My wife and I recently got our 12 and 14-year-old son’s smartphones. We gave them some basic instructions and let them have at it. We didn’t want to be too overbearing. Give them some freedom, that’s what we thought. Allow some space for them to mature and see what happens. We’ve shared our expectations with them on many occasions, so “I didn’t know” wouldn’t be an option as an excuse later. We speak and behave in a manner that would make for solid role models (including our spirited debates, parents disagree in front of your children, just make sure you apologize to each other in front of them as well. They need to learn a spirited debate can and should end in reconciliation).

So, out the blue, my wife gets the notion to check one of our son’s phone (mothers intuition I guess). To her dismay, his text messages are really brash, disrespectful and out of character based on what we know of him. So how do we pose this information to our boys and omit that we’ve already read the text messages?

I get the idea to perform a “phone audit”. I love the name, go ahead, you can use it. So we call them over and say we’re going to look through your phone with you, show us your apps, and text messages and let’s check as a family to see if you’re appropriately representing yourself with your digital tattoo.

So the scene is set, we’re at the kitchen table and we ask our son, “is there anything on the phone you would like to tell us about, anything you would like a do-over for?” “Nope, look through it, I have nothing to hide.” I don’t know what was worst, what he wrote or the fact that he didn’t think anything was wrong with what he wrote.

In a word,

We had him apologize to his friends for his behavior and lack of decorum in texting and addressed his secret Instagram account.

So we’ve put him on a smartphone time out.


What do you think happened next…?  No, not an explosive display of anger at all. Ironically enough, it seemed like he was actually relieved. It felt like the smartphone was too much to handle for him, too soon. There was an underlying air of appreciation for taking the burden of keeping up with his friends and all that they were into off of him. It’s been about three weeks since the audit and he’s not pinning for the phone back. We’ve played more monopoly, did a little traveling, still, watch our family movies on Friday night featuring homemade burgers and fresh cut fries. We’ve been out together, to the public library and Panera Bread to study and read and as the weather warms up, we plan to go out more for walks and bike rides.

I simply concluded that

1: a smartphone can actually be overwhelming for many children and

2: we as parents have to engage our children in activities, and constant communication despite their snarky remarks or initial attitude. After getting over myself (the initial rejection of them hemming and hawing) and convincing the kids to play a board game or read at the library, I can see the healthy memory we just made.

Parents, We know what’s best for our children and we have to stay confident in that.

Stay at it. Their worth it!

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