Parent With Teens at Wits End! How do we go backwards?

Hi- I have 14 year old twin boys who I swear, have been hijacked by another set of evil twin boys. We have rules and limitations in our house which they hate, but I have read everything and understand what is happening to them when they are on their screens (phones and gaming). I struggle with other parents who do not put any limitations on their own kids because mine then think that it is okay to have unlimited use. I am obsessed with trying to find a solution (besides the controls that I have on their phones) to make them understand what this is doing to their brains. They do not get it. They want more and more time. It’s a constant struggle in my house and a constant battle. I will not give up though. Tried counseling, tried showing them the documentaries out there, tried showing them research, etc. Nothing is on their level that will sink in. Does anyone have a solution besides taking it all away? Thank you for any suggestions/help.


Hi -

I found this article interesting around the subject.

Though I am not a parent, I can just feel the anxiety of trying to navigate this tension with teenagers. I believe deeper in the threads there are various experts / conversations that may dovetail with this.


Thank you for your response and sending the article. I will look deeper into the thread to see what else is out there!

Thank you. Totally agree about the public health problem, but do not want to wait to do something about it by waiting for the companies to address the issue. I’ve also read Glow Kids, but thank you for the suggestion.

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I probably won’t be very popular here for saying this- but you are totally in the right to demand a holiday if limits are not followed. Make the consequence pausing service. This generation has a really hard time with cause and effect since everything is negotiable today.


Thanks and yes a holiday sounds perfect! I do use the pause app and it is effective ,however they get angry and a fight always follows.

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Be strong and feel backed up!! Take care.

I’d like to suggest that we (the developing Humane Tech community) adopt a very different perspective and approach. The typical authoritative approach is that we (adults) determine what kids should do and then try to force them to do it. In this situation, we need to engage THEM in determining the solutions. We should immediately begin creating a network of community Humane Tech groups/studios where adults enable, and work with, students so that they can be major motivators and creators in this solution process.


When we remove something that they want to do, we create a vacuum. We need to fill it with something equivalent or superior. This is not to say that parents need to be entertaining all the time, but we need to give them activities to fill that void.

The easiest pivot is to find out what they do on the phone - what games they play and why it appeals to them, and then move them from merely being consumers of someone else’s creation to learning how to be a creator. This could mean coming up with pen and paper substitutes for the games they play on the mobile. The act of creation will develop many skills necessary for the future. There is a great momentum there - we need to learn how to tap on it constructively.

That said, teenhood is a wonky period; and for parents, it’s also a time we learn how to let go of our children. Oftentimes faster than we’re prepared for.

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Yes, forcing kids to do things a certain way seems daunting.

I think in order to move on and feel ok with setting bold limits on screen time people must need to respect eachother’s parenting choices.

If we aporoach this from a health risk perspective, the boundaries and limits become much easier to face.

There are different categories of need and some will require tech use contracts between kids and parents, some kids are disciplined and when known health risks are presented they self moderate, some will require complete intervention and removal from screens. One thing is clear, and that is nobody is right or wrong and every parent should feel they can discuss these issues without judgement.

Spelling out the different categories of thought:

-the parents who have held off on screens in the home all together

-parents who are losing control and want help to curb a budding addiction

-families whose kids who are addicted to screens (affecting more than one area of life- school, work, relationships…) and need serious intervention to preserve personal health or familial functioning.

-families which screen use isn’t moderated and there may or may not be a problem- let’s face it some problems do fix themselves…

Families approach these things so differently just like dating, drugs, alcohol TV time etc… some kids suffer and some learn their own way and become stronger, and some need strong parents rules to develop healthy lives…

Each family has a right to know of any health risks screens. Then each fsmily can make informed choices regarding screen use. Kind of like wsrnings on cigarettes or alcohol- even if it is only a possibility…


I hear many similar stories and have 4 kids as well. The oldest 2 (25/23) use the technology but are not addicted. The youngest two (15/16) are addicted. Tried taking smart phones away, only to find friends gave them the “extra” phone. Plus they were hiding the phone and lying about - not realizing we can see what devices are connect.

The youngest boy is the worst as he’s learned to program making a server as well as created a Youtube channel for soccer with advertising. All cool but… way to much time spent.

The only option I have found is non-tech alternatives 1) new hobbies for one wood working and the other old school 35mm film photography, 2) opportunities to make money lots of farms in Litchfield county, waiting tables and chores.

Last, since the youngest is a techie (in a good sense) I have channeled it into helping some locals with their social media strategy. Between all these we are trying to strike a balance.

Now the short term we are working with professional and local acupuncturist to help deal with ADD and other issues linked to high tech use. It is essentially like weening off a drug.

If anyone is in the CT area and wants to either meet up or talk more about programs we can put together locally, please let me know…

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Yes, I have a solution and it’s HARD. I have two daughters, 15 and 16 years old, and have personally experienced the evil, insidious nature of this and how it co-opted both of them into making very poor life choices. Victoria Dunckley’s book, “Reset Your Child’s Brain” is what we ended up modeling. Didn’t know we were doing a four week reset til we were on the second daughter. Sneaking smart phones into the house and up all night. We know exactly how you feel. Walking on eggshells with the lying, stealing and pure selfishness. The solution is at least four weeks with NO technology. Got to have something hands on to replace it with.

This process has inspired my wife and I to build a tech free zone on our 30 acres in NW MO to create opportunities to do something besides look into a screen. Give kids their imagination back plus spend time outdoors with a small herd of cattle, a few chickens for eggs, a small vineyard and a vegetable garden in a large log home setting with their parents… Lots of board games, campfires, fishing and swimming in the ponds. Just a vision for now but will be called Selah Ranch.



Yes, we have a 16 year old and have been there! Here is what has worked for us and we are over the worst of it (we hope!). We are exhausted, but relieved. Here is what we have done:

  1. Xbox can only be played for one hour on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our so can earn one extra 1/2 hour if he does something active (and that does not include chores, rather something above and beyond like go for a hike, garden, paint, read a book, etc).
  2. He is only allowed to be on his phone or iPad in our public living room space. Never in his bed.
  3. He is not allowed to be on any social media other than Instagram and SnapChat. If I had known better, we would have said no to SnapChat since I can’t monitor it. We are working on it. Also, his accounts must be set to “private”.
  4. Our son signed a contract for use of media/devices. In the contract, my husband and I can take his phone to monitor the quality of communications any time. If we see him bullying or using foul language, etc., then he loses all media on his phone for a week. If he loads a game on his phone, then he is in violation and loses his phone for a week. The only gaming he can do is Words with Friends, some small Pool game and on the TV, x-box. Gaming is not allowed on his phone.
  5. Lastly, we have set a list of chores for our son. If he fails to complete his chores in varying degrees (there are points associated with them) then he loses privileges. The phone is a key privilege tied to chores.

I’ve updated a copy of our contract below . . .

Contract for Healthy Cell Phone Use Daily Use

  1. Phone curfew. My phone must be turned off by 8:30 p.m. every night and placed in front of the TV in mom and dad’s bedroom.
  2. Family meals. During meals, my phone will be silenced and placed away from the table.
  3. School rules. I will obey all school rules regarding cell phone use.
  4. Disagreements: If a disagreement or argument should occur, I will request to change the conversation to either the phone, in-person, or (as a last resort) FaceTime call.
  5. Inappropriate messages and photos. I will not send messages that are obscene or sexual and I will not use my cell phone to take pictures of nudity, violence or other unlawful activity.
  6. Respecting others. I will not text or email anything that I would not say in person and I will not involve myself in conversations that are hurtful to others.
  7. Permission to photograph. I will have permission to take photos of people before I use the camera.
  8. Suspicious contact. I will alert my parents if I receive suspicious or alarming calls or messages.
  9. Personal information. I will never post my phone number on social media, broadcast my location , or use apps that post my location (except in a direct message to friends or family).
  10. Social Media Sites: I will not use any social media sites (e.g., Instagram, Facebook Twitter, etc.)
  11. Video Games: I will not load any video games on to my phone.
  12. Parental Restrictions: I understand my parents have placed password-protected restrictions on my phone. I trust that this is for my own safety. I will not attempt to hack into this nor work around this control. If I am aware of something inappropriate getting through (due to no fault of my own) I will let my parents know immediately.
  13. Location Finder: Apps like “Find My Friends” is only to be used as currently set up and not to be changed. Meaning this is an app that is for the three of us and no one else. It helps us find you and you find us (e.g., if I’m late to school in picking you up). You may not add other friends.


  1. Situational awareness. I will practice proper etiquette when using my cell phone in public and private places, and I will be conscious of how my usage affects those around me.
  2. Respecting others. I understand that having a cell phone is a means of communication, and is not a replacement for face-to-face interaction with my friends and family. Therefore, when I am with others, I will make the people I am with my priority.
  3. Texting. I will text using complete words and language (except for “BTW”).


  1. Addiction. I will monitor my phone usage to prevent addiction. I know that my brain gets a little rush of dopamine (a “feel good” chemical my brain naturally produces) every time I interact with my phone, so every text I send or receive, every post or update, feels good. I understand this can distract me from things that are important but may be not so immediately rewarding, like connecting with my family, doing homework, and just thinking about life. I will make sure to block out time every day when my phone is off.

  2. Creativity. I understand that researchers have found that an idle mind breeds creativity. I will keep my eyes up and see the world happening around me. I will stare out a window, ask people about themselves, and wonder without Googling, texting, etc… I understand that studies also suggest that not giving myself this time to reflect impairs my ability to empathize with others.

  3. Happiness. I understand the profound impact communication technologies (i.e., any type of communication using a “smart” phone or computer) can have on a person. This is particularly true with texting. While this form of communication is simple and quick, it is by no means a replacement for “face-to-face” communication. The healthiest form of communication is face-to-face. I further understand that the further one gets away from directly communicating with someone, the more difficult it can become and likely a misunderstanding can occur.

  4. Disconnecting. I will try to leave my phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. I will try to be bigger and more powerful than the fear of missing out.

  5. Health impact. I will not wear my cell phone on my body unless I don’t have my backpack. When I am at home, I will use the home phone instead of my cell phone to make calls. I understand that we don’t yet know enough about the health impact of cell phones and I want to keep my body safe.

  6. Mindfulness. I understand that technology without mindfulness can cause distraction and deplete my spirit/soul. I will do the sun salutation and a 5 minute mediation with my mom every weekend to build health habits of mindfulness that will help me balance technology use in my life.


  1. Homework window. I will turn off my cell phone until all my homework is completed.
  2. Losing the privilege. I understand that my cell phone may be taken away if I abuse my phone privileges, fail to complete school assignments or homework, or for disrespectful behavior.
  3. Parental access. I understand that my parents can go through my phone at any time and I agree to let my parents know my password. I will not delete my history without their permission.


  1. Phone responsibility. I understand that my parents have paid for this cell phone as well as the monthly bill to use it. I will be mindful of this. If my phone is damaged or lost, I understand that my parent may require me to pay some or all of the replacement or repair cost.

I understand that failure to follow and respect any of these rules can result in the loss of my cell phone for a length of time determined by my parents.

Addendum to Cell Phone Contract- Instagram (March 2016)

Social Media has become a fast growing part of our modern life. But, like anything, it needs to be consumed in moderation and with an understanding of its benefits and harms.

Social Media is a tool for facilitating communication. It is not a path to human connection. The key will be to use it as a tool for information and sharing and to never lean on it as any sort of barometer of the quality of your relationships or self worth.

  1. Share your password with Mom and Dad and notify us if it changes. We will periodically at first check in on your Instagram to make sure it is safe and has not become a door way to any bullying or toxic content.
  2. Friend Mom on Instagram.
  3. Account will be set up as private.
  4. The bio page should include your username only. No other identifiers.
  5. Geotagging must be turned off.
  6. Be careful not to post pictures that provide any location identification. And no geo hashtags. (e.g., #stmarys, etc) and no wearing clothing suggesting location (e.g., St. Mary’s t-shirt).
  7. Must be fully clothed in all pictures posted.
  8. No posting pictures of other people without their permission.
  9. No profanity or making fun of anyone - even if it is a joke.
  10. Only follow your close circle of friends. As your circle grows, then only follow people you have met in person.
  11. Etiquette:
  12. Never participate in any cyber beauty / rating pageant of anyone’s photos
  13. Never post an unkind message on social media.
  14. Communication:
    • Tone is lost on the Internet. Be very careful what you say, because it can easily be taken wrong. If you’re not sure, it is best not to post. Tell the person face-to-face to avoid any misunderstanding.
    • If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.
    • No saying anything in a comment on a friend’s photo that might reveal their location or personal information (or their real name – if it’s not displayed, there’s a reason).
    • Never join a gang of unkind people attacking someone online – even if you think they did something to deserve it.
    • Don’t ever say anything online that you wouldn’t repeat to someone’s face – and in front of your parents.
    • If someone else acts like unkind in the comments on your photo, delete their comments. (To delete a comment, simply click “comment” under any of your photos to bring up a screen that lists all the comments. If you tap any username and slide to the left, you’ll see a red trash can appear. Click it to delete the comment.
  15. Searching:
    • Be aware that anything you search for on Instagram will be saved by the application (even if you clear the history cache) and used to direct contact to you in the future. Be conscious of what you search for to keep that clear.
    • Do not search for inappropriate content. Instagram feeds are impacted by what you’ve searched for in the past – even if you clear the search history cache.
    • We understand you will be curious about things (e.g., women). This is healthy. But there is a healthy way to explore this curiosity and an unhealthy way. Instagram and social media is not a healthy way to inquire about this.



Start slowly, since this is an addictive behavior your are trying to correct. Children and adults learned these behaviors over time, so fixing it is also a learning process. The mother of a sixth grader was taking her son to doctors for his sleep issues, which had plagued him over the last year and a half. She was referred to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and had seen other physicians, who wanted to put him on medication for his sleep disorder. I spoken with her about slowly weaning him off of his devices in the evening, so that he was off all of them approximately an hour and a half before bed. She replaced the technology use little by little with board games, telling stories, playing games the parents use to play as kids and talking about what he would be like in the future, All of which were replacement behaviors for the loss of technology. Within six weeks his sleep cycles were back to normal.
Instead of taking the devices away for misbehaving, consider providing it as a reward for positive behavior that is earned in increments overtime. In addition to the technology consider some other type of interpersonal reward like baking together, playing ball, soccer, engaging in one of their favorite activities, or going somewhere of their choice. Replacing what you don’t want for something they are interested in Is essential, since they are losing something important to them.
Consider having a family meeting where you and your children all agree on times with technology will not be used and what will be done instead. Develop a formal contract and make sure anyone who violates it is responsible for some type of consequence.It’s important for parents to set the example and are diligent about accepting consequence as their young people. You can find additional suggestions and ways to understand the issues surrounding technology dependents in my book; Turned On and Tuned Out: A Guide for Understanding and Managing Tech Dependence. It is available at or at

After seeing the long very well written contract you’ve made, it’s as if some of these kids need a crash course in everything they have learned since kindergarten. How can technology wipe out years of development? It must be so frustrating!!

Dear @bshupp,
I am sorry you are dealing with all of this. You are not alone. This is not one quick solution, obviously.
As a Marriage & Family Therapist, I have done a great deal of reading and research over the past 10 years. I have compiled my findings in a concise, practical family-friendly book - Power Down & Parent Up: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children.

“Power Down & Parent Up” will give you 7 concrete parenting steps to implement immediately to shift and balance your family’s tech-norms within the household. This is followed up with 4 healthy guidelines for improving face to face (or direct) communication among family members.
Other resources are listed within the book and in the bibliography.

If you have further questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
With wellness,

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Dear bbrunner,

Dr. Dunckley’s book is remarkable! I highly recommend it! And your practice of introducing healthy alternatives into your children’s lives is mandatory when we are trying to reduce or eliminate screen dependent behaviors.

Wishing you all the best.

Thank you Holli for your response. I have ordered your book and hopefully it will help. Our problem is that our kids do not believe what we tell them or talk to them about and how this is affecting their brains, their behavior, etc. We need someone who can get through to them on their level. Any suggestions?

Thank you for your response and suggestions. We have tried all of that and more. Contracts go out the window even when we agree together with them suggesting what they think is appropriate. They just want more and more. “Every other kid gets as much time as they want. Why do we have these stupid rules?” Again, it’s a constant battle and one unfortunately that I am losing. It’s consumed my life, it exhausts me and it’s not getting any better. I will try your books to see if there is something that I have not tried. Thank you.

Thank you for sending your contract. It is very thorough. Is it working? We have tried several different contracts (all with their input) but they always want more and more time. It’s a constant fight even when we have agreed together on time limits.