Parents face endless challenges raising children. The pressure to create a successful human can feel crippling at times. Once a child is speaking and walking around freely, parents are faced with the struggle of finding an effective balance between discipline and leeway. Forms of punishment have definitely evolved and a common and easy way to regulate your child’s behavior is taking away privileges when they don’t toe the line.
With the prominence of (and resulting reliance on) technology in our children’s lives, it’s absence becomes a tool in discipline. In fact, mobile phones have become the go-to item for parents to take away when punishing their children. A Civic Science survey revealed that 64% of US parents admit their ultimate threat to their children is to limit screen time or take away their phone.
While this may look like an effective deterrent against unfavorable behavior, many question its validity. Is it really helpful and, more importantly, is it effective?
Before discussing the harms and benefits of removing a child’s phone lets take a closer look at parenting styles. We’ll also asses which types of parents are more likely to take away their child’s phone or not. This will hopefully paint a preliminary picture of the harms and benefits of taking away your children’s devices.
At the forefront of the traditionalist argument lies the notion of helicopter parenting, i.e. over-involved and overprotective parents that frequently indulge their children. This this is a combo of permissive parenting and authoritarian parenting. It’s perceived to have contributed to a group of adolescents dubbed as the “me” generation. This is defined by the sense of entitlement parents have inadvertently imbued, priming children to believe they will eventually always get what they want.
This also applies to cell phone use as a form of enablement. Here are the numbers:
Psychologists believe that in order to stop this culture of entitlement, the overprotective instincts must be curbed. This means parents taking away the thing that kids feel attached to the most – their phone – as a form of punishment.
On the other side of the argument lies in the belief that taking smartphones away can be counterproductive. A study reveals that the use of technology as a bargaining chip for behavior modification can actually impact the trust between you and your child.
In most cases, parents use technology to reinforce good behavior by offering it as a reward by buying their kids a new iPad, letting them borrow their phone, or by giving them additional screen time. This reward system can be common among permissive parents who don’t realize that offering up more screentime, despite their children wanting it, may be destructive and unhealthy. This may not be ideal for children below the age of 12 as they begin to associate technological use as a healthy habit. A child coming across two iPads and claiming immediate ownership of both begins to equate this to “extra good” behavior. Additionally, this type of arrangement puts emphasis on the “use” of the devices rather than “quality use.”
For teenagers, taking away their phones has an even more negative effect on their behavior. They do not associate this as a mere “my behavior was out of line, that’s why my phone got taken away.” Instead, they fixate on the idea that they no longer have a phone. They consider their phones as an extension of themselves which allows them to perform various tasks and interact with members of their social circle. When their phone is taken away, they associate this as taking away a part of themselves rather than a punishment for bad behavior. To them it’s unjust.
Additionally, when phones are taken away as punishment, it’s immediately seen as a consequence not related to the behavior exhibited. For instance, if the child was practicing bad table manners, confiscating their phone seems to be an irrelevant consequence. For Dr. Beth Peters, a clinical psychologist in Westminster, Colorado, this creates the potential for emotional backlash and a breakdown of the parent-child relationship. Instead, make the punishment “fit the crime.” Appropriate situations to confiscate a phone would be then when bad behavior is related to the use of the device.
For teens, their phones are a lifeline to their social circles and a majority of their social activity happens on their devices. Taking this away will be seen as an invasion of privacy and not just a restriction of their privileges. Being notoriously inclined to fall into rebellious stages, they might withdraw from their punishers even more.
“They don’t try to solve their problem. They don’t talk to the parent,” Dr. Peters says. “You’re really setting yourself up for a dishonest teen because they need that contact and will resort to sneaky behavior to get it.”
When the situation arises where you feel like you should take away your child’s phone, consider these alternatives. These will help you create an opportunity to correct your child’s behavior without straining your relationship. Alternative methods may also help you to become a more authoritative parent and find a balance of respect with your children.
Smart parenting means knowing when not to respond. For the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), one of the best methods you can use is to just let things play out. Let them be taught by their action’s and natural consequences. Its beauty is in its simplicity since your child gets to experience the effects of their actions or behavior first-hand.
When the natural consequences of their actions don’t work, provide other consequences that connect to the action or behavior in question.
Imagine agreeing to work for a company without signing a contract. First of all you probably never would. You haven’t been told your privileges, expectations or been given any guidelines. Even as an adult the situation would be irresponsible and you’d most likely end up messing up. Think of your child the same way. if you don’t give them instructions and expectations (a verbal contract if you will) you cannot expect them not to make mistakes, and scolding them wouldn’t be fair. Sit down with your child and lay out the rules and the consequences. For instance, if you don’t want them using their phones on the dinner table, then talk to them about it beforehand. If the consequence is having their phone taken away, chances are they won’t use it.
Ultimately it’s up to you as a parent to decide the best way to discipline your children, but definitely take into consideration the problematic effects of confiscating devices willy-nilly.