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Why Taking Your Teen’s Phone Away Doesn’t Work Anymore

If you are the parent of a tween or teen, you know the challenge of setting and following through with consequences. You’ve worked hard to establish ground rules, but human nature and the sometimes rocky road to maturity guarantees your child will push, step, and even leap outside the agreed-upon lines. If you are like many parents, your first instinct is to restrict the thing they love the most, which is communication with their peers and the dependence they have on their phones.

The Loss of Family Dynamics

There are a few problems with taking away your teen’s phone, the first of which, you know well: Taking their phone is hard on you as well because you’ve become just as dependent on instant communication via the phone as they have. Too, if your teen drives a vehicle or is away from home for the day, the phone adds a layer of safety to the family dynamic.

The Alternative Communication Grid

The second hurdle — which you may or may not realize — is that with or without their phones, most teens have created an alternative communication grid that ensures there’s barely a hiccup if anyone gets a phone taken away. To clarify: This post is not an ‘us against them’ post, or an ‘outsmart them’ strategy, it’s simply a dose of reality that may influence and inform everyday parenting decisions.

Dig Deeper: Should You Use Near-Field Communications?

A few ways kids can maintain their social life without their phones include:

Laptop or PC

Because schools now require kids to be online to get assignments via internal assignment platforms and email, your child will likely ask you to log onto his or her laptop or family PC to do homework. In doing that, they will also quietly log on to their favorite apps SnapChat, Twitter, or Instagram account, and talk to friends non-stop. Solution: Monitor homework time.

McAfee Pro Tip: Our children who have grown up in the digital age are deeply immersed in smartphone culture. Even if you desire to disconnect and return to a simpler way of life, it would be quite challenging to achieve this while ensuring that your child remains academically competitive with their peers. Get smarter about phones and homework time with our tips.

Ipad and tablets

Kids will also be asked to read or do an assignment via the iPad or tablet; you can’t cut them off from learning, right? Wrong. They can again download their favorite social apps as well as chat apps they hope you know nothing about, such as Kik Messenger. Solution: Monitor homework and TV time.

Borrowed phones and iPods

I hate to make it sound like your kids are part of the teen tech mafia, but they keep their old phones for a reason. While that old iPhone and Android may be without phone service, the social and texting apps on them can still be used—and you can bet they are. Solution: 1) If you are restricting your smartphone, you need to take away the iPod (music) as well 2) Be upfront. Ask your kids if they’ve borrowed a phone 3) Check backpacks for rogue phones. 

Dig Deeper: The Privacy Problems with Mobile Messaging Apps

Game Systems and TV

Gaming systems have chat and messaging that kids use all the time. In addition, social media and television are now overlapping, so all of the apps you get on your phone can be easily accessed via most TVs. Solution: 1) Go to the network settings on your TV and password protect it 2) Monitor media 3) Take away all media in addition to the phone.

Dig Deeper: How To Get Your Head Around Your Kids’ Online Gaming Life

Private Messaging

Everything seems quiet on the posting front. You’ve checked, and your child is not posting on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and you have their phone, so Snapchat is out, right? Not so much. If your kids are logging on to their apps via any of the devices listed above, chances are they know better than to post in the public stream. What they will be doing is using the private messaging of Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (accessed via other devices) as an alternative way to text and communicate without feeling the loss of their personal smartphone.

Alternative Discipline Approaches

So what’s the alternative to taking your child’s tech as a consequence? If you know the loopholes listed above, tech restriction is still an option (even though your child will be clearly annoyed with your roadblocks). If your child is over 16 and loves the freedom of driving, that restriction is always an excellent option.

Experts agree: Strong ground rules and equally strong communication provide the best discipline. If family rules are vague or brought up only when your child messes up (i.e., grades, responsibilities, or behavior), he or she will have a tough time staying on track. Look for empowering opportunities for your child to take responsibility for his or her mistakes.

Empowering Responsibility

In truth, the only way to ensure appropriate behavior both online and offline is to teach your kids about personal responsibility. This is the key aspect of parenting that sets your child up for success in the real world. The ability to manage themselves, especially when it comes to online activities, is an invaluable life skill that they will bring with them into adulthood. The best way to teach responsibility is to model it. Show them through your actions and decisions that you are worthy of their respect, and they will follow suit.

Teens need to be taught how to behave responsibly online, how to protect their privacy, avoid scams, and how to deal with cyberbullying. They need to understand the consequences of inappropriate behavior online. One good way to teach them about cyber ethics is to have regular discussions about these topics. Create an open environment where they feel comfortable to share their experiences and concerns. Then, guide them on how to respond appropriately to these situations.

The Importance of Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship between parent and child. As a parent, it’s important to create an atmosphere of trust, openness, and respect. Regular discussions about proper digital etiquette and responsible internet behavior are key. Make time to discuss what your teen is doing online, who they are communicating with, and what type of content they are sharing. Be open about your expectations and why they are in place. If they understand why the rules exist, they will be more likely to follow them.

Consistent communication also enables you to keep up with the rapidly changing digital landscape teens navigate daily. By maintaining an open dialogue, you will be more attuned to the latest apps, games, and social media platforms your teen is using. This way, you can stay informed about developments that might affect your teens’ online safety.

Dig Deeper: 10 Easy Ways to Build Up Your Family’s Online Security

The Power of Trust

Trust is a two-way street. While it’s important that your child trusts you as a parent, it’s equally important for you to demonstrate trust in them. This means giving them some level of freedom and privacy online, while also making it clear that you expect them to act responsibly. Trusting your teens to make good decisions online shows them respect which encourages them to validate your trust.

However, trust is not about blind faith. It’s about setting boundaries and expectations and then allowing your teen to prove they can stay within those boundaries. When trust is breached, it’s important to discuss why it happened, the consequences, and how it can be rebuilt. Trust building is a process, and it takes time and consistency.

Final Thoughts

Managing your teen’s digital life can be challenging, but with open communication, respect, trust and a strong focus on personal responsibility, you can navigate this digital world together. Ultimately, the goal isn’t to control your teen’s every online interaction. Rather, it’s to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to navigate the increasingly complex digital landscape safely and responsibly. Removing a teen’s phone may seem like an easy solution, but it’s far more effective to guide them toward responsible digital citizenship.

Take the step to safeguard your teen’s digital journey today, and empower them to thrive in the digital age, all while providing you with the control and confidence you need as a parent. Explore McAfee’s parental controls now and create a secure and nurturing digital environment for your teens.