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Threatening to take away your teen’s cell phone seems like a good way to get him to do something he’s avoiding. But that is usually not a good option as a punishment. When you take away their cell phone, you simultaneously turn off the TV, ban games, take away the ability to talk to friends, and punish them. The telephone has become their means of communication, and that is important for their development.
If you take away the phone, your teen can get very upset. This can backfire and undermine your relationship. They may refuse to talk to you or try to steal your phone when you’re not looking. The phone may seem so important to them that they lie next time to protect their access.
If you must punish your child, it is best to base the punishment on what he did wrong. If he didn’t get home on time, it’s better to punish him than to cut off contact with his friends. However, if your teen has done something wrong online, he may want to take your phone away or delete a certain app for a limited time.
How to get the kids off the phone
- Have another activity lined up (bonus points for making it look fun). For younger device users, transitions are difficult, period. Even if the next “to do” is a “must do” (like eating lunch), tell your child what’s next. You can rehearse the process: “When I say stop, it’s time for the iPad to go overnight. Let’s see how fast you can close it! As soon as he’s asleep, we can sneak into the other room and paint.
- Use visual and sound cues to help children keep track of time limits. For kids who don’t yet know how to tell time, try a timer that can help them keep track of the process: “When the time is up, it will look and sound like this.”
- Find apps with built-in timers. Video streamers like Cakey and Huvi give parents a bone and have internal timers for the app to stop on its own. So it’s up to the parents to make sure the kid doesn’t jump to another app.
- Tell children to stop at a natural break, such as the end of an episode, level, or activity. It’s hard for kids (and adults!) to stop in the middle of something. Before your child uses a device, talk about what he wants to do or play, where will be a good place to stop, and how long she thinks it will take. Set the limit together and stick to it, although a little wiggle room (a couple of minutes so you can finish) is fine.
- Discuss consequences and move on when children test limits. When all else fails, it’s important to have discussed the consequences of your child not giving up. For young children, the line might go something like, “If it’s too hard to turn off, the tablet should go away for the day.” For older kids, it’s more about keeping devices in a public space, setting expectations, and enforcing them. If they show you that they can be partners to moderate and regulate themselves, there may be more flexibility.
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