In our last blog, we looked at some of the concerns–both valid and unfounded–surrounding teen technology use.

Parents, experts, and teens themselves agree, over-indulging in technology can interfere with relationships, school, sleep habits, and overall mental health.

But how do you determine how much is “too much”?

In our experience, common signs your adolescent may have an unhealthy relationship with tech (and possibly an addiction), include:

  • Withdrawing from friends, family, social engagements, and other real-life activities.
  • Hiding or lying about technology use.
  • Feeling sad, moody, or anxious when offline or without their devices.
  • Becoming upset or defensive when questioned about their habits.
  • Resisting attempts to reduce or limit screen time.
  • Difficulty going even a short period of time without using technology.

In sum, the key sign of a dependence on technology or tech addiction is using phones or the internet to the point where they interfere with daily, real-world life.

If you believe your child has a problem, here are a few tips and techniques to help curb unhealthy technology use.

Track Their Time

Pew Research famously reported that 9 out of 10 teens believe that spending too much time using technology is a problem.

Use that knowledge to help get you and your teen on the same side.

When presented with objective data about their technology use, many teens express they are unaware of–and surprised by–how much time they actually spend online.

Tracking screen time can also take the blame off of you; teens see their own behavior and are (hopefully) motivated to take action to better manage their time.

Start Small

For many adolescents, their devices are a lifeline to the world. Going without them, even for a short while, can feel like a major upset.

Starting with small changes, no matter how seemingly insignificant, may yield the best results. Any change in the right direction is better than no change.

For example, get your teen to commit to a short tech break after school, say 3:15-3:30. Plan something specific to fill that time, like chatting over a snack or taking a walk while listening to music.

When they are ready, increase the breaks to device-free dinners, one no-tech activity night a week, and unplugging before bed.

Ideally, everyone in the house should silence their phones at bedtime, keeping them in another room until morning. We are learning more and more about the harlful effects of EMFs on the brain and body, and sleeping next to the phone puts teens at risk.

The blue wavelength light screens emit interrupts the production of melatonin, which gives our brain the signal that it’s time to sleep. Moreover, the constant sleep interruption from beeps and buzzes is the major contributor to poor sleep habits.

Use Tech to Limit Tech

There are lots of apps designed to help you track and limit phone and internet use. Using an app means less time playing warden and allows a neutral party to be the “bad guy.”

You can use an app to monitor usage and notify teens when they are nearing their predetermined limits. You can add a time lock to lock them out when the limit is met. Some apps block certain sites altogether, such as phone games, or porn and gambling sites.

A simple first step is to turn off all notifications. Science has shown that getting a notification gives us a “hit” by elevating our dopamine receptors. We learn to crave the chemical reward and repeat the behavior over and over again.

Simply turning off notifications will make it less likely adolescents will look at their phones every few seconds.

Be A Role Model

This one is tricky. But let’s get real; how likely is it your child will take tech addiction seriously if you don’t?

One of the best ways to get teens to adopt a healthy relationship with technology is to model that behavior.

Don’t use your phone at dinner, and charge it in a common area out of the bedroom at night. Try not to take computer work home with you, and give your child your full attention when they speak to you.

Set a goal for yourself, such as an hour of tech-free time, and make sure what you’re doing is visible to your teens. No matter what, don’t check email or social media for that hour.

Modeling the behavior you’re requiring is key to getting teens to trust you and stick to healthy tech habits.

If you are struggling to get your teen to put down their device, even after trying these tips, take action. Tech addiction is a real thing–whether or not it falls into the clinical definition of an “addiction.” Contact a mental health or behavioral health professional, or reach out at(866) 308-7660.


This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice. If your child is having a mental health emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741741 from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.