Teens and Screens: The Making of a Perfect Storm


Encyclopedia Britannica, home phones, mixed tapes–these are the things I remember from my teenage years. Now my teens have google, smart phones, ipads. Has there been much of a change in the raising of a generation– other than the way we communicate? What if constantly looking at our smartphones (parents, teens and now even tweens and younger) has created a kind of acceptance to the status quo and squelches our desire to better the world? 

“In some ways, technology is a drug”(206) writes Frances Jensen in The Teenage Brain. I believe that this is true, and that smartphones are an addiction for teens and parents alike. Jensen further writes that:

“Every ring, ping, beep, burst of song from a smart phone results in an “Oh Wow” moment in the brain”(211).

That “oh wow” moment is dopamine being released into the brain. The brain is getting a positive/pleasure rush with every text message, every ‘like’ on instagram, and every ‘snap’ from snapchat, etc. Teenagers are pleasure seekers and they get a rush akin to a high from receiving notifications on their phones. And parents are also getting this rush from their devices.

This constant screen time for teens comes at a cost.  A teen’s sense of self worth becomes tied to the amount of likes or comments garnered on various social media outlets. Additionally seeing and comparing to other teens’ social media statuses, photos, etc., leaves teens feeling inadequate, lonely and can lead to depression.


As parents, we must really think: although teens are abuzz on social media, are they really social? Honestly, it is more like social isolation. They can easily text, and be friends with someone on various social media outlets, but they have trouble with the face-face interactions that actual friendship involves. While spending time with their friends, they are still on their phones. It is maddening watching this as a parent. 

Additionally, all phones have cameras, and all teens have phones that they constantly post to social media. Phones with cameras are in locker rooms, bathrooms bedrooms.  It is frightening as a parent as seeing teens who are in fact impulsive, quickly taking pictures and posting them online. So what do you do as a parent of a teen when the phone has like a seemingly addiction like quality?

  1. Note that teen girls view their phone as a friend. Male teens use phones for making plans, playing games.
  2. Find a common ground with your teen through music. Music can often create dialogue between teens and parents. Ask your teen have them make you playlists for workouts, etc.
  3. Keep all screens out of the bedroom at night. No televisions, smartphones, computers should be in a teen’s bedroom at night.
  4. Limit the multiple screen experience.  Teens think they are multitasking as they are watching TV while texting (and doing homework). Help them to focus on one thing (homework) and then check their device after an hour of work.  This will strengthen their attention span. 
  5. Talk to your teen about the permanence of posting photos on the internet. What may seem funny to a 16 year old, may haunt the same person as an adult.
  6. Get your teen (and yourself) outside. Feel the grass in your toes. Listen to the birds. Smell the roses. Enjoy the world around you with two hands and two eyes fully engaged in the moment.
  7. In a 24 hour period, together with your teen log how often each of you check your phone (be honest). The results will hopefully be life changing.

Challenge: Turn off  the smartphones and actually think about how to better the world around you. What possibilities exist that teens and adults haven’t thought of because we were enamored by/lulled into complacency by the screen? 

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Sarah Knight is a mother of five children, wife of her college sweetheart and companion to her numerous household pets, as well as a resident of the South Hills of Pittsburgh. She holds two degrees from Duquesne University: A Master's in English Literature and BS in Business Management. Growing up as an only child, Sarah has faced many challenges raising a large family. Raising children (the youngest being highly energetic twin 4 year olds) has provided many lessons in parenting, patience and life. She is an aspiring writer who is now finally able to put pen to paper, as her kiddos are a little bit older. As a stay at home mom, living on a single income, Sarah is always finding new ways to keep the family on a budget. She is an avid runner, and has run five half marathons and will be running the Pittsburgh half this May. She loves learning new things, whether experimenting with cooking, making home decor or gardening. Follow her writings at wicklowwildflower.com or @wicklowwildflower on Facebook.