Cell phones allow opportunities for teens to have private conversations with anyone at any time, without accountability or adult oversight. Because of this, conversations and text messaging can easily become inappropriate. In addition to conversation concerns, most cellphones are equipped with features, such as a camera, where teens can store digital pictures. Inappropriate pictures of classmates, captured in a school locker room and sent to other friends, is not an innocent prank. They may be considered pornographic. Most teens do not realize that sending and receiving pornographic pictures is a crime. Depending on the age of the subject and the offender, charges related to cellphone photos can range from misdemeanors to felonies. This happens way to often. Sadly, the teen and the parents do not realize this until it is too late. How a teen’s phone is registered, is important. If it’s in the parent’s name and it contains sexually explicit photos, the parent has to answer to the law as an adult, possibly with child pornography on his phone.
One of the dangers of cellphones is the lack of accountability. Consider having a rule that all cellphones need to be turned off (or “parked”) and turned in to a parent at the end of the day and that no cellphone may be used while driving. Also, establish the understanding that cellphone bills are not private property. As a parent, you have the right (and responsibility) to know with whom your teen is interacting. Emphasize accountability — not control.
Perhaps you have a knot in your stomach because your teen has had a cellphone without restrictions. Don’t panic! You are not alone! Evaluate your teen’s age, maturity level and the amount of responsibility he has displayed with the cellphone. Based on these variables, you may choose not to change anything. But if you believe boundaries are necessary, don’t be afraid to enforce them. You are the parent and are responsible for your child’s safety.
You are not simply setting boundaries for cellphones; you are teaching lifelong principles of consideration for others and of consequences, self-control, financial stewardship and accountability.
There is not a manual for parenting, and parents of teens well know that life can be unpredictable, chaotic, and confusing. Throw technology into the mix and most parents may feel even more overwhelmed. Teens in the digital age love connecting with peers via social networks and messaging apps, but parents are often concerned about cyberbullying and inappropriate content. I witness this every day when seeing teenagers. Though parents and teens may feel like they are on opposite sides when it comes to using technology like smartphones and tablets, there are ways for both parties to get what they want.
1. Decide on Time Limits Together
When your teen is first starting to use their smartphone or tablet, it is easy for them to lose hours playing games, chatting with friends and tinkering with their devices. However, parents may worry that their teens are getting too much screen time and, in the process, neglecting homework and chores. Before you give your teen their own device, try to set time limits that make sense for your child and that are easily enforceable. Okay, most parents do not have this discussion until there is an issue with sleep, grades, attitude, an issue with a friend group, or bullying. You will hear, “I need my phone for an alarm”. As well as, “I listen to music to go to sleep”. All teens “need my phone for school work” as well as “It is the only thing that relaxes me”. No, their phones are their lifeline and they must learn to disengage in order to learn how survive in the world. When kids are babies, we are told they need to learn how to self-soothe. This does not change in adolescents. Kids need to learn how to entertain themselves, problem solve, actually think for themselves, and learn who they are. Phones will tell them who they are…it can be poison to our kids. Guess what parents? There is such a thing as an alarm clock and an old-fashioned radio, books, and other devices without the internet.
2. Don’t Install Parental Control Apps Without Your Teen Knowing
There are tons of parental control apps out there that can monitor app usage, device location and sent/received text. Though some parents may want to install one of these apps to keep an eye on their teen’s behavior, it is vital that you do so with your teen’s knowledge. Not only will this show that you value their privacy, but it will also give your teen the chance to show that they can be trusted with their devices. Best Parental Control Apps
3. Agree on Punishments Before Bad Behavior
Teaching your child that having a device comes with certain responsibilities can be tough, especially when bad behavior occurs. Generally, as parents, we don’t think about this until we are forced to. Most every kid will test limits on phones. It is not defiance but they do not realize the true consequences of phones. They don’t attribute moodiness or their mindset to their phone. This is when the parent needs to take charge and instill boundaries. Most teens see a phone as an extension of themselves. However, when a grade slips or chores go undone, it is important not to automatically jump to taking a device away without discussing it first. Discuss why the phone will now have limits. It is not a punishment. It is a consequence of their behavior. “Obviously, you are not able to limit your phone usage and it is causing you to be tired, not get up in the mornings, etc.” Most parents do not state rules before devices. If you have younger kids, when you give your teen their smartphone or tablet, let them know what is expected of them so the device ownership can be seen as a privilege. This can be for kids as early as first grade. For instance, telling your teen that dipping below a B average in school will result in the loss of the device will help keep your child motivated so they can continue “earning” the use of their device, rather than worrying about what behaviors may or may not get it taken away. If you state it, do it and do not falter. Set a time frame they will not be using the phone and do not allow them to tell you when they will get the phone back!
4. Discuss All App Downloads Before They Happen
Another contentious area for parents and teens is app use and downloads. If there are any apps you flat out object to your teen using, like Snapchat or Tinder, make sure your child knows beforehand. Have a conversation with teens about app purchases, in-app purchases and other money-related issues that may come up. Parents can elect to disable paid apps on their teen’s device or set a reasonable monthly budget for any app expenditures. CHECK your teens phone for apps periodically. Yes, kids lie, sneak, and break rules. Know your child probably will also.
5. Talk Frankly About Device Costs
In the same vein as app purchases, parents and teens should also discuss the actual costs of owning a device. Whether the device is new or used, smartphones and tablets are a luxury, and it is vital that teens understand that a lost or broken device may not be replaced immediately.
Though it can be tough for parents to find ways to work with teens in the digital age, not everything tech-related needs to be a battle. Setting clear boundaries early, making sure expectations are known ahead of time and having honest conversations with your teen will set the stage for responsible device ownership. Most kids have no clue what the phone cost no do they care unless they are made to care. Example, they contribute to the phone cost.
6. Guess what? Kids are smarter than we are when it comes to phones.
Well, they are more manipulative, play dumb better, and have the time to find ways to use phones when taken away. Here are some of they ways they will get around a phone being taken away and use a phone: They put their SIM card in another phone. They use a free texting app on a iPod touch, iPad, or Android. They communicate through instant messages via the web.
7. Alternatives to taking phones away.
Teen brains are still developing, and sometimes the risks they take can seem like poor decisions. Even if you’ve told them the rules and they’ve agreed to the rules, they may still break the rules. You can help them stick to the boundaries you’ve set using parental control settings and applications. This way, they’re less likely to break the rules in the first place, which allows them to continue to use the device to keep up with their social life.
Some of these rules can include setting a bedtime where the Wi-Fi and data is not available on the device after certain hours, and setting other types of time limits.
Instead of taking a phone from teenagers:
- Disable the Wi-Fi in your home during the time when everyone is asleep. Some Wi-Fi routers allow you to do this automatically, and some may require a little more effort, such as unplugging the power cord.
- You can also disable data during bedtime hours through Verizon Smart Family, so they don’t just hop on their cell service when the Wi-Fi is down.
- Consider blocking their entire device during certain times of the day, such as bedtime, through the built-in controls on iOS and Android. iOS uses Screen Time and Android uses Google Family Link.
8. Make the digital consequence fit the digital deed:
If your teen was out past curfew, then the punishment can be that they’re not allowed to hang out with their friends the next weekend. If their chores aren’t getting done, the punishment can be that they have extra chores to do.
Where it gets tricky is when the crime is something they did on their devices. However, the punishment can still fit the crime without taking away the entire device.
If your child is spending too much time on YouTube or Instagram and not getting their homework done on time, you can remove access to those apps temporarily. This still allows them to be involved with their friends but takes away the part of the device that is distracting them from their schoolwork.
Instead of taking a phone from teenagers:
- Disable access to specific apps through Verizon Smart Family. You can find this feature in the Content Filter section.
- You can also disable the apps through the built-in parental controls mentioned previously, such as Screen Time for iOS and Google Family Link for Android.
9. Social interactions are vital to teenagers:
These social interactions are extremely important to teens. It’s not just about keeping in touch with their friends. It’s about proving to others how strong their relationships are through things like Snapchat streaks and other measurable data from social apps. Cutting off this access can have social repercussions your teen will be devastated about.
For example, if you remove access to Snapchat, your child could be so desperate to keep their streak alive that they’ll give their password to a friend to keep it going for them. Show them that you understand how important it is, and try to work something out. You do not want them getting in the habit of giving other people their password.
Instead of taking a phone from teenagers:
- Set shorter time limits on their apps through the built-in controls. If they typically get one hour a day on specific apps like Instagram or Snapchat, you could reduce it to 10–15 minutes. This gives them just enough time to do the “necessities” like keeping their Snapchat streaks alive.
- Or, allow them to log in to their Snapchat on your phone once a day to keep their streaks alive.
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.