Youth Culture Window

Hey Mom and Dad, Can You Put Your Phone Down?

Dynamic ImageMost American adults will agree that today’s kids are obsessed with their smartphones. From apps, to texts, to viral videos – and yes, even the occasional phone call – kids just can’t seem to pull their eyes off their handheld screens.

I wonder where they learned that?

I Learned It From Watching You
Yes, FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is still a concern among young mobile users. According to GlobalWebIndex, teenagers around the world spend 3 hours and 38 minutes online via their smartphones…everyday. No doubt, part of the appeal is the instant contact with friends, as well as the almost endless amount of digital entertainment. But Mark Dolliver, an analyst with eMarketer, gives an additional reason for teenagers’ fondness with their smartphones: “the phone is probably the first big-ticket item that has belonged to them personally.”

Of course, there are many other reasons why kids cling to their mobile devices so tightly. (By the way, if you’re wondering if your teenager is spending a little too much time on their smartphone, take a look at the simple 12-question quiz produced by The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction to help gauge your kid’s connectivity.)

Maybe one reason they’re so comfortable with their smartphones is because we as adults are so captured by them, as well….

Think about it for a moment: When you took your kids to the park last week, did you watch them play, or were you on your phone the whole time? At Olive Garden last night, did you talk together, or stare at glowing screens while waiting for your food? This coming weekend at the game, will you be engrossed in the action, or with an email? These are just a few of the questions The New York Times wants “distracted parents” to answer.

The questions aren’t exactly unfair, especially since new research shows that many people use their smartphones twice as much as they think they do. Granted, the research was performed on a small number of younger users from the UK, but if self-awareness is so easily lost, what habits or actions might we be guilty of in our own lives? (In case you might actually be wondering about your own practices, the same folks who created the quiz for kids above crafted a related one for adults, as well.)

As adults, we know how annoying it can be to try and have a conversation with a kid who never makes eye contact because s/he keeps looking at their phone. But a lot of parents are just as guilty of “annoying” their kids for the same reason. According to data from Digital Awareness UK, more than one-third (36%) of British kids between the ages of 11 and 18 have asked their parents to put down their phones at some point. By the way, 46% of those same kids said their requests to mom/dad were ignored.

Yep, annoyance is now a two-way street….

Parental Example
So we’re not labeled as “distracted” or “annoying” – or worse – let’s talk about what we can do to make sure our kids never feel less important than our smartphones. All it requires is a few simple changes; setting the right parental example isn’t difficult. Here are a few quick ideas:


  1. Constantly remind yourself of technology’s purpose. John Conner saved us from The Terminator and The Avengers saved us from Ultron…so we don’t have to be slaves to our tech. The overarching purpose of these gadgets is to enhance our lives, not divide them. So if your technology – be it a smartphone, laptop, TV, or video game console – isn’t bringing your family closer together, change your practices.
  2. Use smartphones to deepen your relationships. Not only is it possible to not annoy your family with your smartphone habits, you can actually use the devices to foster a closer bond between yourselves. You might choose to text each other encouraging messages on a regular basis or have fun competing against one another using a downloaded game from the Play Store. One of the easy ways my family does this is during car rides. Each of us takes a turn picking a favorite song to play over the Bluetooth speakers for all to hear. (The best part is, sometimes it leads to a spiritually-based discussion that grows our faith, too!) There are tons of other ways to use tech to connect, just pick one.
  3. Set aside smartphone-free times and spaces. Obviously, you get to choose when and where is best for your crew, but here are some suggestions: during meals, after a certain hour at night, when guests are over, etc. Kids generally won’t have a problem with setting these parameters if they feel like they were a legitimate part of the discussion that put the boundaries in place. Oh…and you play by the same rules!

Now…put your smartphone down and go spend time with your kids!

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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