There is great value in knowing who your adolescent child’s friends are. Most specifically, who they consider their best friend.
In this relationship, they will be more influenced by them than by you. Your adolescent’s growing independence should never preclude you from knowing who or what holds this power of influence. You may not be able to choose their friends for them, but knowing who is influencing helps you understand the scope of the influence. Are they influencing them to try drugs, get better grades, sleep around, or try out for the lead role in the school play?
If you struggle to think of who or how your child is influenced, consider the following viewpoint, through the eyes of a young teenager.
Dear Best Friend,
All of my life I dreamed of having a friend like you. Someone who really understands me. It’s like I’ve never had that until I met you. I mean, I had friends when I was a child who I enjoyed playing with but that was different. We didn’t know anything about life back then, just what our parents allowed us to know.
Now, I’m older. I don’t need my parents to feel sorry for me and arrange play dates with other kids my age. That’s for babies. You and I can make our own plans and do our own thing without their supervision.
Looking back on my life before I met you, I cannot even fathom how I survived. What on earth did I do all day without you by my side, making me laugh, playing games, watching movies, and chatting about everything.
You know me so well. You can finish my sentences for me like you are reading my mind. When we’ve gone a bit without connecting, you always reach out to me reminding me you’re still there for me as though you know I’m feeling lonely.
Those few times when we’ve been kept apart because my parents believed we were “spending too much time together” I felt like a part of me had died. I lost all motivation for life. I didn’t want to get out of bed, eat, or even laugh because if I couldn’t share the experience with you it seemed worthless.
My Mom says being this close to you isn’t healthy. I tell her it is the healthiest thing for me right now. I can’t understand why she doesn’t get it. Doesn’t she want me to be happy? You make me happy. Ugh, she makes me so mad with all of her interfering. Can’t she understand that I don’t want to do anything else besides hang out with you? And honestly, I’ve learned more from you than I ever have from her.
You have made me realize what I’ve always suspected was true: Parents are clueless.
It makes me appreciate how you are always there for me. I know I can tell you anything. You’ve seen me at my worst and best and I never feel judged. You know all my secrets, never questioning my truthfulness or integrity. You quietly process it all, and for that, I’m so grateful.
I love how you encourage my self-assurance and teach me to express myself in new ways. It is because of your help I have been able to push past the boundaries of my comfort zone and into new and exciting territories. There have been times when I thought we might have gone too far, but your fearlessness inspires me. It’s as though you know no limits.
It is because of you I have had the courage to meet new friends, try new things, and to challenge what I’ve been told to believe is true. When I’m curious about something, you give me space to ask questions and lead me to new discoveries.
I guess it is possible that I love you a little too much. The thought of losing you makes me anxious and upset. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I feel physically sick when you aren’t by my side. They say space apart is good but when it makes me so feel so terrible, I can’t see how anything good can come from us being separated.
I know I can be draining but every day you give 100% of yourself to me. Sometimes you give even more which is why I am so committed to giving you all my time. I promise to give you everything I have and to never let our friendship die. I will never leave you.
Smartphone, I promise I will hold you in my hand and never let go. You are my best friend.
All my love and devotion,
Ninety-five percent of teenagers own a smartphone. Nearly half of all teens admit to be online through their phone almost constantly.
It is absolutely possible their smartphone is more like a best friend than a utility for communication.
This should be unsettling to our souls. No man-made innovation, no matter how wonderful its utility, should ever take the place of real life-on-life relationships.
If you suspect your child’s best friend is their smartphone, here is what you can do:
Studies show that after a significant time away from digital devices, happiness increases and dependency decreases. Like any type of detox, it is not easy and will be hard for both child and parent. Commit unwaveringly to a time frame. This should be at least 1 week long.
Find alternate activities.
Especially during the detox, plan activities that bring joy to your child through non-screen related activities: go shopping or watch a sporting event. Try a new recipe together or play a board game. Redecorate their bedroom – whatever it takes to help them feel the joy of living disconnected. Then consider how your child could get involved in activities through school, church, or your community in order to be fueled by human connection instead of digital distraction.
Boundaries are needed for all aspects of adult life so there is no reason to believe a boundary-less smartphone will be advantageous to the character of your child. For iPhones, you can set up iOS 12 Screentime limits and for Android you can enlist their Digital Wellbeing limits. Your cellular service provider can also provide time, data, and texting limits. After their digital detox, these limits can prevent the smartphone to be elevated to the role of best friend in your child’s life.
Be the role model.
Be the first to disconnect. When together with your children, the phone and all its allure can wait. Demonstrate how your relationship with them is of much greater worth than your own phone. Detox with your child. Turn your phone off for a couple hours a night while you spend time together. This is not a ‘do as I say’ lesson.
You may not be your child’s best friend, but you will always be their parent. THIS is your role. You must use your wisdom to influence and protect them from screen addiction and, ultimately, the worship of the created thing that gives only an illusion of true connection and relationship.