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How to Talk to Teens About Phone Addiction & Screen Time

I feel a slight hint of hypocrisy as I write this. We all live behind our screens, and teens are aware of this. As parents and teachers, we can't simply tell our teens, "Get off your phone," while we ourselves get lost in scrolling too.

Our phones are like walking dopamine hits, providing entertainment at any moment. If we as adults struggle to put them down, it's even harder for teens. So, are we all doomed to become screen zombies? Not if we know how to address this growing concern.

phone addiction, teens and screen time, social media

Here is something that has helped me, and it can help our teens reflect on our habits in a way that is empowering and holistic, rather than promoting shame or a lecture. It's called screen time mapping.

What is Screen Time Mapping?

Consider the spaces in your life where you spend your time, such as your house, work, the park, the coffee shop down the road, or the DMV on occasion. But what about online?

Have you thought about the places you visit on your phone? What if those places were physical? What would they be like? Which places feel like good environments where you want to spend more time? Are there others you feel are a waste of time?

The Activity: Drawing the Digital World

I have my students do a mapping activity where they draw out their online life as if they were real places. They can be as creative as they want! Then, they pair up and share their world with other students, making it all feel more real.

Critical Reflection Through Discussion

Then, AND MOST importantly, we open up a discussion with some key questions about the joy and value these digital spaces add to their lives, the real-world activities they might be missing out on, and the balance of time spent online versus offline.

Let's break down the questions I like to ask:

  • As you look at the map of your online places, which of these spaces bring you genuine joy and add value to your life? Are there spaces that leave you feeling empty or less fulfilled after spending time there?

  • Consider the activities you engage in within your online places. Are there real-world activities or hobbies that could offer you similar or even greater satisfaction? Reflect on why you might prefer the online version of these activities over their real-world counterparts.

  • Analyze the amount of time you spend in each online place. Do you believe the time invested in these places is proportional to the joy or benefits you receive from them? If not, why do you continue to spend time there, and how might you rebalance your time to enhance your real-life experiences?

Realizations and Reflections

Giving them time to really reflect on these questions, brings some great realizations. Personally, I realized that social media doesn't provide me with much of anything. I also realized I check my email every 5 minutes and have this fear that I'll miss something, which is the equivalent of living at the DMV.

Envisioning a Balanced Digital Life

Our teens are intelligent and aspire to live FULL lives. Let them think about the places they want to be in! Have them construct a better map if needed, one where they spend more time in places that give them joy and where those online spaces mix with their real ones.

If you want to do this activity but need some more direction on it, head over to either my shop here or TPT store and grab my Mapping Screen Time Activity.

I hope your teens like this as much as mine do! And email me if you have questions or if you want to share how your screen mapping turned out! I can't wait to hear about it.

Teach on,



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