up spending much of his time trying to copy his former life instead of living his current one. As wonderful as these technologies can be for relaying images and sounds of people and places we love, they are still only images and sounds—they can never be as interesting, engaging, challenging and sustaining as face-to-face interactions. But they do feel safe, and they often require less energy and vulnerability than going out and making new friends.