Why Removing Your Teens' Devices Doesn't Always Work

Parents are struggling with implementing digital and tech restrictions.

Posted May 31, 2019

Bigstock
Source: Bigstock

Most families have implemented boundaries and rules that their kids and teens have to follow when it comes to their devices. When they cross these lines, there will be consequences such as revoking their phone and internet privileges.

As many of us know, this can be devastating to young people. A survey from the Pew Research Center last year revealed that 56 percent of teens feel anxious, lonely or upset when they don't have their cell phones.

There's no app for parenting

There’s no app for parenting teens online today—yet according to a 2018 PEW Research Center survey, 95 percent of teenagers have access to a smartphone while almost half, 45 percent, claim they are online constantly.  That’s up significantly from the last survey in 2015 when it was 24 percent that were on almost constantly.

It's instinct to remove the gadget that they love as a form of punishment, but is it solving the problem? Many teens are resourceful today as they turn to burner phones when their parents enforce the family rules. This can be incredibly frustrating and parents are at their wit's end.

Parents struggle with digital boundaries

We see many articles on tips for cyber safety, security and online bullying. We also can read a lot about what you should do when you witness abuse online or believe you are a victim of a sextortion or a predator. 

What I haven't read a lot about is what you can do if your teen abuses their internet or cell phone privileges. No matter where our kids and teens are gravitating to online, parenting doesn’t change.

Like growing up offline, it’s never without challenges. However, today it’s compounded with their digital life being as important as their real one. As a matter of fact, most teen’s believe that their online life is their life—period.

Defining digital abuse

Many parents understand that offline communications are key to cyber safety for their children (of all ages). In these chats, it's important to continually discuss appropriate online behavior as well as what is not acceptable:

  • Posting inappropriate comments, pictures or videos
  • Participating in unsavory chat rooms
  • Purchasing items online without a parent's permission
  • Over-sharing personal information
  • Cyberbullying, harassing or teasing others online
  • Sending mean text messages or sexting
  • Sending abusive tweets
  • Posting or texting anything with an intent to harm or hurt someone

It's important to realize that burner phones are not only being used as a way to escape the loss of their own device, but teens are using these phones to secretly post on social media without adults knowing. 

"The youngsters don’t only use the burners when their personal device is taken away. Some use them to post on social-media profiles their parents don’t know about—the so-called Finsta, or 'fake Instagram,' account," says Diana Graber, author of Raising Humans In A Digital World in the WSJ.

Managing digital slip-ups

Is there an alternative to removing the devices? In my opinion, as well as that of Digital Media Literacy teacher, Diana Graber, absolutely! It's all about digital parenting and education. It's about teaching our kids about the upsides and downsides of technology—opening those lines of communication, probably more often than you are doing now.

If you discover your teen has crossed the family's online boundaries, it is time to sit down and analyze what happened with your teenager. Hear them out first, then give them the reasons why there will be consequences—explain clearly how they abused their privilege. It is important they understand their missteps so they can learn from them.

Family Safety Evangelist Toni Birdsong wrote an essay, What Should the Consequences Be for a Teens’ Digital Slip-Up? Here are a few of my favorites I want to share:

  • Be clear on the "why." Explain the risks associated with the behavior and why it's not allowed. If the topic is sexting then explain the privacy risk of trusting another person as well as the legal risks of possessing or sending sexual photos.
  • Be careful not to shameThe behavior does not define the child. In talking, stay focused on the behavior or action without making general, personal judgments.
  • Write an essay. It sounds old school, but essay writing in this world of impulse clicking has worked in our house. Parenting is all about teachable moments, so use this opportunity to educate. Have your child write a paper on the dangers of the behavior. Be it bullying, sexting, suggestive texting, racism, profanity, or gossip—there are huge lessons to be learned through researching and writing. Remember many tweens and teens are simply naïve to the power of the technology they hold and they simply don't know what they don't know.

Being an educated parent helps you to have safer teens online and offline.