Electronic devices are very useful tools that have become an intrinsic part of our lives today. Used in the right way they become an added value and in the wrong way they become a hindrance.

The first thing we need to understand is the extent of the importance of these devices in our lives. As professional adults, we have integrated them into our daily lives as an indispensable tool to work, socialize, book events, pay, play sports, entertain ourselves, organize our agendas and an infinite etcetera.

Taking this into account, why do we expect that for teenagers this is different? The use of electronic devices is as necessary for the proper functioning of different areas of their lives as it is for adults, arguably even more so, considering the omnipresent role technology has come to play in education in the last couple of years. We know that there are both advantages and disadvantages to the use of these devices and yet, when we see a teenager with a SmartPhone we seem to only remember the latter.

Perhaps this is because we are more afraid of the possible adverse effects than the possible benefits. We know that on the one hand the correct use of electronic devices can help in socialization, create new ways of learning, increase problem-solving skills and frustration tolerance (video games), enable creativity and freedom of expression, and allow unlimited access to information. But on the other hand, technology abuse among young people can lead to addiction and isolation, higher levels of anxiety, behavioral disorders, poor school performance, depression, stress and lack of interest in their surroundings.

The important thing to recognize here is the difference between the causes behind the advantages and disadvantages. The advantages associated with the use of electronic devices appear with their correct use, and the disadvantages appear when there is an abuse. It is misuse and abuse, therefore, that we must avoid.


If you’re concerned about excessive use by your teen, you can take action following these advices:

  • Create a family compromise, with space and time rules that you all must abide by. For example, you cannot use the cell phone before 9 a.m. or after 10 p.m.; it is important to propose interesting and fun alternatives to do together such as watching a movie as a family, playing a game, creating something together such as a model or puzzle or sharing any activity that is interesting for them such as learning to play an instrument. With that we will get them to see it not as a restriction but as a change.
  • Let them know the advantages of not being always available, of a complete digital disconnection from time to time. You can plan one or two days a month when they will do a new and rewarding activity away from home (an excursion, a concert, a spa day, a culinary event…).
  • Support them in using apps that expose them to getting outside. If they like to do sports, there are many options that make it easier to do it outdoors, including an app, Caminandum, that helps you find people who practice the same sport or activity to do it together or lend each other equipment.
  • Use educational apps with them to learn together, for example a new language. There are free apps like Memrise and Duolingo that allow you to learn while playing, or paid apps like babbel that are more complete at an academic level. Teach them that they can use the devices to satisfy their curiosity and learn something new about a topic, introducing the question of the veracity of sources and making sure your children are prepared to recognize fake news.
  • Participate in your children’s online activities. If you play online games together or show interest in their favorite group they follow on social networks, they will become shared hobbies. This way, you will have more control over the time spent on these activities.
  • Explain to them the differences in smartphone use and all that it offers in an understanding way. We want them to understand how to properly use the devices so they can fend for themselves, not impose our own judgment.
  • Be an example for them, engaging all adult family members to be one as well. If we ourselves are hooked to the cell phone or tablet whenever we have a free minute, we are validating a wrong behavior. On the contrary, we can teach them how responsible use looks like, sharing with them the utilities that we take out in the day to day. Parents remain the most important role model in a teenager’s life.
  • Make sure you have a way to estimate the number of hours your kids spend online realistically .Android, for example, has a «Digital Wellness» feature that tells you how many times you unlock your phone and how much time you spend on each app. Sometimes looking at the stats helps you realize the problem, and reflecting this back to them in a sympathetic way can lead them to decrease exposure on their own.
  • Try not to go to extremes, such as blocking your kids’ internet or taking away their devices abruptly; you’ll make it even more desirable.

There is only one valid slogan for the use of these devices, and that is equilibrium. To achieve a digital well-being, knowing which devices or applications to use at what time and when to stop. It’s not just the time in front of the screen that matters, but the quality of what they are watching, which means that if we can’t significantly reduce the time they spend in front of the screen, we can make sure they take advantage of these devices in the same way we do.

To summarize:

To limit the use of electronic devices in teens we need to help them find the balance that they themselves fail to achieve. As parents, you can:

  1. Share time online by taking an interest in what they are interested in.
  2. Propose family digital wellness and viable, healthy and fun alternatives.
  3. Be a role model, an example of good use of electronic devices.
  4. Explain in an understanding way the differences between use and abuse
  5. Make sure they understand when use is excessive, teach them statistics
  6. Help them satisfy their need to explore and their curiosity in an adaptive way.

In this new technological age, we are presented with a million possibilities and therefore a million decisions on a daily basis. We have in our hands devices that allow us permanent accessibility; it is up to us to turn them into a helpful tool or a handicap. This is the idea that we must convey to teenagers.

For more information on prevention, differences between use, abuse and addiction, risk and protective factors, and guidelines for appropriate use, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid has prepared a Guide for parents and educators on the safe use of the Internet, cell phones and video games.
Available at the following link:


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