Teenagers and their phones are a seeming fixture in our society right now. It is rare that a teen does not have a screen of some kind. My own kids get their phones at 13 years old. The main reason for this is that their 13th birthday corresponds, more-or-less, with entry into middle school. In our area, that means taking the city bus to and from school. My primary reason for gifting the phone is so that I can keep in touch with my kids and they me as they are out and about in the city.
However much I reiterate, though, that the phone is a necessity only for our communication, the phone inevitably brings an attitude of privilege. With the onset of access to texting, games and social media, the teens are quickly drawn into it’s seductive web and they begin to get attitudes about the phone as a right and an indispensable part of their lives. That is, it’s THEIR phone and they NEED it (and not in the connecting-with-me context).
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The positive aspect of this attitude is that the phone becomes a powerful tool in the parental toolbox. Hehehe!
Five areas of a teenager’s life where their phone can help with self/parental discipline.
There are 5 specific areas that I use my teenagers’ phones in discipline and learning behaviors. I suspect that most parents have occasional issues with their kids in at least one of these areas.
- Incentives (or bribes)
In order for you to use the phones to your advantage, you need to have some control over it. You, of course, pay for it, so have the option of taking it away at any point. But that would bring an all – out fight in our home. I have a couple of other methods that give me more leeway in the restrictions I use.
Phone Plans, Apps, and/or Wifi
One method of control is through a phone plan that gives you some parental control over it’s usage. I have Verizon as my family’s phone plan and it has a wonderful parental feature. It does cost a bit extra, but the tools it gives me are SO worth the extra dollars! If your phone plan does not afford you control over your child’s phone, I know there are apps that provide similar functions. The trick with these, as the kids get older, is that anything on their phone is totally hackable. I learned that very quickly.
The other method is the wifi connection in your home. This method, of course, only offers you control in your own home, but that is sufficient for much of what I do.
- With my phone plan, I can restrict hours of access to phone calls and texting.
- I can limit the amount of time they are on the phone and the amount of data that they can use.
- Even though I have unlimited text, calling, and data, I can portion out how much of any of those items the teens get on their lines.
- I can, however, input trusted numbers, so that, even if they are on restriction via times, data, texting or calling, they can still call me or another emergency person.
As a rule, my kids don’t have data at all. I will turn data on for them if they are needing access to online material for school work away from home. The data restriction works as long as there is not any free wifi nearby, but the teens can, of course, access online material if they can tap into a wifi source. Hence, the control of your wifi at home.
Ideas for using the phone access to your advantage
I’m sure you can figure out how to use any of these tools in your own situations. I use variations of taking away times or minutes and/or adding times or minutes. Some of my kids respond better to discipline and teaching that includes a lot of rewards. Other’s respond more quickly at the thought of consequences.
In our home, wifi is off on Saturday mornings until chores are done. Depending on attitudes and cooperation, the wifi could simply be unplugged, or I may change the password. If they are working diligently and pretty much on task, I can just unplug the wifi and plug it back in when they are all done. If someone is being a pain in the backside about getting their chores done, I will change the password and as each kiddo gets their chores done, they will get the new wifi password. The recalcitrant teen can dally as long as he/she wants and still won’t get wifi until chores are done.
Some of my teens are really good at staying on top of homework. Sometimes, turning off texting and calling and/or changing wifi daily is necessary to see that work is caught up. Most of my teens listen to music with ear buds as they work, so I don’t usually take the phone away completely. I just disable the social functions if necessary.
I use any and all of the above strategies as needed if a respectful attitude has flown the coop. I allow anger and frustration and disagreements, but not name calling, swearing or disrespect. The phone is a privilege that comes with age in our home. If you are old enough to have a phone, you are old enough to treat others with respect, angry or not.
Most kids fight bedtime, no matter how old they are. Teens need an adequate amount of sleep, as we all do, but oftentimes find themselves glued to their phones with their heads on their pillows. Every teen in my home has their phone on text/calling restrictions from 10pm-6am on school nights and 11pm-6am on weekends. Wifi (and their source of online content) gets unplugged at 10:30pm on school nights.
There are exceptions to this bedtime rule when one of my high school students has a big project or test and requests extra time online or talking with friends to study. But if that is necessary, I just change the wifi password so it can stay on for said student, but no one else has it.
I often run into problems with the phones at bedtimes anyway, because if they don’t have text, don’t have calling, don’t have data, don’t have wifi, they will just stay up and play with games they have downloaded. Uh….. no! That is when the phone gets taken away to charge outside the bedroom all night. The worst offenders will tell me, well, I need music on my phone to fall asleep, or I need the alarm on my phone to get up on time. Hmmmmm….sing to yourself tonight and I’ll be your alarm clock in the morning. OR you could just go to bed when it’s time!
My teens have set chores and family responsibilities, but when I need extra help with something, I can often pay them with data instead of cash! This is especially effective when I am asking for above-and-beyond babysitting for the twins. They all take the city bus to school and enjoy the extra online abilities with data during their 30-45 minutes commutes. If they know they are going to be out and about on a weekend and want to be able to go online on their phones, they will often ask me for an extra chores to earn data. Win-win!
The cell phone/family life
Teens love their phones! I love the powerful tools my teenagers’ addiction to their phones gives me. If you are not or have not experienced this phase of family life, believe me! The horror of losing their life line, or even the possibility of such is the stuff of nightmares. And with the right discipline (and conversations through the whole process), each teenager is learning life skills, self-control, and maybe some insight heading towards adulthood.
Yay for teenagers and their phones!