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Ditch the Distractions: Supporting Kids and Teens with Phone Notifications

How to help kids with managing device notifications and maintaining their digital well-being.

On average, preteens and teens get more than 200 notifications a day on their smartphones. Find out how parents and caregivers can support kids with managing phone notifications and maintaining their digital well-being. Listen to the clip above or check out the transcript below.


Jasmine Hood Miller, Host: Life is filled with interruptions. Devices buzz, apps ping, and "scam likely" keeps your phone ringing. And before you know it, you have 237 notifications waiting for you to tap and see what you've missed.

Well, maybe you don't have that many, but your kid might.

On a typical day, that's how many cries for attention preteens and teens are receiving on their smartphones. Not only that, they engage with about a quarter of them, or about 46 per day, according to research from Common Sense.

The good news is that this is something young people can control, with some support. We're going to be sharing some quick tips to help your kids cut out the distractions.

From connecting with family and friends, to entertainment, to white noise, young people rely on their phones a lot. Of course, some of these uses are healthy and age-appropriate, like getting support or just relaxing. But with so-called smart devices come the literal bells and whistles that keep you always connected and hooked.

The business model of apps and devices depends on people picking them up and using them as much as possible. So you can imagine how kids with phones might be struggling to set boundaries.

We spoke with some high school kids—Rose, Audrey, and Nikhil—about their experiences with tech use.

Rose: The moment I wake up in the morning, a screen is in my face. I work several internships online. I have a social life online. I like to call my friends and we can study together, and this can range from three hours a day all the way to 12 to 13. Sometimes I'm working all the way to midnight.

Audrey: I'm not really texting a friend. I'm just like scrolling because I feel like scrolling and I'm procrastinating on my other work and studies.

Nikhil: My inner voice ends up actually coming in later, like after the fact, and I start to feel the repercussions of it. And I'm like, "Man, I spent way too much time when I should have been doing this."

Jasmine Hood Miller: In our research, teens have told us that the draw of their phone is both complicated and powerful. They're getting a barrage of notifications from the apps on their phones—flashing and vibrating almost constantly. These alerts are sometimes fun, sometimes annoying, but they're definitely something that kids need help managing.

So how can we, as parents and caregivers, help them silence the distractions?

One of the main ways grownups can help is to encourage young people to reflect on how these notifications affect them. Whether it's their emotions or ability to focus, the habit of always checking their phones can impact children's well-being.

Here are some things you can do with your kid:

  • Together with your child, open the screen time or digital well-being app on their phone and look at which apps send them the most notifications.
  • Talk about how your child can update the settings—both within apps and on the phone itself. Ask them to think about which notifications they find disruptive and which ones they want to turn off. Help them set "do not disturb" times that match their needs, like when they do homework or before they go to bed.

Although it might take time, stopping to reflect on how phone notifications affect you can lead to helpful discussions at home and in school. Plus, it can give us some control over how much we interact with tech.

Helping kids with their digital well-being requires support from parents and caregivers, teachers and schools, and the tech industry itself.

But there's hope: Young people are getting savvier about blocking some of the notifications that they feel are unnecessary or silly. They prefer notifications for more personal things like DMs, or direct messages, and stuff related to people they know.

Audrey: One thing I do is about my notifications. I have set like different modes. I like a personal mode, or like a school mode saying like, OK, I only want Google Classroom notifications, and it makes me less tempted to want to open my phone.

Nikhil: My tech habits have changed by just dropping my screen time, so I need to have timers set. And I ended up just deleting some apps that I didn't need, and that took away a lot of that over-reliance on my phone.

Rose: I think it's really cool to see how tech can be integrated into your day-to-day life, but I also don't think it should be the primary aspect of your life. And just having a good balance between tech and in-person interaction. It's really important, and I don't think people realize it unless you experience it.

Jasmine Hood Miller: This episode features findings from Common Sense Media's research report, Constant Companion: A Week in the Life of a Young Person's Smartphone Use.

Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media offers the largest, most trusted library of independent age-based ratings and reviews. Our timely parenting advice supports families as they navigate the challenges and possibilities of raising kids in the digital age.