Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. Will you help settle a disagreement between my daughter and me? I say screen time on phones or tablets is detrimental. I believe such devices should only be used sparingly, to call home if band practice is canceled or when searching facts. She says she is an A student with good social skills who respectfully turns off her phone during dinner or conversations and feels connecting to her friends is crucial. She doesn’t mind me monitoring which apps she uses. Is there a compromise? I’m tired of arguing with her. I read about teens who get into trouble on devices and I’m frightened. She’s 13.

– Weary mom

Mary Jo’s Response: I think your daughter sounds articulate, resourceful and respectful. I also think you’re her guide, so your concerns need to be heard.

She seems to be on a positive path. Young people her age do connect socially via their devices. As a parent, your job is to guide her and offer her the wisdom of your life experience. It sounds as if you’ve already started a good compromise in her current limitations. Setting times for phone/tablet use is part of good parenting. Your daughter appears willing to stay without your limits; your disagreement may be about communication and perception.

Fear can limit connection. Your daughter is not “all teens” and should not be generalized as such. Please don’t judge her by what you read or hear about other teens. Like most aspects of life, there are pros and cons to phone/tablet use.

I’ve suggested creating contracts for phone/tablet use with good success. Select a time when you can talk about the situation openly. Neither of you should be stressed. Set guidelines for communication first: you will respect one another, disagreements will be articulated respectfully, both of your opinions will be heard.

After brainstorming both your needs, draw up a document detailing your contract. For example, your daughter’s excellent grades must continue, no phone/tablet use at meal time or during family conversation, phones/tablets are off after an agreed-upon hour. Discuss which apps are acceptable. Developmentally, your daughter’s needs for safety and supervision will change. Be cautious but honor her positive past history. As she matures, respect her privacy; with your guidance she may expand her usage.

Once you’ve agreed upon the terms of your contract, discuss consequences for breaking it. Your daughter should agree to these consequences. Set boundaries with a promise of unconditional love if she falters. Parents who communicate limits and honor their children’s growing independence without imposing authoritarian rules are more likely to remain connected to their children through adolescence. “Because I said so” is easy to say, but difficult to support. Talk with her, not at her. She should know the rationale for your standards and discuss her thoughts with you without fear. You’re still her parent, not her friend, but treating her with respect and listening to her needs will go a long way to continuing connection.

You both sign the contract and set intermittent times for revising it as she grows.

Once you’ve created and agreed upon these mutual limits, you should be able to table any disagreement.

Remember one day she will be an adult with whom you will have one of the closest relationships of your life. Adolescence doesn’t need to be a time of argument and drama, although it often can be challenging.

This may be the first of many areas where you’ll disagree. May I suggest patience, communication and courage! Each of us is unique; some 13-year-olds respond well to techniques like establishing agreements or contracts, and others are more resistant. Keep your eyes on the prize – ideally you want to raise a strong, independent thinker who can navigate social and emotional challenges with grace. Staying connected is good for you both.

When parenting becomes challenging, remember you’re not alone. Reaching out to another adult is wise. I may write this column, but I don’t know your daughter. No one knows her more than her parents. Trust your current connection and improve it. Be aware of your modeling – adults are as linked to their phones and tablets as teens. When you talk with her, your phone should be put aside. Focus on her, listen to hear her, respect her words. Expect her respect as well. Go with your instincts. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Stand strong with the values that matter most in your family.

You’ve got this, Mom. Good luck.

Peer Educators’ Response: Phones are important to teen culture, especially at 13. You’re right to monitor her apps but don’t hover. Give her a chance to grow independently. Some of us are 18. When we look back at the disagreements we had with parents at 13, they seem so minor now. Keep listening to her and respecting her. Mary Jo expects positive behavior at our Teen Center and gets it. We all sign a contract agreeing to the center’s limits. Set standards and limits with her cooperation and you’ll both be OK!

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email, podmj@healthyteens.com/.

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