Craving Device-Free Attention

Technoconflicts in Families Today

Magazine Issue
July/August 2019
A woman ignores another woman by using her phone

In the past few months, I’ve realized that nearly all my teenage girl clients are complaining, more or less full throttle, about their parents. Of course, that’s an age-old staple of therapy with adolescents—but this is different. These days, they’re urgently wanting (and in many cases, demanding) more undivided attention from their parents than they’re getting. These girls crave sustained, fortifying involvement with adults. That’s partly why so many of my teen clients feast on our time together in my office. During the therapy hour, I work hard to convey that there’s no place else I’d rather be. I’m all eyes, ears, and heart, focused exclusively on them. Really, though, who gets a whole hour of someone’s undiluted, device-free attention besides therapy clients these days?

Even so, my adolescent clients and I know that, as satisfying as this can feel in the moment, our relationship still needs to offer a bridge to better loving connection at home. My engagement is nourishing, sure, but nowhere as much as a parent’s adoring gaze and interest would be. I believe the work is first to help these girls discover and articulate what they’re missing from family life and then support them in sharing their thoughts and feelings with their parents.

Sometimes, when they’re still in mid-gripe about a parent, I might gently interrupt and reframe it because, underneath the angry words, I feel their yearning. I say things like, “It sounds like you really miss your mom,” or “I wonder if you’re a little worried about your dad; it must be tough feeling so out of touch with him.” At this point, these adolescents will often move out of tight, resentful, rehearsed anger and dip for a moment into the unexamined sadness and longing just below. The conversation shifts at that point; I can see they get what’s really bothering them. “It’s okay to need your parents and to want their support. I can help you figure out how to tell them this,” I say. Then we’ll begin to talk in greater depth about what they think their parents should know and the obstacles that get in the way.

The family sessions that follow such strategizing are often fascinating for their emotional range. For one thing, it can take time for parents to get over their initial astonishment that this grumpy, preoccupied, ear-budded, air-podded, self-involved, dismissive, rejecting, sharp-tongued, Snapchatting, overscheduled, room-hiding, perma-texting, eye-rolling, Game-of-Thrones-watching, and otherwise sometimes wonderful but unavailable daughter is actually secretly wanting more—not less—of them. Some of these parents have also raised sons and claim they never heard anything like this ever before. A few may grumble about the challenge of decoding a teenage girl who acts so extremely one way but feels quite another.

“Why is she like this?” they might ask. As with most of developmental psychology, it’s complicated—there are both nature and nurture factors at play in how deeply relational these girls are. Granted, there are plenty of boys who want to stay close to their parents throughout adolescence, but there’s ample research to support what parents may already intuit: in this stage, girls typically evince more emotional intensity and instability than boys, and so may be more reliant on their loving adults to help them weather the rough spots.

Still, skeptical, quizzical parents need to be persuaded that their daughters are serious about needing increased engagement, despite the thrumming music in their ears and their deviceward gaze. My approach in the family meeting is usually to open by saying to parents that I know how much their kid loves them. This observation is totally true and has the extra effect of being quite disarming, since parents may well suspect that I’ve only heard a pile of grievances against them. Once they’re on board, even if still a tad baffled, we’ll begin a family dialogue that the girls have only begun to give voice to: a hunger for meaningful—and sustained—parental attention.

A Two-Way Street

Of course, screens aren’t the only cause of divided attention in domestic life, but indisputably, the presence of this technology in the home has added to everyone’s distraction. Still, many parents are caught off guard when their daughters try to suggest in some way that “your use of technology is also a problem for me.” Such turnabout is often quite a jolt. Their first response to this sort of accusation is usually a feeble, defensive protest along the lines of “Oh, come on, it’s not that bad!”

Then, perhaps uncomfortable with the sudden shift in focus onto them, these parents quickly move to assure me that, no matter what they are doing with their devices, the teen’s behavior is much worse. Indeed, the dominant narrative of adolescent girls buried up to their eyeballs in social media is so ubiquitous that most parents haven’t had much reason to examine the impact of their own use. In these initial conversations, however, I like to sidestep a downward-plummeting debate about who’s more at the mercy of their screens by keeping it concrete. I encourage the adolescents to offer a couple of examples of feeling slighted by a parent who wasn’t fully present and what it was like for them.

They’ll explain: “I came home from school, and you asked about my day, but before I told you anything, you got on the phone.” “I came into the living room to see what you were up to, but you didn’t even look up from your computer.” “I told you that I’d broken up with my boyfriend, and you said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad’ and went back to looking at YouTube videos of dogs swimming underwater.” “I offered to help make dinner and you FaceTimed with your sister instead of talking to me.” Parents need to know how much their attention still matters—and what it means to their device-clutching girls—before they’ll even believe we’re talking about an actual problem they need to address.

With some concrete evidence and maybe the sight of their beloved kid crying over it, most parents eventually concede they do occasionally get sidetracked; some can even state with confidence that they know exactly how frustrating it feels because they’d had the same experience all those times when their daughter was “phubbing” (texting while only pretending to listen to them). Notably, they often have many more excuses than their daughters do for inattention, citing work deadlines or important adult obligations as a way to distinguish their own distractibility as somehow less egregious.


This technoference—a coinage for everyday intrusions and interruptions in family life caused by technology devices—has a documented impact on every relationship in the home: on marriages, on worried, frustrated parents, and also, it turns out, on their offspring. “Kids these days” are unquestionably preoccupied by their screens; in therapy, I want to help “parents these days” look at the impact of their own fragmenting capacity to stay focused on their adolescent daughters.

My teen girl clients say they’re angry, sad, lonely, and resentful that their parents are so distracted by their phones and computers. In a sense, and perhaps contrary to popular narratives of parental overinvolvement, these girls seem to be experiencing some developmental discomfort in finding their parents are emotionally disengaging from them before the girls themselves feel ready.

Teens who may make a flagrant show of rejecting parental conversation, hugs, and togetherness still have a right to expect that parents won’t give up this easily on doing the hard work of connecting with them or be so hard to reach when needed. Arguably, one of the biggest therapeutic challenges now is teaching parents and their digital native teens how to have sustained face-to-face conversations, giving them the skills and patience to hang in even when it gets uncomfortable or difficult.

Continuous Partial Attention

Parents have long multitasked, but the nature of this distraction by screen is a whole different challenge. Hyperfocused on our devices, all of us, parents included, inevitably struggle with the unsatisfying and exhausting effects of offering and receiving continuous partial attention with the people we love. Indeed, research suggests that such abrupt shifts of attention are associated with a great deal of stress and mental fatigue for all the generations.

Consider this endless cycle. Attending to our screens, we discover, suddenly, that we’ve missed what our loved ones have been saying to us. A little surge of cortisol accompanies the standard “Wait. What?” response as we’re startled into realizing we really do need to be part of the conversation that we’ve neglected almost entirely. But then, soon enough, our device will beep, chirp, sing, ring, or ding, and again, we’ll feel the urgent pull to change focus by at least glancing at—if not responding to—the incoming message. Once we start reading it, we cease to be mentally and emotionally connected to those around us. But then a family member, perhaps a teenage daughter, penetrates our awareness, possibly now escalated to a tone of voice that suggests they’ve been trying in vain to communicate, and once again we’re snapped back to the here and now. And so on. This isn’t multitasking or even an approximation of that; it’s a complete flick of the mental switch between here and there—and it’s more debilitating then we might imagine.

For adolescents and adults alike, the Pavlovian need to check a phone is so fully conditioned that studies have found we’re distracted—and cognitively compromised—by its mere presence in the room. We salivate for it even if it’s turned off! It isn’t surprising that such continuous partial attention affects my teen clients. They say it makes them feel invisible, unimportant, and painfully less interesting to their parents than, as one frustrated 17-year-old noted, “Rachel frickin’ Maddow.”

A few weeks ago, I had a family session with a smart, straight-talking 15-year-old named Casey and her dad, Mark. She came into my office on the verge of tears, reporting that on their half-hour ride to my office, he took a business call instead of focusing on her. Mark travels for work at least half of every month, so she’d been looking forward to spending this afternoon with him in the car and then in therapy. She went on to say, in no uncertain terms, that she was really upset with him and wanted to use the therapy hour to help him “at least act interested” in her.

Mark looked at me wide-eyed. The last thing he’d have wanted from his own neglectful parents was more attention; he truly had no idea what was happening here. By now though, tears were streaming down Casey’s face. Gamely, Mark pulled himself together and protested—carefully—that he had tried to talk to her before taking the call. His version of events included the fact that he’d started the drive by asking her what she was reading in English class. In his recounting, Casey had just mentioned the title of the book and then stopped speaking entirely. He reported that, “to get the conversation going,” he’d said a couple things about how he’d loved that book in school, but she continued to be nonresponsive. When the phone rang, he figured they were done, so he moved on and answered it.

Poor Mark, I thought, and muttered something supportive like, “She’s fighting for you here, not with you.” I wanted to be sure he could see the child who still needed more of her dad underneath the entitled, edgy adolescent he was trying to fend off.

We’d discussed her desire for a better relationship with him on previous occasions, but Casey’s version of what had happened was still genuinely surprising to him. She said he’d just used that opening question about school “to talk about himself.” Her monosyllabic answer to his inquiry absolutely did not mean he should stop asking questions and get on the phone. On the contrary, it meant he needed to work a little harder. She suggested, helpfully, he might do better if he’d just ask her a follow-up question or two and then (this is a critical element that she later elaborated on) wait for her to come up with a response.

I wonder now about the broader implications of this exchange: technoference has made the slow, hard work of really getting to know those confusing teenage girls a more onerous task than it used to be. Even if parents aren’t consciously tuning them out, the numerous stressful, mind-numbing, and ambiguous parts of family life are easier to avoid and briefly forget about. In contrast to the fast-thumb text world, actual thoughtful conversation can be laboriously slow at times. And in the short run, it’s probably easier to disappear into the cyber-ether than feel trapped by an overwhelming daughter like Casey. There’ve long been girls whose needs, struggles, and emotionality are draining for caregivers. But there’s never been such an easy way to take a break from the drama as offered by all these beckoning, seductive devices. The phone rings, even in the car, and we answer it because it rang—and we know how to do that.

Worrying about Girls

As undeniably fabulous as the internet is, it’s opened up a new well of intergenerational worry. In some ways, however, parental concern about their girls’ particular vulnerability today seem like an extension of a double standard that began generations before the advent of social networking sites. For one obvious example, parents have long struggled with monitoring and controlling their daughters’ emerging sexuality. Now they also worry about hypersexual images and conversations online that have an immediate effect on self-esteem and social status—and leave a permanent record of youthful indiscretion. Parental handwringing is supported by large-scale surveys determining that two out of three high school girls have been asked to send a revealing photo to another person. Parents might be further distressed to learn that many teen students routinely send sexually explicit texts and photos to each other.

Therapy can be a useful setting to create a bridge between parents’ clueless remonstrations and a deeper discussion that gets generations to see each other more fully. It’s understandable that when their daughters come home upset by something they saw or read on a device, parents might first suggest that they shut off their phones or even stay off social networking sites for a while—as though it’s that easy for anyone to do. But these kinds of elder solutions are inadequate for many reasons, including the glib and often infuriating invalidation of a girl’s painful experience.

If parents are worrying about their daughter’s screen use, it’s likely they’re also struggling to find a way to become more engaged and effective as a guide and protector. Family therapy can help them focus on understanding their daughters instead of simply—and futilely—attempting to control their online behavior.

Technoconflict 1: Parental Control

Some parents are intensely concerned and curious about their daughters’ exposure to sexual and violent content online. Most express worry about the way their daughters might be comporting themselves through both words and images. Among these parents are a small but significant number who are spending quite a bit of time and effort basically spying on their kids without their knowledge or consent.

Through tracking technologies like mSpy, Teen Safe, and Family Tracker, anxious parents can monitor pretty much all of it—calls, texts, chats, and social media posts, even on networking sites like Snapchat that are designed to disappear quickly. Parents who worry about how their daughter is spending “unsupervised” time can track and trace her to every location she and her phone might visit. An app called MamaBear even sends parents speeding alerts to their phones if she’s driving too fast. Even in my small private practice, I’ve now seen more than a few parents get into this stuff so deeply that their fragile relationship with their daughter becomes even more tenuous as all the secret information they’re gathering about her accumulates.

I met Star, a flailing 14-year-old and her worried parents, Monica and Raymond, after Monica had surreptitiously read some explicitly sexual texts between Star and her “sketchy” older boyfriend. Monica knew the time had come to intervene somehow, but she feared Star’s fury upon discovering she was being spied on. Back in the day, parents snooped in girls’ rooms and read their diaries, but cybersnooping is truly a next-level parental effort. I don’t see this solely as a privacy issue, though girls invariably say they do. Worried parents may try whatever they can to keep their kids safe; however, there’s no doubt that secretly delving into the content of a teen’s social media engagement compounds a family’s problems with trust and communication in every direction.

By the time we began therapy, Monica, believing Star might be getting herself into a dangerous situation, had purchased a whole bunch of monitoring software. Over a few months, she’d collected a massive amount of distressing information through reading Star’s emails, texts, Snapchat posts, and Facebook exchanges. She had no way of knowing if this was how kids really talked to each other; she knew only that she couldn’t fathom how Star had come to accept and participate in such sexualized, misogynistic content. She felt she didn’t even know her daughter anymore. Paradoxically, the more she learned information this way, the deeper the chasm between them grew.

This extreme monitoring activity, on top of a full-time job and care for two other kids, was taking its toll on Monica and on her marriage. Each night before bed, for about 45 minutes, Monica would pore over her daughter’s social media from the last 24 hours. It would be a gross understatement to say that this ritual interfered with other bedtime activities, like relaxing, sex, and sleep. Raymond wanted Monica to ease up for her own health, but anything he said made it seem like he wasn’t sufficiently worried about their daughter, so he listened to his wife for as long as he could bear it before rolling over and going to sleep.

In fairness to Monica, Star’s behavior had been increasingly worrisome. Her grades were abysmal; she’d stopped hanging out with her old group of friends from elementary school; she’d cut herself on her thighs in reaction to having her phone taken away, and had threatened worse if it was confiscated again. And then, the last straw: while grounded, she got caught sneaking out at night to see the boyfriend—footprints in two directions in the fresh-fallen Vermont snow confirmed this escapade.

Monica and Ray said it was almost impossible to talk to Star about their concerns because she’d storm around accusing them of always thinking the worst of her and then hide out in her room. They felt, under the circumstances, that they had to find out what was going on by other means. Perhaps not surprisingly, it had become even more difficult to have productive conversations as the spying continued. For example, Monica would often ask Star what she’d done after school, knowing full well what the answer should be and thereby what Star was lying about or at least omitting. In my mind, no good would come of this for anyone. However, it took several months of therapy before Monica was able to give up her special access to Star’s world. She was at a loss for a way to call Star out on the deception without blowing her cover and too frightened of what was happening to Star to cease the nightly snooping.

My intervention with this family was aimed primarily at helping Monica relinquish her cybermonitoring, replacing it with nourishing conversation and parental guidance. Her fear for Star had gradually evolved into a kind of fear of her. Over the course of our work, Ray stepped up, too, at one point sleeping in the living room to keep Star from venturing out to see the boyfriend, conveying effectively that her safety was paramount.

In individual sessions with Star, I focused, in part, on strengthening her desire to get back some of the loving relationship with her parents that she felt she’d lost when they started disapproving of her choices. Not knowing that her mother was reading her texts, she had some vague sense that she was being scrutinized, but she wasn’t getting the genuine comfort of actually being seen. Once I persuaded Monica to shut off the spy apps, we had a better chance of getting her to spend some of that 45 minutes before bed with her actual daughter, rather than her online activity. When, four months later, Star decided she had to break up with the disrespectful, unfaithful, and dangerous boyfriend, her parents were beautifully effective in supporting her through a first heartbreak.

Technoconflict 2: Family Time

Most families with teens are struggling—with varying levels of intentionality and success—to structure domestic life so there can be screen-free times. If they don’t bring this into sessions as a problem, I take it upon myself to make sure they’ll fight about it anyway. After all, most parents have broken their own rules about screen time as much or more than their daughters have, and when it comes to the allure of these devices, good intentions often erode over time.

Recent national surveys reveal the obvious: a majority of adolescent girls check their social media many, many times a day, beginning the moment they wake up; about 45 percent say they continue to do so “almost constantly” throughout the day. But what about their parents? These surveys conclude that parents are logging more than nine hours every day in front of various screens, basically the same amount of time as their teenagers, and most of it is spent socializing and entertaining themselves—just like the kids. It’s notable, then, to learn that fully 78 percent of the parents surveyed still believe they’re good role models for healthy digital use.

In my practice, I’m curious about what’s become of efforts to enforce screen-free family time, and I work diligently to support it. Issues raised in therapy with Sophie and Hannah (ages 14 and 17) and their mother, Bea, offer a window into some of the challenges families now face maintaining such a commitment to their undistracted time together.

When Bea called me, she’d recently divorced from the girls’ father and was ready to focus more on them after six terrible months of wrangling with lawyers and “running on empty.” She hoped therapy might support the three of them through the transition to a changed family constellation.

In our first session, the iPhone technoference in my office bordered on tragicomedy. It was intriguing to me that, after about a half hour, both girls had turned off their ringers without being asked—but Bea’s phone continued unabated for the remainder of the hour to chirp (texts), chime (news notifications), bing (email), and ding (at 10 minutes before ending, apparently to notify me). She only vaguely seemed to notice these distractions, but the kids and I made eye contact around each of the interruptions. I could see they were quite cognizant of what was happening here—and not altogether happy with it. This level of interruption led quite naturally to my inquiries about whether there were any times at home for the family without the distraction of devices.

Bea informed me that they had a no-phones-at-dinner rule, but “these days with all the changes,” she hadn’t been enforcing it. Sophie rolled her eyes and looked quietly at the floor. (I found out later she’d been sneaking peeks at her phone under the dinner table and thought she might be getting busted for that.) But Hannah seized the moment and gave voice to her building frustration with Bea. She stated that she wanted to have dinners without devices and almost never brought hers to the table. “You guys, we don’t even talk at dinner anymore. Mom, you have your phone nearby and use it even after you tell us to put ours away!” I encouraged her to offer a specific example, and she continued, “Two nights ago, I told you about the college recruiter who came to school. Do you remember what you did?”

Bea recalled she’d been interested in the subject and seemed taken aback when Hannah said, “You googled the college. That’s what you did. I wanted to tell you about what the recruiter said. I wanted you to listen to me. I didn’t want you reading stupid facts about the school.”

I asked Bea whether she’d given any thought to what was going on these days with her own device use. She shared that not wanting to burden her kids with her own emotional fallout from the divorce, she’d reached out to friends and siblings for support. She wondered if she’d gotten so accustomed to this virtual network that it’d become harder for her to be present. During that time, she’d also worried about the kids a lot, keeping her phone nearby throughout the day in case they needed her. Notably, this kind of permanent on-call element of parenting by iPhone is exhausting in itself. She thought about her girls almost constantly, but sadly, when she was actually with them, she had trouble paying attention.

I then asked about how family members were using technology to communicate with each other. After a moment, Sophie piped up, “Well, we never really fight anymore in person. I know it’s crazy, but I sort of miss it.” This confession led to a fascinating discussion. Bea had found that she could reduce in-person static in the home by relying almost exclusively on the “text-fight” format—a staple of communication with many mothers and adolescent daughters—to sort out differences with the girls. For example, when Sophie would run in tears from the table about something, Bea would get out her phone and text toward a resolution. Hannah would then just sit there and finish dinner in disappointed silence while her mother pecked away, or she’d go get a screen of her own.

Bea had seen text-fighting as a way to keep the intense emotionality of life with teenage girls down to a dull roar; she was much more careful in what she texted than she could manage during a hot-button conflict in person. When Sophie said she missed fighting, I believe she was speaking more broadly to the loss of authentic emotional engagement. Indeed, she didn’t really know how to disagree in person anyway; all her relationship hiccups and rifts were managed remotely like this.

And that is exactly why I press families to have device-free time together: girls need to learn how to have messy, difficult conversations, to see and be seen more fully, and to learn how to repair ruptures the hard way. I’m not, as another family recently accused me, setting them up to fight at dinner—which is what they accurately predicted would happen if they had to speak to each other, no smartphones and no TV. But families with teens need to learn how to listen empathically to each other and to get through to the other side. Disagreement is inevitable, and it’s got to be okay that people in families will become irrationally upset in front of a steaming plate of spaghetti now and then. More importantly, the kinds of device-free dialogues that Hannah and Sophie were asking for might teach the essential lesson that their strong feelings and opinions are both tolerable and important to their parents.

Technoconflict 3: Device-Free Fallout

Another reason that people in families are loath to cut back on their screen time is the hard impact of disruption or withdrawal on both mood and relationships. In surveys, half of all adolescent girls admit that they feel increased anxiety without their phones. Other emotional reactions include irritability, loneliness, anger, unhappiness, and even violence.

Given the addictive nature of these devices, it’s not surprising to find that, in the past couple of years, both parents and teens have become more concerned about how much time they spend online and made occasional efforts to cut back. But in my practice, it seems that parents are significantly likelier to want to curb their teen’s use than to look at what happens when they commit to less screen time themselves.

Shawna, age 19, returned home from college for a semester to grapple with her depression. Her mother, Tanya, lived in a small apartment and was welcoming but anxious to get Shawna back on her feet. In several family sessions, Tanya had asked her daughter urgently, “What can I do to help you?” But each time Shawna had responded succinctly with some iteration of “just love me and hang out with me more,” and then her mom had looked almost stricken. After the third such exchange, I asked Tanya what else she might be needing from Shawna when she’d ask this question.

A responsible and concerned single parent with a demanding job, she admitted she’d been hoping for a task she could complete and check off the list—like attending family therapy. I then tried to concretize what Shawna was saying and asked about whether they might simply try doing something together this week that they’d previously enjoyed, like playing cards or baking blueberry pie. Shawna noted that this would be good only “if mom doesn’t work on her laptop at the same time.” That provision seemed reasonable to me, and Tanya agreed to it.

When they arrived the following week, Shawna reported she’d caught her mother surreptitiously checking email in the middle of a game of gin rummy and had called her out on it. Shawna told us tearfully that she was shocked to see her mother stomp out of the room complaining about “the Shawna police.” It had left her feeling lonelier than she had in her dorm room in the depths of her despair. Tanya countered that she’d regrouped in about 20 minutes and had returned to the living room to apologize and try again. By then, however, Shawna was in a depressive funk and back to bingeing on Netflix. She’d asked for her mother’s undivided attention, even negotiated for it in therapy, and then felt the futility and sorrow of being unable to sustain it for even the time it takes to play a few hands of cards.

Just like their teens, distracted parents grow irritable when their screen use is interrupted; they miss emotional cues and then misinterpret what’s happening. As a rule, too, attentive parents are generally slower to get upset than distracted ones. In this situation, Tanya immediately assumed that Shawna was trying to “police” her when, in reality, she’d just wanted, as she’d said repeatedly, more of her mother’s emotional engagement. It was painful for Shawna, as it is for us all, to have someone be there physically but lost in mental cyberspace.

My teen clients aren’t tyrannical toddlers or whining elementary school kids in the way they demand attention, but they’re similarly emphatic about wanting it. Through expression of intense agitation and despair, the adolescent girls I treat go to considerable lengths to say to their parents, in words and behavior, Hey, what’s it going to take for you to look over here and see me? How do I keep your attention for as long as I need it? How can I be confident that when I reach out to you, I’ll be more important than your device?

As therapists, we need to challenge the cultural narrative that depicts adolescent girls as a distracted mess while ignoring the compelling evidence that adult behavior is every bit as off the rails—if not more so. We can intervene with much greater efficacy when we support parents through some remedial reflection that leads them to greater self-awareness, empathy, and understanding. Only then will they begin to see that underlying much of the conflict over devices in the home is the search for the sense of rootedness and connection we can get only from undivided, undiluted, nourishing, and healing human attention.

Therapy Tips for Talking to Families about Technology in the Home


Educate about Technoference: Ask family members to brainstorm the pros and cons of screen time. Discuss the physical, emotional, academic, and social impact of “too much” screen time. Find out about the ways each family member balances virtual and real-life relationships—especially their relationships with each other.

Plan for Device-Free Times: Talk about setting healthy limits and boundaries for everyone in the family. Try to get them to have device-free time every day, beginning with dinner and perhaps extending to other family activities and outings. Help parents adhere to whatever plan the family agrees on and troubleshoot as exceptions arise.

Support Self-Monitoring: Get family members to become more reflective about their screen time and more aware of the number of hours a day they spend online. Discourage spying by parents and strategic cleverness by technosavvy teens in favor of actual communication and compassion. Make self-monitoring a family goal, so teens and parents own up to their usage and online behavior.

Talk about Sleep: Talk with families about the importance of uninterrupted sleep. Sleep hygiene is greatly improved for both teens and parents if phones, tablets, and laptops are not in the bedroom at night.

Help Parents Model Attention: Parents need to practice what they preach. Take their desire to be good role models seriously and support them in getting unglued from their own phones, as well as sticking to the limits and boundaries they choose to set. 

Encourage Sharing: Help families use devices to connect with each other. Give parents the courage to look at their teen’s public profiles. Encourage sharing of information across generations for entertainment, news, and interesting images. Support parents in learning how to play a few simple video games. Have them listen to their daughter’s music, ask about her Snapchat stories, explore her Instagram images, talk about text exchanges, laugh together at YouTube videos. (Also make sure that their digital natives are helping the old folks with hooking up the darn printer!)


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Martha Straus

Martha Straus, PhD, a professor in the Department of Clinical Psychology at Antioch University New England, is the author of No-Talk Therapy for Children and Adolescents, Adolescent Girls in Crisis, and Treating Traumatized Adolescents: Development, Attachment, and the Therapeutic Relationship.