What To Do When… Your teen seems to prefer spending time online than with their family or “real world” friends

Some youths staring at phones at a family dinner

It is common and developmentally appropriate for adolescents to prefer time with their social group over time with family. While it’s important for your teen to forge strong connections with their friends, however, it’s also important that they have quality time with family and other loved ones.

Understand who your child is connecting with online.

  • If they are engrossed in a text conversation, you could ask who they’re talking to. If you know this child, ask how they are, tell them you say hello. If you don’t know the child, you can ask later how they met.

Learn why these friends are important

  • “It’s awesome that you and Alex have become so close. What do you like to do together?”
  • “I remember when you and Pedro were in first grade together! How do you think you’ve managed to stay friends for so long?”
  • “I’ve never gotten to meet Amira. Can you tell me about her?”

Understand why the phone offers an important connection for your child.

  • “Are you able to spend time with Caleb in person?”
  • “Do you think you and Jada have better conversations over the phone or in person?”
  • “Can you tell me what you like about texting?”

Share why you’re concerned and why you are asking, without shaming your child’s reliance on their communication with friends.

  • “I really miss spending time with you. I know your friends are really important but I wonder if we could have a phone-free lunch together to catch up?”
  • “Since we only get to see Gram once a month, can you please commit to putting away your phone during our visit? If you tell your friends you’ll be offline, I’m sure they’ll understand.”
  • “I know I’m guilty of this too, but it feels really hurtful when I’m talking to you and you look at your phone. Can we make a pact to hold one another accountable to focusing better on each other when we talk?”

Model the behavior you want to see.

  • Put away your communication devices during meals, and when interacting in person with your family and friends. When your child is talking with you, put away your phone and focus on them. You can even make note that you’re doing this – “I want to turn off my notifications and put my phone away so I can focus on our conversation!”


Anderson, M. & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, friendships, and online groups. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/11/28/teens-friendships-and-online-groups/

Child Development Institute. (n.d.). Parenting Teenagers: Adolescent Development & Parenting Tips (13-18). https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ages-stages/teenager-adolescent-development-parenting/#gs.um54dd