A wife, mother, teacher, and writer who believes in the power of positive thinking.
Is Taking Away a Phone a Good Punishment?
"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 15-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 outweighed the negative, so let me start with the positives first.
Taking a Teenager's Phone as Punishment: Pros and Cons
Pros of No Phone
Cons of No Phone
teens will get to practice communication skills
it will be harder to contact your teen if you take their phone
teens will have to learn to organize, adapt, and be more flexible without a phone
other benefits of phones (tools, alarms, GPS, etc.) will be lost
they'll have to actually talk to people (instead of texting)
teens may simply turn to other electronic devices to communicate with friends
they'll have more time for other things (hobbies, homework, sleep, etc.)
can't use phone to look up important information
they'll get more sleep at night
The Pros of Taking a Teen's Phone
They'll have to find more direct ways to communicate. I like 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 phone, 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 12 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.
They'll have to learn to learn, adapt, and be more flexible. 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 30 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.
They'll have to actually SPEAK with 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. 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.
They'll get more sleep at night. 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 access to each other, 24/7. But is there really any need for a kid to be communicating with friends at 2 a.m.?
They'll have more time for other responsibilities. 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.
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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.
The Cons of Confiscating a Teen's Phone
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 10 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 15-year-old was with his friends 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 had his phone!
I did know a few of his friends' 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." For safety reasons, I didn't like not having access to my son or his not having a phone. As for arranging pick-up and drop-off times for rides, it really did make things more complicated for us.
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 18-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 and Internet access and calculators and flashlights, too. There is an app for everything it seems.
Some of it, maybe most of it, a 15-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 my husband and I use! Thus, unless we wanted to wake our son up (which would defeat the lesson of responsibility we were trying to instill) 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 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 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.
Is Confiscating a Cell Phone a Good Punishment?
So, what did our son learn, and what did we learn, from taking away his cell phone?
First, consider the lesson you are trying to teach. My advice would be to ask yourself what it is that you want your child to learn. . . and is taking away the phone going to instill that lesson? Our son had been staying up and sleeping in too late, and letting responsibilities slide. Did taking away his phone make a difference in that? Probably, at night when he was home. But 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 problem be resolved without taking away the phone? I wanted my son to get up earlier, clean his room, and 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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Melanie on July 06, 2020:
To all the parents who think this is a good form of punishment know it creates trust issues and we will always find a way to get it back. I know you think its a good idea but we will just grow to resent you because you took away our escape from reality and the only form of contact we have with our friends.
hi please read this its very important on April 17, 2020:
im a kid and heres my point of view. i got here to this page by trying to put myself in my parents shoes and try to figure out why they take my phone. heres why i think you should put yourself in your childs shoes and why you shouldnt take away their phones. your teens go through a lot every day living in this day and age as a teen is hard, we have high expectations are parents are always on us and school is harder than ever and our parents are constantly trying to track what we do. imagine you being their age and being guarded down like that. it sounds like hell right.Our phones is our way to escape, and we basically put our lives on to that phone. We live in a technology era and we will just keep getting more and more advanced and theres nothing anyone can do to stop that. If we're constantly texting someone with a frantic look on our face dont take our phone, ask us whats wrong but dont force yourself into our space it actually can emotionally damage us. whenever you do take our phones we will always easily find a way around it. if you think we're being sus ask us a question and if we answer sus then you can ask to take our phone. constantly taking your teens phone will ruin the trust between you two and ruin communication and it will get your kid to hate you if its persistent. please dont punish your kid by taking away their phone. please take what i say into consideration :) your a good parent i believe in you!
Destiny Swisher on February 01, 2020:
Funny because I walk to school and my mom said go and get kidnapped
Sarah on October 31, 2019:
This really is frustrating! I put my foot down and take away my daughters phone but she can still use her computer! I can't take that because she does school online now! So, as a parent your trying to carry out a punishment but they always work around it! And in our technologically run world, the only thing that seems to be a punishment is to take away their cell phone, but honestly it feels like I'm being punished too! Lol!! I really like being able to just look at Snapchat and know where they are, or send a quick text to check in with them, and when that option isn't there it feels like a little life line is gone. The only thing that really seems to impact my daughter, and actually make her ears perk up and know I mean business is the dreaded statement "Give me your phone!" Now she's 17 and the phone she has now is the first she's ever bought herself and I pay the phone bill, so when I told her to give me her phone, she said "NO!" " It's my phone, I paid for it !" Well, let's just say that did NOT go over good!! I was absolutely flummoxed!
After quit a lengthy discussion/arguement, I did stick to my guns and took her phone, even after my husband (I coulda just spit nails) said, quit arguing just let her keep it. Obviously, I'm the disciplinarian and he's the push over! Which most days I feel like a single parent because he just likes to be the fun, easy going dad and it's very hard to provide a united front and then he's shocked when he's lied to or manipulated! I'm like "Honey, this is why I told you from the minute the pregnancy test turned positive that we need to have each others backs!" He's a great dad, but absolutely hates confrontation and would always rather let everything slide and my daughters use that to their advantage at every turn, especially my 17 yr old!
Scr on January 18, 2019:
...is it okay that my mom still makes me put my phone in her room now after something that happened (me asking an important question to someone at 1am and i couldn't sleep) 5 months ago? She also looks through my phone excessively and won't allow me to go actually hang out with my friends.
rh on January 03, 2019:
I think now days kids need phones for more than texting what if they are being followed, have a low bg or are lost
florida born on October 31, 2018:
sdsajdk on May 13, 2018:
this is so stupid
ggala on August 09, 2016:
my daughter failed on a test for reading and i am reading and reading but i am wondering how long should i take it away ?
sreedevi on February 13, 2015:
I too worried abt my son he was 16 yr..of..age.. he left his studies closed his bedroom doors.n gaming 24 he eats in I n tym lunch, dinner hw to get back hi from cel phone addiction....f...h ,d..i...h.n .c...h
g-girl11 (author) on October 13, 2014:
Hi Susan. I agree that to be good parents, we can't be friends, and many times, we have to be tough.
g-girl11 (author) on October 13, 2014:
Hi Ralph. Yes, these are the challenges of parenting in the "technological age". The key is to come up with a consequence for your teen, that is not a punishment for YOU. Hope it all worked out well for you, and thanks for reading!
ralph on September 01, 2014:
Love your blog! I just took my sons phone away and his computer LOL!
I wanted to see how other parents do this.....My son is a young 17 and I'm his dad. The things you write about are exactly what happened ....How am I going to do my homework? Alarm? What if you call? Man did I feel awkward But inside I had to laugh and I couldn't let on that I was without answers. I sometimes think back when my parents laid dwn the law - they also must have had times like this. I am so happy I'm not alone in dealing with teen stuff. Teen life is not how I remember it to be.
mrs susan stanton on May 28, 2014:
I have just taken away my daughters I phone. She is 16yrs old and had been with a vioent x previously. They split and she had a lovely new boyfriend. However due to pressures from her x with the new bf they split. She got bk with her x who currently has a restraing order. Police have been called again today as the conditions have been broken. My daughter unfortunately got mixed up with a violent pot head whos a total control freak. His mum is at her witts end too.
My daughter had been lying to me. Saying she had been staying at mates etc.
She came in with dilated pupils her eyes half closed. She is an a star pupil with good grades. He is the total opposite.
I had enough. I pay the bill so she has no phone no internet access ive coverd all exits.
So the lady who comments she allowed her son the phone for the alarm is totally rubbish.
Take it away... teach them a lesson. Whos the parent and who's the child.?
No when I say something I stick to it. If they haven't got an alarm clock without there phone. Buy them a clock. Omg how hard is it....
There are so many asbos on kids because parents are too soft.
Be a parent and a friend not just a mate!!
My daughter will get her phone wen I decide not wen she wants it.
Toughen up parents..
g-girl11 (author) on February 15, 2014:
Hi tango_delta66. Thanks for reading! I found that it was more of a punishment for ME when I took my son's phone away.. For safety and convenience, it was better for me to let him have it back. Maybe a compromise where she can have it back, but only for when she is away from you (for safety, calling for rides, etc). When at home, she has to give it back to you, and no phone at night. Some sort of consequence, at least for awhile. Good luck!
tango_delta66 on February 15, 2014:
I took my daughters phone away, but she needs it to stay in contact, I took it away because she brought it to school as she says "accidentally'' and she lied to avoid me yelling at her, should I give it back? All she didn't want is to get yelled at, so should i give it back?
g-girl11 (author) on July 30, 2012:
Thanks tamron! Definitely a catch 22, as we learned first hand!
tamron on July 30, 2012:
You brought up some good points! I can see how taking your kids cell-phone away can be a catch 22.
This is good advice for parents! Vote and Share
g-girl11 (author) on July 30, 2012:
mismazda, EXACTLY! Kids are pretty crafty, as I found out. No cell phone? There is always the computer. And when you take them both away, you realize as a parent that you are used to your kids having them! Thanks for the comments and votes!
g-girl11 (author) on July 30, 2012:
Traci 21, that is a great idea! It's the text-messaging that's the real bugger-- as I said, kids don't TALK on their phones anyway. I guess part of what I was trying to get across is we need to tailor the discipline sometimes. The knee-jerk or blanket reaction isn't always the best answer. Live and learn, I guess! Thanks for reading and commenting.
mismazda from a southern georgia peach on July 30, 2012:
I agree with this article a whole lot. Great pros and cons, but kids have so many ways of getting around this cell phone thing, but these are great points to think about if one is going through this with their kid or kids. Voted up and useful....:)
Traci from North Carolina on July 30, 2012:
I like your Hub. And I wanted to ask what if you took text messaging away as a punishment? I am unsure how the whole phone bill works so just wanted to throw that out there. Or only give him a phone when he leaves?
I had a phone but it was very basic. It was a cute little hone no camera no text message. That was 7 years ago. =)