A top psychologist explains how parents can help kids get off their phones


There’s growing evidence that mobile phone use is making teens unhappy, lonely, and even mentally ill. Suicide rates among that age group are at a two-decade high, and have even surpassed homicide rates.

Psychologist Ross Greene wants to empower parents to minimise those risks as early as possible.

Greene, author of the recent book “Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child,” has found through his practice that traditional power dynamics don’t work to correct poor behaviour.

“If you think you can control the outcome, you are delusional,” Green told Business Insider. “Being a caregiver is more of a partnership with a kid than being in control.”

The question of how to reduce kids’ screen time is one of the most common Greene has received. His advice is always the same.

“Number one, I think you have to have expectations from the get-go,” he said. “In many instances, kids are given carte blanche on electronics.”

Parents should avoid the temptation to use devices as ways to distract kids at dinner or pacify them during a disagreement, Greene explained. Instead, gadgets like tablets and smartphones should come with regulations from the start, so kids are clear about how they should to use the device.

“It’s never too late on this, by the way,” he said. “If a parent hasn’t set expectations, it’s never too late to make sure you decide what they are.”

From there, Greene advises parents and children to air both of their feelings about the issue and come to a solution that is mutually satisfactory. (Solutions that satisfy only the parent don’t treat kids as partners, he said.) He likes to have kids go first, since they often feel more aggrieved and will have more resistance to whatever policy the parent wants to implement. From his experience, kids can be surprising with what they bring up.

“There are kids I’ve worked with who were spending excessive amounts of time in front of electronics, who we learned didn’t have friends, didn’t know how to make them, didn’t feel liked, and didn’t have anything else to do,” he said. As a result, personal devices became the friends the kids didn’t have.

Without hard discussions, parents will never learn those kinds of larger problems exist, Greene said. And parents who unilaterally decide to revoke privileges or issue timeouts end up doing more damage, because they take away the one outlet the child has.

One of the toughest scenarios for Greene is a situation in which the child claims to have no real underlying issues, but feels driven to technology out of sheer boredom with life. In those cases, Greene says there is still no panacea, since every solution has to be mutually satisfactory. The parent’s job just gets a bit harder in finding other ways to pique the child’s interests.

“Sometimes we have to put the hard work in,” Greene said, “in order to figure out how we’re going to solve whatever is getting in the kid’s way.”

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