Many parents of teenagers today can remember when smartphones were a luxury or even an unheard-of device for a teen to own. But today’s teenagers have grown up with them, and their smartphones are almost an extension of themselves. Sending texts to friends is a natural to them as passing notes in class was to their parents. It’s easy for parents to see the smartphone as a convenient way to enforce discipline – if teens are so attached to their phones, taking them away seems like a logical way to punish for an infraction. But is it really a good idea? Take a look at some of the reasons why taking away a teen’s smartphone may not be the best plan.
You’re Cutting off Contact
If you default to removing your teen’s phone when they’re in trouble, they may work harder to hide things from you.
If you have an active and social teenager, the odds are that you rely on their smartphone nearly as much as they do. Your teen’s smartphone allows you to connect with them wherever they happen to be at any point in the day. Do you know the phone numbers of all of your teen’s friends? Probably not if your teen has had a smartphone for a few years, because you don’t need those numbers. You can just contact your teen directly. Taking the phone away removes that link. And if you’re in one of the 52.5% of American households who have no landline and rely entirely on wireless services, you can’t even call your teen at home to check on them from work if you take their phone.
You may also be losing contact in a different way. Teens who suspect that you’ll remove their phone for reasons they feel are unfair may be less inclined to talk to you openly. If your teen reveals that their grades are slipping, for instance, and your first instinct is to take their smartphone away, they’re less likely to come to you with struggles they’re having in school. And that can prevent you from getting them more effective help, like tutoring, before they fall very far behind.
You’re Sending the Wrong Message
It’s important to think about what kind of message you’re sending when you set consequences for your teen’s actions. There are times when it probably does make sense to remove the phone – for example, if your teen misuses their smartphone by bullying a classmate via text message, removing the phone, and with it their ability to continue the behavior – makes sense.
But if your teen broke curfew, removing the phone may not be the way to go. There’s no clear connection between a smartphone and coming home on time in your teen’s mind. Therefore, they don’t necessarily get the message that keeping to their curfew is the right thing to do. You want your teen to come home on time because it may be unsafe for them to be out past a certain hour, or because you want them to grow up to be people who keep their commitments and consider other people’s feelings – such as yours, when you worry because they’re not home on time – not because they want to hold on to their phones. Try to come up with a consequence that fits the infractions, rather than defaulting to the phone.
It’s Not Always Effective
Does taking your teen’s phone really stop them from doing the things they normally do on a smartphone?
Let’s face it, the odds are good that your teen is better with technology than you are. They can be inventive about getting around a phone ban. Teens have been known to remove the SIM card from a phone that’s about to be confiscated so that they can insert it into an older, unused model that’s sitting around the house somewhere (if they don’t have one, chances are that one of their friends will.)
But your teen may not even need to be that crafty. If you take your teen’s phone but leave them access to a computer or tablet, they can IM, post on Instagram, play games, and anything else that they did on their phone. And if your teen is in school, you may not be able to entirely remove their access to all technology – even schools that don’t encourage technology use in class tend to expect teens to have access to a computer for internet research and word processing at a minimum.
Monitoring your teen’s smartphone use may be a better option than removing the phone in many cases. Parental monitoring software can allow you to keep an eye on what your teen is doing and set limits on their phone use without removing the phone. To find out more about how parental monitoring software can work for your family, get our free trial.