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Great at times, average at times: Keys to Liberty's chances for a WNBA title

Jonquel Jones, the bench, an improved inside-out game -- these and more factors that could help the Liberty finally win a WNBA title.

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NEW YORK -- Jonquel Jones hit the Griddy. In the final seconds of the New York Liberty's 91-76 win over the Chicago Sky on Thursday, the party was on in Brooklyn. Kennedy Burke jumped on Leonie Fiebich's back. Breanna Stewart's 2-year-old daughter Ruby raced onto the floor and stood alongside Ellie the Elephant as she watched her mom and Sabrina Ionescu do a postgame interview at half court. A portion of the 17,758 fans in attendance -- a Liberty record for Barclays Center -- stuck around to observe and offer their team a final round of applause.

These scenes have been typical in Brooklyn this summer, where the Liberty are 11-1 and have won nine straight. But Thursday's game may have been especially rewarding. In back-to-back days, the Liberty knocked off the second-place Connecticut Sun on the road and then the gritty Chicago Sky, further solidifying their spot at the top of the league standings, where they'll look to stay with two games remaining before the Olympic break.

The Liberty's 19-4 record is their best start in franchise history, and it bodes well for their quest to return to the WNBA Finals. Twelve of the 13 teams in WNBA history to start a season with that record made the Finals that year, with 10 winning the championship.

ESPN BET gives the Liberty the second-best odds to win the 2024 title (Liberty +190, Aces +160), while ESPN Analytics reflects a similarly close race between the 2023 finalists, projecting a 36.9% chance for the Liberty to win it all, just behind the Aces (39.4%).

There has been a lot to celebrate in Brooklyn on the individual level, too. Stewart, the reigning MVP, is headed to her third Olympics, while Ionescu, who's having an all-WNBA first-team-caliber season, will play in her first. Jones' dominance has shades of her 2021 MVP season, resulting in her fifth All-Star nod. Betnijah Laney-Hamilton made a strong case for joining her teammates in Phoenix as she continues to cement herself as one of the premier two-way wings in the league.

Still, clinching to the franchise's first championship remains paramount, particularly after last year's newly formed Liberty superteam fell to the Aces in the Finals.

With 17 regular-season games remaining, including Saturday's showdown in Chicago against the Sky (1 p.m. ET, ABC) -- and Tuesday's against the Sun at home -- here are some of the X factors that could determine whether the Liberty make history, or fall short once more.

New York wasn't a bad defensive team last season; its defensive rating (99.4 points per 100 possessions) ranked third in the league. But its perimeter defense was a weak spot, which the Las Vegas Aces' guards exposed in the Finals: The Aces would drop 99 and 104 points on 54.7% and 52.9% shooting, respectively, in Games 1 and 2.

The Liberty signed Fiebich, Burke and Ivana Dojkic in the offseason to address the issue. With those additions, plus more minutes for Kayla Thornton, New York flexes more versatility, length and physical ability on the wing than before. Take Wednesday, when it held Connecticut to just five points in the first 6:44 of the second quarter whenever Fiebich, Burke and, for parts of it, Thornton were on the floor. In the decisive fourth period against the Sky the next day, coach Sandy Brondello leaned on the lineup of Jones, Stewart, Ionescu, Fiebich and Thornton to put the game away.

Advanced metrics say the Liberty have improved defensively with a 96.1 defensive rating in 2024, though they still rank behind those of the Minnesota Lynx, Sun and Seattle Storm.

In Brondello's eyes, sometimes the Liberty are great defensively, other times they are "very average," she said Wednesday.

An example of the great: holding the Sun to 68 points on 35.8% shooting Wednesday. An example of the average: allowing the Phoenix Mercury to score 99 points with a 55.1% clip a few weeks ago.

Brondello and her team acknowledge defense as their primary focus this season. Stronger team chemistry can translate on the defensive end too, but it's also an area the coach often says comes down to "commitment."

"I think we've got the tools to be a great defensive team," Brondello said Thursday. "It's the consistency, and we've shown it a lot this year: When we lock in, we can lock teams down, too. Not always for 40 minutes, but we know how to raise the level. And it's just the communication and the trust that they have, I think, that's pretty special."

Upcoming matchups against the Aces, the top offense in the league, on Aug. 17 and Sept. 8 will be good tests for just how much the Liberty have grown on that end of the floor.

Jones needed time last year to recover from a preseason foot injury. But by the postseason, she'd emerged as the team's most consistent player.

That's the version of Jones we're seeing this year: Her scoring (15.7 points per game) and rebounding (9.2 per game) numbers are her best since her MVP campaign, while her assists (3.3 per game) are a career high. Most remarkably, her true shooting percentage sits at an astounding 68.4% and reflects her versatility both inside and outside the paint. The 6-foot-6 center is taking 4.1 3s per game and making 41.5% of them.



Brondello said Wednesday the Liberty are at their best when Jones is playing at a high level. Following her 18-point, 13-rebound double-double Thursday, the Liberty are 16-1 this season when she scores 10 or more points, and 3-4 when she scores 9 or fewer -- with two of those losses coming to the Lynx, including in the Commissioner's Cup final. On her career, Jones' teams are 47-4 when she scores 20-plus points, the best record in WNBA history (minimum 20 games).

Another stark difference: In the Liberty's wins this year, she averages 17.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG and 60% FG. Contrast this with the Liberty's losses, when she averages just 8.8 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 45% FG.

Having to guard Jones and Stewart, both the epitome of positionless posts, is a nightmarish proposition for opponents. But the more Stewart (career-low 23.7% shooting from 3) finds the back of the net to go alongside Jones' stellar play, the more dangerous that tandem will become.

The past three New York squads have attempted more 3-pointers per game than any other team in league history (27.6 in 2022, 27.7 in 2021, 29.7 in 2023). This year's squad has one-upped those figures is even better, with 29.5 3-point attempts per game.

And yet Brondello stressed, after the loss to the Fever, that the team does not want to live and die by the 3-ball and must continue to find ways to play inside-out. In the Saturday loss, Indiana clogged up the paint (Jones took only five shots) and dared New York to shoot 3s -- and though many were open shots, the Liberty made only 10.

On Wednesday, with the Sun defense taking away the 3-point line, New York managed just 13 attempts from the arc but found ways to get downhill or otherwise outscore Connecticut in the paint 40-26.

Scoring in multiple ways -- and making teams pay for taking away one element of their offense -- will make the Liberty much more difficult to beat, especially in a series. Especially with a player like Ionescu, an elite 3-point shooter who has made major strides in her ability to get downhill and worked on developing a floater -- as evidenced by her dagger shot against the Sun on Wednesday.

"I think that's just the evolution of this team," she said. "It's not being one-dimensional and knowing we're going to go in every single day and do the same thing, but be able to read what defenses are giving us and attack in different ways."

New York's depth was not a strength last year, particularly once postseason play arrived. Just three reserves averaged at least 9.0 minutes per game last season, and only Marine Johannes (11.5) and Thornton (10.1) averaged at least that much off the bench in the playoffs. This year, Thornton, Fiebich, Burke, Dojkic and Nyara Sabally are all passing that mark.

There's room, too, for them to grow within New York's system. Brondello thinks they can expand Fiebich's role on offense. (Fiebich's season-high 13 points against the Sky prove it's possible.) Sabally, who returned to the court Thursday for the first time since May 31 after dealing with a back injury, proved to be an impact player earlier this year and figures to be a key part of the Liberty's depth moving forward. With Laney-Hamilton (knee) sidelined again on Thursday, Thornton was indispensable on both ends (16 points including four 3s, plus 4 steals).

It will be fascinating to see which rotations Brondello gravitates toward when the stakes are raised as well as in close games -- especially with so many defensive-minded players on the bench.

This past week showed the variance of Liberty basketball. Against the Sun, the Liberty executed when it mattered most, holding the No. 2 team in the standings scoreless in the final 2:11 and improving to 13-0 when leading at the half this season. New York is the only team still unbeaten in such situations.

The performance came five days after the loss to the Fever, who had rallied to win behind a 28-16 fourth quarter. Brondello attributed complacency for Saturday's performance, calling it a "wake-up call."

"Playing 40 minutes of tough gritty basketball is really kind of what we hang our hat on, on both sides of the floor, making sure we're playing in the right way," Ionescu said Wednesday. "That last game was a little uncharacteristic. ... We weren't as locked in as we should have been."

There were self-inflicted issues of a different nature last month in the Commissioner's Cup championship game loss to the Lynx. Ionescu thought they were "our own worst enemy" with unforced turnovers and tried to reinvent the wheel on offense. Brondello pointed to mental fatigue as the cause of some defensive breakdowns. (The Liberty cleaned things up a week later to beat the Lynx by nine points.)

With now a year-plus of playing together under their belt, the Liberty have seen their chemistry grow. But in a season full of parity and with the Aces chomping at the bit for a third consecutive title, New York must put the pieces together and come through with urgency and execution, toughness and fortitude, to get over the franchise's proverbial hump and finally win that WNBA championship.



Phoenix Mercury at Connecticut Sun
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, ABC

The Sun are now 0-2 against the Liberty following Wednesday's Camp Day loss at home. They have fared much better against the Mercury, whom they've defeated twice already this season. Phoenix has dealt with a host of injury issues, and its preferred starting five has appeared in just nine of 22 games. Diana Taurasi is also out for her fourth game of the past five with a lower leg injury.



Indiana Fever at Minnesota Lynx
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

We saw the highs and lows of the Fever in the space of five days: They knocked off first-place New York on Saturday, then on Wednesday were upset by the Mystics, who've been in the bottom quarter of the standings all season. Indiana can't afford to dwell on the loss, though. It faces Atlanta on Friday -- a game that could have playoff berth implications -- before taking on the Lynx on Sunday.
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Mid-year boxing awards: Best KO, fighter, fight and more

Mike Coppinger and Nick Parkinson highlight the best of what boxing has delivered thus far in 2024.

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After six-plus months of boxing, and lots of fight cards all around the world, it's time to pick the best of the first half of 2024. From incredible individual performances in the heavyweight division, to unforgettable KOs, upsets and all-action fights, the sport of boxing has set a high bar for the rest of the year.

For the first time since Lennox Lewis in 2000, we have an undisputed heavyweight champion, and for the first time ever, an undisputed strawweight champion was crowned in women's boxing. A champion made a power-packed impression with a stunning knockout, and another suffered a huge upset in his return home.

Mike Coppinger and Nick Parkinson look at some memorable moments at the halfway point of the year.

Usyk accomplished an incredible feat with his split-decision victory over Tyson Fury in May. It was the second undisputed championship of his career after he won all four belts at cruiserweight.

Fury outweighed Usyk by nearly 40 pounds and enjoyed significant advantages in height and reach. "The Gypsy King" put it all to good use over the first half of the bout as he outboxed Usyk from range.

But the Olympic gold medalist rallied down the stretch, showing off the incredible skill that led him to the unified heavyweight championship with a pair of wins over Anthony Joshua.

Now, Usyk is the undisputed heavyweight champion, the first since Lennox Lewis in 2000. The win also launched him into the top spot in ESPN's pound-for-pound rankings. The 37-year-old Ukrainian should be able to lock up Fighter of the Year with another victory over Fury in the rematch scheduled for Dec. 21 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. -- Coppinger

Estrada was crowned undisputed minimumweight/strawweight champion in March by beating her biggest rival, Costa Rica's Yokasta Valle, to cement her place among the best in women's boxing.

The lighter weight classes get less attention in boxing, but Estrada deserves recognition for becoming the first undisputed champion in the lightest weight class in the history of women's boxing.

Estrada (26-0, 9 KOs), 32, from Los Angeles, prevailed in a thrilling fight with Valle as her hand speed and counterpunching proved crucial in edging some of the rounds in a close fight. Estrada switched stances to contain Valle, and a rematch would be popular due to their rivalry. Sandy Ryan and Gabriela Fundora also had great wins in 2024. -- Parkinson

This was heavyweight championship boxing at the highest level, two pound-for-pound fighters competing for the greatest prize in sports.

Usyk-Fury featured almost everything you want from a matchup that wins fight-of-the-year honors. There were multiple momentum shifts, with Fury ahead on the scorecards heading into the second half of the fight.

There was high drama after Usyk landed 14 unanswered punches that almost forced referee Mark Nelson to stop the bout, but ultimately resulted in a ninth-round knockdown after the ropes held up Fury. And the contest was close, with Usyk edging out Fury on the cards via split decision.

Fury's KO win over Deontay Wilder was named ESPN's 2021 Fight of the Year. Now, Fury has a great chance to win the honor a second time in his Hall of Fame career. -- Coppinger

Jonas sealed a career-best win with a split decision over Mayer to defend her welterweight title in January. Jonas held off a strong finish from her American challenger, who felt she should have been declared the winner.

But Jonas had a stronger start in a fight with ferocious exchanges. Jonas (15-2-1, 9 KOs), 40, who turned professional in 2017 after competing as an amateur at the 2012 Olympics and giving birth to a daughter in 2015, had a great fifth round, but Mayer had the better of the later rounds and landed more power punches.

Mayer (19-2, 5 KOs), a 34-year-old Olympian, stepped up in weight to take on Jonas, and never looked out of place at welterweight.

As entertaining as the fight was, a rematch seems unlikely as Jonas intends to retire this year. Mayer has yet to announce her next opponent. -- Parkinson

While the above two selections were no-brainers, this was a close call, especially when considering Joshua's brutal second-round KO of Francis Ngannou in March.

However, Davis was facing a genuine lightweight contender -- not an MMA fighter in his second boxing match -- and erased Martin with a picture-perfect sequence that put him down for the count.

Davis pinned Martin in the corner, rocked him with a left uppercut that left him frozen, then put away the defenseless fighter with a monster left cross. With the emphatic victory, Davis retained his No. 1 ESPN ranking at lightweight as he closes in on a November unification fight with Vasiliy Lomachenko. -- Coppinger

Paro was as much as a +640 underdog against Matias, per ESPN BET, but when you consider how the Puerto Rican was steamrolling opponents and his growing reputation as boxing's boogeyman, it's an even bigger upset than the odds indicated.

Australia's Paro outboxed Matias and never took a step back, landing combinations that stymied the junior welterweight champion's usual swarming pressure. Paro did it in Puerto Rico, too, making the win even more impressive as he spoiled Matias' homecoming.

It was a second consecutive impressive performance for Paro, who scored a sixth-round KO of Montana Love in December. The undefeated 28-year-old southpaw could head to a rematch with Matias later this year, this time in Australia. -- Coppinger
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No, a smartphone won’t turn your child into a zombie

If you weren’t astutely aware already: Kids live in the same tech-dominated, phone-addled world that the rest of us do. Babies as young as 6 months old spend over an hour a day in front of screens. The average tween gets their first phone before they turn 12.…

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If you weren’t astutely aware already: Kids live in the same tech-dominated, phone-addled world that the rest of us do. Babies as young as 6 months old spend over an hour a day in front of screens. The average tween gets their first phone before they turn 12. Recently, the US Surgeon General went so far as to call for warning labels on social media platforms to inform parents about the apps’ mental health impacts on young people. Deciding how to introduce children to tech and the kinds of boundaries to draw around their use is no longer a matter of if but when. The available research on smartphones’ effects on children is somewhat mixed, which can make it confusing for parents trying to make decisions when it comes to their kids’ tech exposure. Studies show when 1-year-olds spend more than four hours a day looking at screens, they have developmental delays and issues with communication, fine motor skills, and problem-solving at ages 2 and 4 (although only 4 percent of the study’s participants were exposed to more than four hours of screen time a day). As little as one hour on mobile devices has been linked to behavioral issues and inability to pay attention, according to a study among Japanese first graders. Constant use of devices prevents children from getting bored and letting their young minds wander. Frequent internet use can impede a child’s ability to create interpersonal relationships. In his new book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that a “phone-based childhood” is to blame for negative mental health outcomes in kids. These findings about negative impacts may be alarming, but they don’t present the entire picture. A May 2023 advisory from the American Psychological Association, reviewing the available evidence to date, found that “using social media is not inherently beneficial or harmful to young people.” In fact, there may be a silver lining: Rather than completely sequester and alienate young users, technology use can actually help adolescents form social connections and explore their identities. Still, experts say children should have limits and rules when it comes to their tech use. There are no clear, one-size-fits-all answers about when kids should be given their first phones or the amount of monitoring they need as they grow older. Parents will need to make decisions based on their values, judgment, and priorities. Ask yourself — and your kids — why they need a phone When it comes time to decide whether to give your child their own phone, it’s important to interrogate the reason why. If that reason is to assuage your own anxiety, it’s worth reconsidering, says Emily Cherkin, founder of the Screentime Consultant and author of The Screentime Solution: A Judgment-Free Guide to Becoming a Tech-Intentional Family. Many parents mean well; they want to know where their children are or be able to get in touch in case of an emergency. But they are far more likely to encounter other dangers on smartphones. “The work that parents have to do is to dial down our anxiety about what I call the scary, but not the dangerous,” Cherkin says. “What’s scary is kidnapping, but it’s not dangerous. It’s so, so, so unlikely. Dangerous is youth mental health and bullying.” If your “why” is truly communication-related, Cherkin suggests giving your kid a flip phone. When kids are old enough to start clamoring for their own device, it’s worth hearing them out, says Linda Charmaraman, a senior research scientist and founder and director of the Youth, Media, and Wellbeing Research Lab at Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. They could have any range of answers that touch on peer pressure, a desire to connect with friends, or an interest in learning more about their interests. But you also have to weigh those considerations against how tech fits in with your family’s values, Cherkin says. Pick two or three of your most important values — respectfulness, responsibility, or honesty, for example — and create a screen time boundary that corresponds. “If you value togetherness and communication, and everyone has a phone in their hand at the dinner table, that’s not in alignment with your value,” Cherkin says. Cherkin has found families who have strong communication, trust, and familial relationships are more likely to find a screen time balance that works for them, rather than those who impose hard and fast time limits. At the same time, it’s reasonable to set rules based on values, such as no phones at dinner time (so everyone can catch up) and at bedtime (because you want your kids to get a good night’s sleep). Crucially, parents must also follow these rules, too. “Children hate hypocrisy,” Cherkin says. “They can smell that out. Then it’s a lot harder to get their buy-in because it’s like, ‘Well, you’ve told me not to do this.’” If you can’t commit to completely separating from your phone at night, for instance, make sure to put it on a table on the other side of the room or just outside your bedroom door. Make a smartphone contract While some parenting movements — like Wait Until 8th — suggest waiting until the end of eighth grade to give a child a smartphone, experts suggest using your best judgment based on your child’s personality and those aforementioned family values. Experts say that children under 13 should not have access to social media. In a study of youth social media use, Charmaraman found teens aged 13 and up were more responsible, less secretive, and engaged in less cyberbullying than users under 10 years old. Sheryl Ziegler, a licensed clinical child psychologist, also suggests adjusting any privacy or security settings before you hand over a smartphone. Go to the parental controls setting on the device (Apple has many built-in features on its products) and any apps. (For example, Snapchat’s Family Center allows parents to see who their kids are chatting with.) Turn off all notifications to avoid distraction during homework or a movie. Download only the apps you permit them to use. If they want to download any additional apps, they need to ask permission first, Ziegler says. It’s also essential to establish clear-cut rules before your child gets their own device. Ziegler suggests modifying the template created by Common Sense Media — a nonprofit focused on media and technology safety for children — to your family’s needs. You and your child should be in agreement on privacy and safety, the amount of time they’re allowed to spend on the device (including during the summer), and pledge to consistently communicate about what they’re doing on the device. These rules can be applied even when kids start using family devices, Ziegler says. There is no hard and fast rule for how much time kids should spend on their devices. If they have school-issued laptops and they prefer to study on their iPads, that means they spend most of their waking hours looking at a screen. Take stock of how long kids are spending in front of a device versus other activities, like hanging out with friends, homework, or extracurriculars. “The younger the child,” Cherkin says, “the lower we want that number” on screens. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under 2 years old have no screen time (other than video chatting with a relative) and children between the ages of 2 and 5 be limited to one hour of quality children’s programming. Ziegler recommends children ages 6 to 12 get no more than two hours a day of screen time. Parents will need to monitor the quality of that time, too: Watching a movie with the family is different from scrolling TikTok for two hours straight. Keep certain rooms and times of day phone-free. Experts agree children should not have phones in their bedrooms overnight. Devorah Heitner, author of Growing Up in Public: Coming of Age in the Digital World, suggests keeping phones away before they go to school and during homework time, too. You might also suggest they go phone-free while hanging out with friends and family. Be transparent with your kids about why you’re making the contract, Ziegler says. “I like to tell kids the reason why I’m going to be doing that is it’s going to be really hard for you to [turn the device off] because it’s so fun and these things were created to keep you on here as long as possible,” she says. There should be an understanding that you don’t expect your kids to be perfect and that they will mess up. Remind them that you don’t want to bust them for doing something wrong, but you’ll be there to help them navigate sticky situations. This way they’ll feel comfortable coming to you if they said something rude in a text that got back to another student, for instance. When they inevitably sneak out of their room in the middle of the night and grab their phone, don’t let anger take over. Ziegler suggests saying, “I get it, you really wanted to get back on the group chat. This is a sign to me, and to you, that we need to take a break. We’re going to give it a rest all day tomorrow.” Keep having conversations about safety, privacy, and online behavior Whether or not your child has their own phone, it’s important to get deeply familiar with how they’re browsing the internet and engaging with social media, Heitner says. Ask your kids what games and programs they use at school and on shared devices at home. This can range from Roblox to Google Docs. Take time to watch videos from your child’s favorite influencer, Heitner suggests, to determine whether their content is trustworthy and appropriate. Ask your child to explain how, say, Discord works or to show you a funny video on TikTok so you can see how your kids are spending their time on various platforms. “These are ways into having conversations with kids about what they’re seeing,” Heitner says. You might observe how negative the comments section is on a particular YouTube video. You could ask your kid, “How does it make you feel to see that? What would you do if somebody made a comment like that to you?” Another way to have conversations around the dangers of certain apps includes reading the terms and conditions, Cherkin says. As tedious as it may seem, reading through them with your kids can illustrate how the platform handles their data. You could say, “It says here in the Snapchat agreement that they actually don’t guarantee that your snap is deleted if you say you’ve deleted it. They’re essentially tricking you.” “I would say as young as 4, you could talk about the trickiness of tech,” Cherkin says. Discussions around online privacy and safety should be ongoing. You can start at the most straightforward tips — don’t share passwords or personal information online, for example — and progress to more difficult topics. Ask your children how they communicate with friends online. “If I call [someone] a loser with 60 exclamation points [online], I just called my friend a loser with 60 exclamation points,” Heitner says. “That's going to have an impact on our relationship even though they’re not in the room with me ... It's really important to lean into teaching kids that we're all human beings behind these screens, and we want to act like nice people, and if someone isn't being nice, we have the freedom to leave and to not pursue further interactions.” If your adolescents are going to be on apps like Instagram and TikTok, make sure they know not to post images of other people without their consent, Charmaraman says. Teach your kids strategies if they start to feel distress online. Can they change the subject in the group chat if things get really negative? If things get too upsetting, could they leave it entirely? Encourage your kids to reach out to you if any of their peers or people they chat with online mention bullying or self-harm, Heitner says. Help them anticipate inevitable feelings of exclusion or social comparison, Heitner continues. Explain that they will see friends hanging out without them and what they can do to feel better: Get off their phone, watch Netflix, walk the dog, ask their neighbor to hang out. Research shows the closer a parent is with their child, the less likely they’ll have problematic internet use. Rather than interrogating kids about what they’re doing on their phones, you might ask, “Is there anything interesting or surprising that’s come up on your phone lately?” or “I heard from so-and-so’s parents about this wild video going around. What’s your take on that?” How to think about parental monitoring apps Experts are split over whether to use parental monitoring apps, like Bark, which send parents notifications if their children’s texts, emails, or apps showcase sexual content or signs of bullying, violence, or suicidal ideation. Ziegler personally uses Bark with her teens — and the filter is, in her experience, quite comprehensive. For instance, she once received a notification that her son was looking at drug-related content on his phone only because she sent him a text reminding him to take his medication. Given the breadth of sexual, violent, or addictive content available online, Ziegler likes how Bark offers notifications in real time that she can choose to open or ignore. “The chances of you being like, ‘Every Friday night I’m gonna go check my kid’s phone’ is probably pretty small,” she says. “Physically taking their phone to look at, it feels very invasive to them.” Always be honest with your child about the level to which their activity will be monitored. Cherkin believes that engaging in absolutism or fear-based parenting will only drive kids to seek that same content behind your back. Similarly, Charmaraman suggests parents speak to their children about their phone use directly rather than monitor their activity. Adolescents will inherently find themselves in awkward positions online, Charmaraman says, because that’s the nature of adolescence. “People are just trying to figure out who they are and sometimes they say or do socially awkward things,” she says, “That’s really what you’re going to be seeing when you’re monitoring.” Know when smartphone use is becoming too much Notice how your child reacts when they’ve reached their screen time max for the day. Do they beg you for more time? Are they irritable? Are they unsure of what to do next? These are all signs they’re probably spending too much time on their phones, Ziegler says. Taking the phone away outright may not be the best course of action; your child might be afraid to open up to you because they’re scared they’ll get their phone taken away, Charmaraman says. Help them realize the root of their problems may be related to their phone or social media use. Try saying “I noticed you’re really stressed out and annoyed. I’m making a connection that it might be related to the phone, but I want to hear what your explanation for it is. Is there something else going on?” You might suggest your kid delete an overused app or block a classmate on social media. “Rather than taking away the phone completely,” Charmaraman says, “you can just say, ‘Maybe we can take a break on this one app.’” Maybe your child stays up all night watching YouTube videos on their phone. Instead of removing it from their room the next day, ease them into the transition, Charmaraman suggests: The phone stays on a nightstand one night, then the next night it’s across the room, until finally they feel comfortable with it charging overnight in another room. Model healthy phone boundaries for your kids If you want your children to live balanced lives online and off, you need to set a good example. If you’re checking emails at dinner or scrolling Instagram while waiting in line at the grocery store, they’ll learn that phone use is acceptable anywhere — and that it’s a salve for boredom. Limit your own screen use as much as possible. Should you need to take a work call during screen-free time, explain to your family that you don’t want to be distracted while hanging out with them, but you need to make one quick call and then they have your undivided attention, Cherkin says. Be open with your feelings around phone use, too. Maybe you feel dread about the upcoming election after scrolling on X. Or you find it hard to pull yourself out of a TikTok binge. Call out any unpleasant feelings “so that when our kids have struggles, we can say, ‘That persuasive design is getting you, too. It’s hard for me as a parent to put this down. I can understand why this is so frustrating,’” Cherkin says. Ultimately, parents don’t need to go into panic mode the moment their child picks up a device. So long as you set up a system of transparency and communication, kids will know to turn to you if they’re having any problems online.
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