Is Your Teen Phubbing You? 4 Fixes to Try Now

row of teens on their phones phubbing

When I was growing up, the family joke was that my parents would be able to identify me by my palm (because as a teen I would ask for money with my hand open). Now, we can say we can identify our children by the tops of their heads bent over their phones.

Have you ever been talking to someone and noticed they are only half paying attention to you and are staring intently at their phones? If you have a teenager, I’m sure you’ve experienced it. The person is focused on their device while ignoring you—a person in close contact with them.

Welcome to the season of phubbing. Phubbing is defined as “the act of ignoring someone you are with and giving attention to your cell phone instead” according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

Teen Phubbing Is Rampant—And It Damages Relationships

As summer draws closer the children are home from school, missing their friends, trying to make plans amongst themselves, and keeping current through socials so they don’t miss anything important. All the while, they are missing the people around them.

Recently I watched a teen at a track meet, staring intently at his phone almost the entire time we were there (hours) minus the five minutes of his actual event. What could he be doing on there for that long in public? I noticed that when the other kids tried to interact with him, he blatantly ignored them while he staring at his phone. This kid was a master phubber.

Phubbing is hurting our relationships, mental health, and our eyes! When you are ignoring others who are physically with you, you may as well be alone. The loneliness that Gen Z feels has become overwhelming, especially since the pandemic. The other generations don’t want to see you phubbing them either (and Gen Z is not the only culprit).

I Did a Social Media Detox and Learned Why We're Always Reaching for Our PhonesWhat happened to doing real life together with people? We were created for community, not for staring at a screen.

Studies dating back to before 2017 show that phubbing was becoming a phenomenon.  It’s not something new, but it does appear to be getting worse. Simply go to a restaurant and look around at the people eating. More often than not, at least half are on their phones.

Recently while my husband and I were on a date night, I watched a family (parents and kids) all sit on their phones their entire meal and only looked up when the son asked for the ketchup bottle. This observation made me sad for people. I don’t get out much and don’t have a lot of outside interaction in real life with people due to several factors.  When I witness these things, it’s hard to understand why people would choose their phone over real people.

The Institute for Family Studies conducted a small study of 143 adults in the United States, the study concluded that 46% reported experiencing phubbing with their partner and 23% stated it was problematic in their relationship. I admit I’m guilty of phubbing my spouse at times, and I’ve been phubbed by others, but I want to be different.

I want to lead my children by example and not be the family that was in the same physical space but everyone was looking at their phone. Yes, I understand we all can’t be totally off our phones always. Emergencies arise, kids are driving, and parents are aging. I get all those things, but we all can be more attentive to the ones that we are with.

Here are four ways to combat phubbing this summer.

4 Fixes for Teen Phubbing

1. Put phones away at meal times and afterward.

Our family is multigenerational and we eat as a family each night. I’ve started leaving my phone on the counter—not in my pocket or on the table. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind thinking so I can enjoy the company and conversation with my family. They won’t always be around for us to enjoy their company, and they have some fascinating stories to tell about their own lives.

After dinner, we started playing a board game like Bananagrams each night to interact with one another, keeping the phones and televisions off. My grandfather is alone most of the day minus meals, and this gives him time to interact and socialize, plus it gives everyone a little mind work.

2. Limit the time that they are on devices.navigating the teen years parenting help

Parents and grandparents have to make rules that are to be followed. Kids (and adults for that matter) don’t need to be constantly connected. Technology has blessed us with the beauty of being constantly connected, but at the same time, is there something as being too connected?

Our son has a limit on the amount of time he has on social media sites (parents—you can set this up in control settings, and there are apps to help curb social media use). As the summer approaches, set an expectation and stick to it. They are allowed on their phones/devices at certain times and that’s it.

3. Have real conversations with your kids, learn a new skill, read a book, or just enjoy spending time together.

Ever received those one-word responses from your child because they weren’t paying attention to you? Have you tried to have a conversation with a teenager recently? The mumbles and the one-word responses show our kids aren’t skilled in social interaction in person. At some point, they may need to be able to converse with someone. If we can help them learn to interact with others in person, we may be able to help offset some of the feelings of loneliness that people seem to be experiencing.

4. Stop watching people live and start living.

Go out and experience things and places together. Maybe you enjoy cooking or would at least try it, instead of watching other people do it. Join a cooking class or invite someone to make dinner with you one night. Stop watching other people live their lives on your phone and start living yours. Embrace new things and explore new places, even if it’s just a new park in your neighborhood. Get outside and enjoy spending time with the people around you and the places available to you.

What would our families look like if we stopped drowning them out and started talking to them? Can we change the phubbing phenomenon and start having conversations in real life? Can we start doing life with one another?

Please start listening intently to the ones around you. You never know what you may find out that you would have otherwise missed. As summer approaches, I am talking with my spouse about ground rules for technology that we can present to our kids. I want to be a part of their lives, not just a quick text away. I want to have real conversations and be able to enjoy and interact with those around me while living and experiencing things. I’m hanging up my phone so I can connect with the people right in front of me.

Putting your phone to the side lets you truly experience life. Listen to this podcast episode for other ways to enjoy the present: Making the Most of Life – 236

Scroll to Top