PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Tips to Help Families Manage Digital Distraction

Posted on Jul 23, 2013

Family Digitally Distracted at Breakfast

While cell phones, iPads and computers provide great ways to stay connected and informed, they can also limit quality time between teens and parents. Nancy L. Brown, Ph.D., who leads the Adolescent Interest Group for PAMF’s teen and preteen websites, and Surya Brown-Moffitt, Brown’s daughter and a high school student writer, offer these tips for parents to manage the digital distractions in their families’ lives.

Parents need to model the behavior they want their teens to follow. So make a conscious choice about when to be on the phone or a laptop at home. This way you won’t miss opportunities to connect with your child and you’ll also demonstrate appropriate media use. Talk to your teen about the trade-offs: Time on the phone, tablet or computer limits the time he or she has for family and friends, exercise, homework and hobbies. Also, set limits upfront on the time you’ll both spend using technology to ensure you don’t get digitally distracted.

Think of this as an opportunity to come together as a family and build and model relationships that are thoughtful and caring. You’ll also be teaching your teen that getting the most out of technology also means learning when to turn it off.

Nancy L. Brown, Ph.D., (left) and Surya Brown-Moffitt

Nancy L. Brown, Ph.D., (left) and Surya Brown-Moffitt

Start the Conversation

Instead of just saying “Put the phone down now,” work with your teen to find ways to spend more quality time together. You could start the conversation by saying, “I’d like to spend more time with you. I know you are busy, but I’m hoping we can find a way to make this happen.” Offer suggestions for an enjoyable activity you could do together, such as going for a walk or seeing a movie, and ask your teen for input, too.

Improve Communication

Conversations with teens can often feel frustrating for both parents and teens. Here are some ways to help.

  • Always make eye contact when your child talks to you.
  • Involve your child in developing family rules about media use (for example, limiting hours a day, turning phones off at school or home, not using electronics outside family areas, having electronic-free days or places in the home).
  • Discuss strategies to spend time together.
  • See unstructured time as an opportunity to do something together, not a signal to pick up a phone or digital device.
  • Leave work issues at the office as much as possible. If you do need to take care of something urgent, apologize to your child when it creeps into family time.