Written by Doctor G

Teen Sure to Die Without Cell Phone at Dinner!

My teenager cannot seem to survive without her cell phone, not even for the 30 minutes we spend as a family eating dinner. It is driving me crazy. And when I say anything, she is full of drama. “You don’t understand, I HAVE to answer!” They say family dinner together is one of the most important things we can do for our kids, but I am so tired of this!

Annabelle, in South Dakota

Annabelle, I understand that you are tired of staring at the top of your teen’s head during dinner. When they answer their phone like the person calling might offer them $1M , or can’t get through three bites of dinner without texting, remember that this is a normal part of teen development.

Teens, especially younger teens, have this crushing sense of immediacy. Everything they are feeling seems like it will last forever. Everything that happens to them takes on a huge weight and importance, like it actually IS the end of the world. They have no context for their emotions, so they have no perspective.

This means that they actually believe that a missed text could mean tragedy, that a missed phone call is cause for anger or tears of epic proportions. Almost all kids go through this phase and it can last a while!

Just like other phases they’ve been through, they can be “normal” and still drive you insane. Normal does NOT mean you have to put up with bad behavior. Normal just means you can show some empathy at the same time that you are laying down the law.

Why should you bother? Because time without her phone will help her learn that she does not have to respond to each text or phone call within seconds. Slowly (slowly!) she will gain that perspective she lacks, and learn she can choose to answer right away, but also can choose NOT to. The only way to find out that you can take time out is to do it and see that the world does not fall apart without you.

You can make your dinner table a cell-free, screen-free zone. That is, if you are willing to put your phone away as well. As the parent of a teenager you know the only thing they hate more than rules is hypocrites.

If you take this drastic step, you need to do 3 things.

  1. Warn her ahead of time, preferably with the whole family there. You may even want to write it down and stick the new rule on the fridge.
  2. Park cell phones where they cannot be seen or heard during the meal (including yours). Hearing an incoming text is even more distracting for your teen than all of the messages she imagines she is missing. For this I recommend putting them all on the chargers, preferably on the dresser in your bedroom.
  3. Don’t lecture or expect your teen to be at all appreciative of the tech-free time. And don’t hassle her when she flies to her phone as soon as she is excused. Just enjoy looking at her face, even if she looks kind of resentful. She will get over it, no matter what she says. You’re doing the right thing.
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