November 15, 2016

Does anyone is your family have nomophobia? What the heck is that, you ask? Nomophobia is a term coined to describe the anxiety that people feel when they do not have access to a mobile phone. It is closely related to FOMO (fear of missing out). Although not an actual mental health disorder, it does seem to be a serious problem among teens.

Are you concerned that your teen spends more time looking at their phone than they do interacting with real people? Does this seem to get worse when you have a four-day holiday or weeklong break from school? There are ways to help your teens break away from the screens and actually enjoy some quality interaction during the holidays.

Don’t Take It Personally

A major developmental task for teenagers is finding their identity and becoming an individual separate from you as the parent. Typically, that means that friends and social connections take utmost importance at this phase. It can be developmentally appropriate that you take a back burner to your child’s friends. That being said, texting, social media posts and other non-social games and apps that your teens are using are not necessarily what we had in mind in terms of achieving this developmental milestone. So, don’t get offended that your teen prefers their friends over you.

Lead By Example

We all have an attachment to our phones and electronics these days. A CNN report shows that adults spend upwards of ten hours per day on electronic devices. It can be difficult for adults to detach from work related emails when they get home for the day. And, we all seem to have the same fixation on the latest updates in our newsfeeds-especially given the recent election and upcoming Black Friday sales. How can we expect our teens to behave differently?

So, set a no-phone zone in the house. You might completely detach for an entire holiday weekend and go screen free completely. If the thought of that is giving you a panic attack, then start with just an hour or so of each day (specifically during meals).

Know the Benefits Of Leaving the Phone Behind

In research from the University of California, Los Angeles, sixth-graders who went five days without exposure to technology were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who had regular access to phones, televisions and computers. Makes sense, right? If we look up from our phones and actually look at people’s faces, then are ability to read their emotional cues improves.  It also improves scores on standardized tests, improves sleep patterns, and reduces irritability and depression.

Be Prepared for No-Phone Backlash

Honestly, a lot of parents are not sure what to do to connect with their teens once we take these devices away. Teens are already hormonally charged and often irritable and most people are afraid that taking away electronics is similar to poking a hornets nest.

Yes, you might get an angry teenager who complains that she “didn’t do anything wrong” or is “totally bored” once you take away the phone (for a short period). That’s okay.   You can acknowledge the feeling that they are angry, frustrated or confused about your sudden change in policies. Do it anyway.

Plan for Play

This is the really awkward part. Our reliance of electronics means that playing with members of our family sometimes becomes weird. What am I supposed to do?? Get a board game or a deck of cards and sit down and play together. I am always surprised at how many teens come to my office and have never played games like Sorry, Connect Four or UNO.

Not sure what to play? Here’s a site that has the world’s largest collection of card games. My favorite easy card game that every kid loves is SLAPJACK.   Super easy instructions:

  1. Divide the deck in half
  2. Each person flips are card until they see a Jack.
  3. First person to slap the pile gets all of those cards.
  4. The game ends when one person has the entire deck.
  5. Watch it in action here.

Go Outside

If you are not interested in games, take your teen outside. Sports activities like riding a bike or throwing a football might be a good alternative.   Taking a walk or a hike are both good conversation starters because psychologists say that we are more likely to talk to someone when we walk side by side AND walking in the same directions makes you feel like you are moving towards a common goal. Being outside decreases depression and is good for us during the winter months when we have less access to sunshine.

Don’t Expect Too Much

Don’t abandon the plan just because your teen doesn’t seem to be having the time of their life. Know that new routines are a source of discontent at first. Even the teens that are complaining may secretly enjoy the one on one time. They will probably have a difficult time admitting it-that’s so uncool.

The number one complaint I hear from kids of all ages is that “my parents don’t hang out with me.”

Practice taking yourself and your kids away from the phones and electronics during the upcoming holiday breaks and let me know what kind of experiences you have!



About the Author

Jen Taylor, LCSW-C, RPT-S is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Certified Journal to the Self Instructor.  She is a therapist specializing in complex trauma, an international play therapy teacher and a published writer of multiple play therapy chapters.  Jen is the creator of the original 2017 Play Therapy Summit and many other innovative programs for mental health professionals.  Jen uses writing therapy, play therapy and expressive arts for her clients and for other mental health professionals so they can lead more joyful and meaningful lives.  Jen encourages people to try new things and create daily habits that allow for incremental progress towards previously unimaginable results.   Jen is a travel enthusiast, an avid reader, and a girl who lifts weights and runs for fun.  

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