The Pros and Cons of Taking Away Your Kid's Cell Phone
What You Should Consider Before Taking Away Your Kid's Cell Phone
"Your cell phone is gone for two weeks. We pay for it, and we're taking it away."
The above words were mine, recently spoken to my fifteen year-old son. We needed to discipline him, and among other punishments, we decided to take his phone away. Although there were definitely positives to this discipline technique, there were also times when my husband and I felt like we were the ones being punished! Turns out, we had come to rely on our son's cell phone almost as much as he did!
If you are thinking about taking away your kid's phone, there are some things to consider. I do think the positives outweighted the negative, so let me start with the positives first.
I liked actually speaking with my son's friends on the phone. If being a social butterfly were an Olympic sport, our son would be a gold medalist! He is constantly with friends, staying at friends' houses, going to movies, going swimming, camping out, playing basketball at local courts---you name it, our son is on the move doing it. Some of his friends drive now, so he is very mobile. Without his phone, it forced his friends to do things the old fashioned way if they wanted to contact him---they had to call our house, speak to me, and ask to speak to our son. I REALLY liked this! I got to hear their voices, hear them say "hello", call me "Mrs.", and ask politely if they could speak to their friend, my son. It was an extra connection that I realized had been missing. ( Actually, it was a connection that had never been there since our son has had a cell phone since he was twelve years old, being the last of his group to get one, by the way.) Although my son's friends are always at our house, or in our car, it was nice to feel in the loop of my son's life in this way, too.
My son had to put some effort into contacting his friends. Turns out, without his cell phone, my son didn't know any of his friends' numbers. A casualty of the modern age, no one memorizes phone numbers anymore. This meant if my son wanted to get in touch with a friend, he had to look up their home number in the phone book, and his friends had to call me, or his dad, back in order to get in touch with him. I still remember my friends' home numbers from thirty years ago, and even now I have my family's and close friends' cell numbers memorized. Kids just don't do that anymore. It was a lesson to my son to be a little more adaptable in the modern world.
It forced my son to actually SPEAK on the phone with his friends. I joke that the only people my son ever actually speaks to on his cell phone are his mom and dad, but it's really pretty true. Kids don't speak on their phones, they type. I think cell phones should instead be called "text machines." Without his cell phone, my son had no choice but to pick up our landline and SPEAK into it with his friends. Speaking on a phone seems to be a dying skill. I admit there are times I would rather text someone than actually speak with them. Speaking with someone is so much more personal than texting, and at times really is necessary, or the right thing to do. I'm glad my son had to experience it a little bit.
It got my son to bed earlier and made him focus more on other things. Without his phone at night, there could be no chance for an all-night texting marathon. As parents we were probably too lax in this area. We didn't know how much or how long our son was texting at night. When my husband and I grew up, we each had one phone, and it was attached to our kitchen wall. We couldn't exactly talk through the night to a friend. Cell phones give kids total twenty-four access to each other. But is there really any need for a kid to be communicating with friends at two am? If my son was "bored" or lost without his phone, during the day or night, I could then suggest so many other activities to him, like cleaning his room! (Miraculously, this did occur!) I also noticed that he was out of his room and into the tv room with us more. It was nice to have him around. He made more conversation with us and seemed more aware of his surroundings--a big difference from his incessant texting.
Those were all the positives of my son's time without a cell phone. But I will admit, there were some cons to the deal, too. So here are some things you should also consider if you are thinking of taking your kid's cell phone away.
Contact with your kid will be lost. Today's parents have grown accustomed to instant contact with their kids through cell phones, and kids are getting cell phones now at age ten or even younger. I remember going outside to play as a kid and being gone all day with no contact at all with my parents until dinner. But it's a different world now. When both of my kids started to venture about town with friends and without parents (at about age 12) it was comforting to me to know I could call them, or they could call me, at any time. Many times when my fifteen -year- old was with his friends and without his cell phone, I realized I wanted to check in on him, but couldn't. Or I would tell him to call me at a certain time to check in, only to realize I would have his phone! I did know a few of his friend's cell numbers, and they always had phones with them, but the communication couldn't be counted on. Sometimes they wouldn't answer their phones, or their phones would be "dead". I didn't like not having access to my son, or his not having a phone, for safety reasons. Plus, as for arranging pick up and drop-off times for rides, it really did make things more complicated for us as parents.
Kids need their phones for other things, too. During this cell phone takeover, my son started his first job. The night before his first day, I reminded him to get to bed early and set his alarm. "I don't have an alarm," he said, "it's on my phone." Cell phones are now more like lifelines. My eighteen-year-old son takes notes and writes to-do lists on his, and sets himself reminder tones. He checks his e-mail for updates from his college and his work. His friends write entire college essays on their phones. Phones are radios and gps's and Internet access and calculators and flashlights, too. There is an app for everything it seems. Some of it, maybe most of it, a fifteen-year-old can live without. But some of it they really do use, like the alarm clock. When our son said he had no alarm clock, we realized we only had one in the entire house, the one we use! Thus, unless we wanted to wake our son up,(which would defeat the lesson of being responsible, we thought) we had to let him use his phone as an alarm.
Kids will find a way around the communication breakdown. First day into the punishment, our son was on the computer, instant-messaging his friends. I realized that entirely defeated the purpose! Kids are totally wired and can communicate through other means besides their phones, like facebook. Thus, if your aim is to stop the texting, you have to eliminate the computer, too, since it's almost the same thing. My son and his friends were also using his older brother as a conduit. The friends would text my older son to get in touch with my younger son, and my younger son would then ask him to get relay messages back to his friends. It wasn't done with a malicious intent to subvert the discipline, it was just the natural way kids operate. But in order to make the punishment painful at at all, we needed to be aware and on top of all of the avenues of communication in order to assert what would or wouldn't be allowed.
So, what did our son learn, and what did we learn, from taking away his cell phone?
First, we needed to consider the lesson we were trying to teach. My advice would be to ask yourself, what is it that you want your child to learn, and is taking away his/her phone going to instill that lesson? Our son had been staying up and sleeping in too late, and letting responsibilities go. Did taking away his phone make a difference in that? Probably, at night when he was home. But times when he wasn't home, I realized I would be more comfortable if he just had his phone, and I don't think those instances would have reinforced our message anyway.
Could the behavior or results change, with or without the phone? I wanted my son to get up earlier, clean his room, take more responsibility. And I wanted to get more of a handle on his social life. I suppose I could have gotten these results even without taking his phone away. Although I did see some positive results from this action, there were probably other ways to get the same result.
The key is to remain aware of your child's life, cell phone activity included. I realized through this punishment that what I really wanted to instill in my son is that I am his parent, I make the rules, I am involved, and I want the best for him because I love him. It's important that we as parents check ourselves and realize when we have "checked out" a little bit. Texting has become such a fabric of our culture that we have accepted it and often fail to limit it with our kids. A teen's world is so separate from us as parents, and communication among teen friends is a mystery to us, especially with cell phones and computers in the game. We should ask ourselves what we are comfortable with and take the time to check on these boundaries. Is your child allowed to have his/her phone at night? Text at any time? Do you ask about the friends they are texting or what they are talking about? Do you check to make sure they really are where they say they are? Is the phone/texting taking too much of your kid's time or cutting into his/her sleep? Are his/her responsibilities falling by the wayside as a result?
We've all heard that kids (without realizing or seeming like it) do want limits, even on cell phones. Parents need to set and enforce limits they are comfortable with, and kids need to know at all times that although the cell phone may have cometh, the cell phone can be taken away.