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Do I have the Right to Limit my Teens Phone Usage?

Teen Counsellor in Hong Kong


Well the answer is yes.

Yes, as parents, guardians, caretakers you absolutely have the right to set clear boundaries over phone usage, detailing what is appropriate and what is not.

With all the information provided on the web regarding what is right or wrong in terms of teen phone usage, coupled with your own teens opinions of, ‘oh but Sarah’s mum lets her use instagram’, it can be a difficult and daunting task learning how to set these rules.

This is when I really encourage and advise you to look to your instincts and feel out what is right for your family and your household. This can be subjective from family to family, but ultimately the common thread here is protecting your young person from any threats that can be found online. Be it cyberbulliying, sharing of personal data on social media or simply a lag in the development of interpersonal skills, all of these are relevant if they are relevant for your family.

What do we know about Teen mobile phone usage? Well, research as recent as 2015 states that between 70-85% of teens worldwide have a smartphone, with only 12% of teen's having no phone with the rest only having limited access to a phone. Of those percentages, 92% of teens report going online daily with 24% of teen's admitting that they are ‘constantly online’. These stats might not be all that shocking based on observations of day-to-day life for a teen in Hong Kong but it is shocking nonetheless. Read this article for more stats related to teen phone usage.

So how do we manage our teens expectations in a growing world, where having a smartphone is almost a mandatory part of social acceptance, whilst keeping our young people safe?

The main concept I suggest to the parents I work with is a collaboration activity, where teen and parent sit down as a family and create a phone contract. This contract, like any, details all the necessary limitations and expectations involved with using/owning a smartphone.

Although during this task you want to be clear in setting boundaries, it’s still equally as important to keep the teens opinion in mind in order to have them on board, hence the collaboration element being very important.

A crucial concept to keep in mind is despite any protests you might hear regarding the contract and you being 'involved' with their online world. Young people actually crave this structure and relish boundaries that allow them to express and explore who they are, whilst maintaining their safety. Therefore, it's important to create an environment during the discussion where the teen realises it's ok to reach out to you should they have a concern related to their phone.

The contract you can download below is split into three sections, Usage, Etiquette and Honour code.

Usage - Discuss the limitations and expectations regarding the use of their phone, including the type of communication expected of them.

Etiquette – How, when and where is it appropriate to use their phone .

Honour Code - A list of rules established by you and your teen that set the expectations for phone use, such as apps that are not allowed, the sharing of personal info, communication passwords etc.

Download the Phone Contract here.


Find more information below about what you can do as a parent:

  • Firstly, delay buying your child a smart phone until you really have to. Sounds obvious, but can be the key to avoiding phone related issues.

  • Become involved in your child’s online world. This can include having passwords to all their social media accounts or as they grow older, following all accounts.

  • Become familiar with social media. Understand and know how to navigate the world of social media, in particular: Snapchat, Whats'app, Facebook and Instagram.

  • Engage in regular conversations with your teen about the internet, and become educated together.

  • Find out where and how your child is using tech.

  • Educate, don’t assume they understand the impact of this tech.

  • Try not to 'remove' or 'ban' something without first explaining to the child, these negative assocications can be confusing for them and might encourage them to internalise instead of reaching out for help.

  • Establish boundaries, as mentioned previously. This includes, moderation, monitoring, adherence to the rules and clear consequences. You must then model and encourage others in your family to model appropriate behaviour.

  • Include your teen in the decision making progress, make them a part of setting rules (ownership and responsibility), and allow them some control over the process.

  • Explain why it is important to have face-to-face contact with people.

  • Encourage them to open up about online bullying.

  • Find the distinction between what’s play and what’s productive.

thoughts & notes

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