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Pleasant Grove Mom Found Human Connection Is Key To Managing Phone Use

PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — One of the biggest distractions to family time are cell phones. It’s a conversation most parents are having with their teenage kids. In today’s technologically advanced world, cell phone are becoming something we can’t live without, but finding the right balance is key.

Fourteen-year-old Clarissa Stirling has a brilliant imagination. She loves writing fantasy fan fiction, but she also reads it online and messages her friends about it.

However, a little over a year ago, Clarissa’s phone use got out of hand. “She had had her phone out during choir when she supposed to be singing,” her mother, Hillary Stirling, said.

14-year-old Clarissa Stirling was spending so much time on her phone that it started disrupting their family life.

Hillary said it started affecting everything. “Church, school, friends, everything, and, our relationship. She just wasn’t even physically in the same room with us,” she said. “I felt like I was losing her.”

Hillary decided to install an app on her daughter’s phone to set digital bed times.

“I was thinking this is a technological problem, let’s find a technological solution”, she explained.

Hillary said it helped; Clarissa improved her grades, but Hillary felt like something was still missing.

“She was still distant,” she said.

Hilary realized her daughter was lacking a human connection. She said taking the phone away wasn’t an option. With a risk of depression on both sides of the family, Hillary worried it could leave her daughter feeling further isolated.

“And so I realized I needed to step up my game, as a mom,” she said.

Hillary started making a deliberate effort to spend more meaningful time with Clarissa, by baking together and spending time in the garden.

Hillary and Clarissa Stirling enjoy spending time in the garden together picking cherries.

Dr. Scott Whittle, a child psychiatrist and medical director at Select Health, said the key to balancing teen phone use is quality family time.

“The real issue is– what’s the positive way to spend time with your family, with your community with your school, that would take the place of overuse of a cell phone,” he explained.

He said quality parental bonding time is essential to child development. “The relationships you formed within a family are the foundation that you then move into the world, as your base,” he said.

Hillary even started following the same fantasy fiction her daughter enjoys, even though she said it’s not something she would be normally drawn to.

Hillary said it’s worth it for the relationship they’ve developed.

“As I learned about these characters, we can talk about them now,” she explained.

Clarissa Stirling seems to also appreciate her mother’s efforts. “She’s just easy to talk to,” she said. “I’m sure like a lot of teenagers will say, ‘I hate my parents,’ but I really love my mom.”

Hillary decided taking away her daughter’s phone wasn’t the best choice for their family. She wanted to be able to call her daughter or track her location.

Hillary Stirling realized her daughter’s excessive phone use highlighted a larger problem—too much phone use. She decided the answer to the problem was spending more meaningful time with her daughter.

This begs the question– when would it be appropriate to take a child’s phone away?

Whittle said it really depends on the individual child.

“That works if a child is doing okay and you just need to re-establish some boundaries around getting homework done, around taking care of, basic responsibilities within a family or community,” he explained.

If a child is being bullied or is in a predatory or toxic relationship, he also said removing the phone could be critical to a child’s recovery.

However, Whittle warns against taking a cell phone away if you are worried about a child who may be at risk for depression or suicidal ideation.

“But if the cell phones being used as a safety net to a support system, that you verify this positive, I’m not going to want to take it away,” he said.

Whittle said taking away a cell phone is just one tool in the toolkit and must be used carefully. He encourages all parents and teens to have the Safe UT app downloaded on their phone and said it could be an important element in their safety plan.

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