Alyson Schafer Advice: Why You Should Never Take Away Your Kid's Phone

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Youth love technology. Smartphones mean kids can do all their favourite hobbies in one place: listen to music, take selfies to post on Instagram or Snapchat, watch Youtube and, yes, texting.

Adolescents largely socialize through social media and tech, and while this may annoy parents, connecting with peers (in any form) is considered a key developmental milestone for this age group.

Not surprisingly, kids freak out when you threaten to take away their phone as a form of punishment. From their perspective, you are cutting off their friends.

An adult sees this as simple confiscation or loss of privilege, but to a teen, you might as well be putting them in solitary confinement.

When I was a kid, we got grounded. That meant not seeing friends, too, but back then you didn’t have as much FOMO (fear of missing out). We didn’t have ways to connect 24/7. An hour offline now and you miss a whole lot of interaction from your group.

"To an adult it’s seen as a simple confiscation or loss of privilege, but to a teen, you might as well be putting them in solitary confinement."

I remember Dr. Phil’s advice to parents, and I’m paraphrasing here: “Find something they love and take it away.” I totally disagree.

I do not believe in punitive measures to correct behaviour. But I do believe in using discipline to teach children that freedoms and responsibilities go hand in hand. What's the difference?

If they have a phone, they must take responsibility of using it appropriately. Good digital citizenry must be taught and a parent should supervise to ensure the rules are being followed.

If they are acting irresponsibly on their phone, then, YES, I can see parents taking a phone away from their kids.

However, that is rarely the case.

Mostly parents take away their kids' phone because their children were rude, talked back, came home late, didn’t do their chores or some other totally non-phone related transgression.

When a consequence is not related to the behaviour, it feels mean, harsh and hurtful. That is not a consequence. It is simply a punishment.

Parents defend this approach, saying it’s an effective tactic. But, a lot of parents just don’t like their kids' constant texting and they love any excuse to take away the phone to reduce usage.

And trust me, you may have won the battle, but you have not won the war.

Punishment hurts our relationship with them. We perpetuate a divide between parent and child so the child is less likely to want to be helpful and cooperative around the house.

When we punish kids by taking away their phone, we also invite retaliation. "Sure you took away my phone, but now I am not going to get out of bed for school until you are screaming mad and late for work."

Like I said, the war isn’t over.

So if your tween or teen is acting badly in some way, don’t grab the phone. Instead think of a related consequence, one that is logical to the mind of the child, instead.

Even better, try to talk about the issue at a family meeting and come up with a solution together. Try the solution for a week and see if it's helpful in improving matters.

You will be surprised at how effective that approach is at winning cooperation and keeping your relationship healthy.

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