THE BLOG
09/29/2014 11:21 am ET Updated Nov 29, 2014

Our Teens Go 'Electronics-free' (and Live to Tell About It)

Stephanie Duncan Caceres

It began without the predictable blowout argument you might expect when you are parenting twin 14-year-old boys. Summer had finally arrived and I looked forward to 'having my boys back' now that school was behind them. Only it didn't quite turn out that way.

No sooner did they hit the front door than they raced to their video gaming machine to play remotely with friends (whom they had just seen in person). Phones are not permitted at the dinner table, so meals had become a speed sport competition. In the evening, the pool outside was empty, the new badminton set still in the box, the dog was ignored and my kids were playing a video game where the object seemed to be about successfully stealing cars.

The next morning we visited the pediatrician for high school physicals. While we waited, both kids intently played a soccer game on their phones and were unequivocally annoyed (in stereo) when I said it was time to stop and talk for a few minutes.

That night, working well after midnight, I stopped by their rooms to check in on them as I used to when they were young. Christian's room was dark, except for a small blue glow. At 2:37 a.m., he was texting in his bed; I entered Matthew's room and discovered the same disturbing scenario, only he was playing a video game.

And that was it.

Your teen is probably sleeping with his phone

A Pew Research Internet Study found that 84 percent of teenagers sleep with their cell phones. To be honest, I never even considered this issue because I delight in shutting my phone off each night.

The next morning, I announced they would be "taking a break" from cell phones, laptops, video gaming device and computers of all kinds. The decision had been made; negotiations would be futile. Phones, controllers and small devices in various shapes and colors were begrudgingly relinquished into my welcoming hands.

Electronic relationships are not real friendships

Dr. Ankur Desai, a board certified adolescent psychiatrist at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, NJ, says more parents need to take back the power of electronics from their teens. "The electronic relationships so many teens are engaged in are not genuine friendships; they are scripted, edited and virtual," he explains. Dr. Desai says live face-to-face interaction and the development of healthy, in-depth interpersonal relationships are critical for adolescents from a developmental perspective.

"Achieving major life milestones -- meeting a mate, finding employment, establishing a social support network -- in addition to developing a sense of social connection to their immediate community, provides the foundation for adolescents to transition into young adulthood."

My son Christian said, "My summer was essentially ruined right then and there by my mother. We were cut off from everyone and everything in one fell swoop." He also mentions he and his brother had "socially invisible." Meanwhile, I felt a bit empowered at that moment, and a little proud of myself. Thankfully, my husband Anthony fully supported this mission as well.

Back-to-basics living

With "nothing to do," our kids actually started to swim in our pool instead of just cleaning once in a while. I bought a volleyball net and set it up in the backyard. After dinner, as a family, we played a few times a week, looking and sounding uncannily like those happy families you see on those TV commercials for prescription drugs.

"We aren't as psychotic about electronics as my Mom makes it seem," Matthew explains. He says he feels disconnected from the daily chats and games with friends but notes, "It is summer so I don't honesty mind taking a break from everything."

Really.

Let me be clear, our home is not a summer prison camp. We still allow a reasonable amount of TV viewing, mostly because I am fearful the Department of Youth and Family Services might be at my front door if we made television off-limits too.

Guidelines for recreational electronic use during the week

When the time comes for us to reconnect this fall, Dr. Desai recommends we set usage limits from the start, ideally no more than an hour and a half per day for all weekday recreational electronics -- including television. He notes that the American Psychiatric Association is currently studying a possible psychiatric condition that can come about when Internet use and gaming is intense and frequent enough to impact an individual's daily functioning and overall sense of well being. It is most common in male adolescents 12 to 20 years of age.

As I write, the boys left an hour ago to bike ride to our neighborhood park to shoot hoops. Can I call or text them when it's dinner time? No. But I made them dig up their watches from the depths of their closets and told them to be home by 6 p.m.

Just like old times.