Dr Mike,

Our 18-year-old daughter who is a senior in high school, is addicted to her phone, and we don’t know what to do.  The phone is always in her hand, and even though my husband and I don’t disapprove of most of what she’s doing with the phone, we also think she’s on it way too much.  We’ve tried to set limits, we’ve taken it away, we’ve talked to her, but nothing has worked.  In fact, everything we’ve tried so far has led to tension, disagreements or really bad fights.  Her position is that she gets great grades, she plays a team sport, she has a part-time job, she has an active social life, and she helps out around the house, so we should just leave her be.  She’s correct that she’s doing great, and we’re proud of her, but we’re still worried that she over relies on her phone, and it’s turned into a bad habit.  How is she going to do well in college if she’s always on her phone?  Life was simpler and better when we were growing up and technology wasn’t the driving force for everything.  Your help is appreciated.

Worried Parents in Loudoun

Teen with Phone

Dear Worried parents in Loudoun,

Based on what you’ve written, it doesn’t seem that your daughter is addicted to her smartphone.  Perhaps she uses it compulsively at times, but I’m not so sure her phone use merits serious changes or parental intervention.  If your daughter, as you shared, does well academically, has a part-time job, plays a team sport, has a solid social life, and helps out around the house, then she is arguably succeeding, and she seems to have achieved impressive balance in her life at a young age – not an easy feat for so many teens.

For starters, I encourage you to reflect on the ways in which your own biases or beliefs may be impacting your negative opinion of your daughter’s phone use: is it possible that her phone use worries you as much as it does because of your own discomfort with, or dislike for, technology?  Certainly, every generation is proud of their time, and it’s common to romanticize our childhoods, but to believe that life was simpler and better when technology was less available or less pervasive probably isn’t completely accurate.  Sure, some aspects of our lives were easier before smartphones, but smartphones also allow us to do so much.

I also think, as parents, you need to give your daughter the space she needs to figure out her relationship with technology.  You write that you’re worried she will not do well in college if she’s always on her phone, but you also write that she’s on her phone too much for your comfort level now and doing well.  Senior year of high school is the perfect time for you to afford your daughter with age-appropriate opportunities to increase her independence and autonomy in the world in preparation for college life.

I also recommend that you sit down again with your daughter to have a conversation about this topic.  But this time, make the focus of the conversation on your concerns and not your position.  It’s not that your daughter’s wrong and you’re right, it’s more about talking things out altogether and getting to a better place.  Letting your daughter know that you will work on respecting how she chooses to engage with technology, alongside asking her to respect your basic parental expectations (e.g., your daughter taking a break from her phone during family meals or at other times), is fine to assert and compromise on.

If, however, your daughter’s phone use continues to be a problem for you as parents over time, I recommend that you seek out the help of a family therapist.

Daughter Addicted to Phone
Parents talking to daughter

Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. “Dr. Mike” is a clinical psychologist in private practice.
He can be reached at 703-723-2999, and is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240, Ashburn