5 Ways to Monitor Your Teen’s Internet Addiction

Social media is almost a universal feature of adolescence for teens today. This increased connectivity has changed the way teens socialize, but it’s unclear whether they are actually more connected to others. As part of the Pew Research Center’s research into Americans’ digital lives, they found roughly two-thirds of parents of teens (65%) say they worry at least some about their teen spending too much time in front of screens, including a third who worry a lot about this. Around the same number claim that they have tried to take steps to monitor for signs of their teen’s internet addiction.

Does “Digital Grounding” Work?

While it’s common to wish your child spent less time online, limiting their internet use doesn’t necessarily teach them how to use technology more responsibly. It is becoming more common for parents to use digital grounding as a form of punishment either instead of or as well as traditional grounding. This refers to any attempt to restrict access to certain websites, social media apps, or technology altogether . Teens tend to underestimate how dependent they are on their smartphones and often spend a lot of time thinking about being online or how to sneak online when they are forced to hand over their devices, even during meal time or before they go to bed. 

Recently, a girl went viral for tweeting from her Smart Fridge after her parents had taken away all of her other devices. Her story is not unusual. Part of the World Health Organization’s definition of internet addiction includes distress when access to technology is limited and continuation or escalation of technology despite negative consequences. This suggests that monitoring internet use may be more effective than taking away the Internet. We take for granted how much technology has become incorporated into classrooms and day-to-day conversations that it may be unrealistic to imagine a future without it.

Should Teens Have Digital Privacy? 

One of the issues with setting limits around technology use is that with the rise of personal devices, teens are also more concerned about their digital privacy. Parents are often concerned about whether it is possible to both give them privacy and ensure their safety online. Parents want to protect their teens from the effects of cyberbullying, talking to strangers, and spending too much time online at the cost of offline relationships and activities. 

The Pew Research Center survey suggests that:

  • 58% of parents check which websites their teen visits
  • 35% sometimes look through their teen’s cellphone records
  • 28% sometimes use parental controls to restrict which sites their teen can access
  • 24% often take away their child’s cellphone and internet as a punishment

These behaviors, though often carried out with good intentions, can have negative consequences for the relationship a parent has with their teen. Children, especially teenagers, need some degree of space to practice making healthy independent decisions. When adults deny them developmentally appropriate privacy, teens may react by shutting their caregivers out completely. They may also find other ways to fight for their privacy by downloading different messaging apps or using fake names on accounts. Technology may be a privilege, not a right, but, ultimately, it is not the responsibility of parents to control their online activity.

Ways to Monitor Your Teen’s Internet Addiction

Spending excessive time online can lead to academic issues, sleep difficulties, and family conflict if your teen is having a hard time respecting limits that you’ve set. If “digital grounding” isn’t working, try these tips!


  • Encourage them to self-monitor the time they spend online. While some parents turn to parental controls to restrict apps or deactivate service after a certain time of day, they are more likely to respect limits if they feel they have a voice in determining them. Many smartphones offer a breakdown of screen time that can help them visualize their dependence on technology and will warn them when they reach the limit they’ve set for themselves each day. 
  • Talk about how their online lives affect them. Acknowledge both pros and cons. Talk to them as much about entertainment and news that you see online as you do about the risks of cyberbullying and exploitation. Encourage them to use privacy settings and to censor how much information they give out online. 
  • Encourage them to spend more with people time face-to-face. Invite their friends over. Eat meals together. Encourage them to participate in extracurricular activities they’re passionate about. The internet, particularly social media, helps teens stay connected to the social world, but it doesn’t compare to quality time.
  • Talk about how to rebuild trust. The cycle of compulsive phone use and digital grounding takes a toll on family relationships. While they may get defensive that you are being sensitive, it is helpful to use “I” statements to be direct about how you are impact by their internet use rather than placing blame on them. Family therapy can be a helpful outlet for families to openly talk about how their dynamic has changed.
  • Consider things from their perspective. Many teens who are struggling with internet addiction turn to screen time to cope with underlying issues that they may be avoiding or may not even be aware of. It’s easy to focus on the “problem behavior,” but there are often other issues that deserve more attention. If your teen is also struggling with depression, anxiety, or relationships, reaching out for professional help can help them address the bigger picture of why they are addicted to technology.


Elevations RTC Can Help

Elevations RTC is an all gender residential treatment center for teens ages 13-17 who are struggling with mental health issues that have been affected by their technology use. Our students struggle with anxiety, depression, ADHD, self esteem, and bullying. We follow an intensive interdisciplinary approach that offers college preparatory academics, therapeutic recreation activities, and individual, family and group psychotherapy. Elevations gives students the skills and confidence they need to transition to the real world and lead healthy, happy lives.

Contact us at for more information about internet addiction. We can help your family today!