Ep 9: Smartphones, Social Media, and Texting

Joani Geltman, author of the bestselling book "A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens", explains how to handle teens who are addicted to their electronic devices. She has found that kids are texting during class, posting on SnapChat while they do their homework, and browsing Instagram until 2 or 3 AM.

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Full show notes

Are teenagers addicted to phones? Is your teen addicted to their phone? Have your boundaries and restrictions on its usage been met with fierce anger and resistance? Are you scared to confront your teenager about social media? If you are, you’re not alone!

Has social media created a generation of teenagers addicted to phones? Smartphones and social media are designed to be a candy-like addiction to your teen’s brain. Billions of dollars have gone into researching the designs of apps and devices to get teenagers addicted to phones. Unlike candy, though, the phone gives its user a lot of control. If you have your kid power off their phone and leave it outside their room before bed, they can still remove the SIM card and hide a burner phone under their pillow! They can still be up until 2 or 3am texting their friends or browsing Instagram!

If you want to solve your teenager’s potential addiction to phones and social media, look no further than Joani Geltman to learn how to do just that. Joani has been talking to parents of adolescents and successfully coaching them through these kinds of problems for over a decade. She is the author of A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out. Having been featured in a number of national newspapers and scores of blogs, she is a much sought-after speaker. After talking with her, I could tell why.

Joani points out that being in her late 60s, she’s seen parents go through a lot of change. Before smartphones, teens usually had to get out of the house to be sneaky and break the rules. Now, kids can break all sorts of rules from the comfort of their own home behind the safety of their smartphones. Parents have never been challenged like this. And they feel powerless. Joani believes teenagers addicted to phones are creating problems unlike anything parents have ever seen before.

Social media is affecting teens and their parents in unprecedented ways. It is taking control out of the hands of the parents, and giving it to teenagers. There’s only so much parents can do about teenagers addicted to phones. Your house may have rules, but social media isn’t going to enforce them for you. Instead, it gives kids a lot of control. Parents can’t control information, and they can’t control who their kids are talking to.

Kids have always done what they can to be sneaky, but there’s so many more opportunities to do that now with social media. It’s a scary equation.

Joani thinks this generation of parents has a very low tolerance for anger. They’re frightened by their kids' anger, they have a hard time saying no, and they’re afraid to set limits. She sees this with teenagers addicted to phones, where parents are not setting boundaries and time limits because they are afraid of their kid getting angry. She’s heard people respond to ideas for such limits saying, “‘If I ever did that, my kid would kill me!’ No! They would yell at you, but that’s about it.”

She doesn’t want parents to be powerless, and she doesn’t want any parent to be afraid of their child. Teens don’t feel like they have to ask permission anymore, and she sees what happens when parents engage out of fear and not out of patience. She notices that parents often don’t take time to come up with ideas to help their kid in a given situation.

A teen might just walk out the door at night saying, “Hey, my friends texted and we’re going to the movies. I’ll finish homework when I get back.” Rather than see parents take a breath and wonder why their child might feel the need to act in such a way, she often just hears about parents yelling, “You better not do that!” This naturally starts a fight when the teen argues, “But I’ve already bought my ticket online and my friends are on their way in an Uber!”

Parenting out of patience is something Joani talks in great length about. She offers a ton of tools and techniques for addressing teenagers addicted to phones, but they take time. This isn’t an overnight solution. Getting control of your kid’s phone and enforcing limits will feel like hell, but after a month or two, it’s paradise. What kids don’t realize is that you are doing something good for them.

Teenagers addicted to phones don’t know how to self regulate. They need parents to step in and interfere from to time to time, because otherwise they do get addicted to other substances or activities, too. Joani talks about how

teenage brains aren't developed enough to know the difference between the real pleasure of the outdoors and the manufactured pleasure of social media. They don’t realize that the dopamine-inducing pings of their phone create anxiety.

What Joani exclaims is that when you break your teen’s social media addiction, they will be relieved! They will feel better! Dealing with the anger they first throw at you is perhaps the most loving thing you can do for teenagers addicted to phones. Unfortunately, Joani recognizes that not all parents do this. It’s challenging as a parent to step out of the mold. To have the strength and security as a parent to do this when few other parents are. But by doing so, you can make a difference in not just your kid’s life, but your kid’s friend’s lives!

Kids will always have excuses for the trouble they stir. When it comes to teenagers addicted to phones, they also have the pressure and influence of numbers. They will feel pressure from their friends to stay connected. This pressure can then be applied to parents because teens will want to have all the freedom with technology that their friends are being given.

After one night of enforcing time limits on your teen’s phone, you might be approached in the morning with the complaint, “Look! All my friends were texting at night. Why can’t I? It’s not fair!”

This is where Joani wants parents to be strong and empathetic. Your kid might be right in pointing out that few other parents are setting up these restrictions. Still, she wants parents to have the security to say, “I know this is hard for you, but I know this is the right thing to do. You can be mad at me if you want, but this is what’s happening.”

You will probably get screamed at. It will probably feel extremely abusive. But if your limits are working, then there is nothing else your teen can do until he or she gets better. Until teenagers addicted to phones learn how to regulate themselves on social media, and have their own limits and restrictions to phone usage, they need parents to do it for them.

Teenage addiction to social media is massive and regrettable, but again, parents are not powerless. With enough patience, you can observe your teenager’s habits and learn what is really at the heart of what they’re feeling. Teens deal with a lot, and phones are only feeding them more anxiety. Fighting teenagers addicted to phones out of fear won’t make it any easier for them.

Of course it’s infuriating when they make excuses and even lie. But rather than get angry at the lie, Joani suggests pausing and asking yourself why they might feel the need to lie in the first place. Being an empathetic voice and not an angry voice will be a great asset when it comes to setting up boundaries. The teen will probably be angry no matter what, so it’s your response that makes all the difference.

Joani is a force of nature and an inspiring voice. She is very aware of the problems teens and parents are facing, and she tackles them all head on! Other topics that we discuss in the interview include:
  • Parental Controls - how to get control of your teen’s phone

  • Awake Parenting - not leaving your teen unsupervised with technology at night

  • Sleep disorders and the hell of parenting a sleep deprived teen

  • Juuling and vaping - new causes of teenage addiction to substances

  • How to talk to an angry and abusive teenager

  • Using data to communicate to your teen

  • The language of emojis - instant validation and rejection

  • Role playing with your kids before college so they’re not reacting to situations, but proactively strategizing and problem solving

  • Deescalating fights to talk calmly with your teen, and still say “I get it” and “no”
With so many years of experience, Joani has so much wisdom to share. Please don’t miss out on this episode!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Ep 9: Smartphones, Social Media, and Texting
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