Crime and Punishment: When Do Teens Deserve Cell-Phone Restriction?

Crime and Punishment: When Do Teens Deserve Cell-Phone Restriction? April 17, 2014

TDear Shaunti,

Undoubtedly, the most effective punishment for my teenage daughter is taking away her cell phone. There’s just one little problem: she freaks out when I do. I’m certain I’d get less of a freak-out if I ordered her to sleep in a box in the yard for a week (hmmm…) What’s her deal? It’s not like she doesn’t see these kids in school! I’ll sign this letter with the name I’m best known for around the house these days.

-Worst Dad, Like, Ever

Dear Worst Dad,

You’re not just taking a cell phone, buddy, you’re taking your daughter’s independence away! It doesn’t matter if you’re holding her at gunpoint at the church Sunday Fun-Day Picnic, as long as she has that little piece of technology with her, she is her own woman! It’s what separates her from you and her mom. I know that sounds cruel and, well, it is. Adolescence is not about making parents feel emotionally secure, that’s for certain. You might not let her watch R-rated movies, but with a cell phone, she’s an independent woman.

My friend, Lisa Rice, who is also the co-author of my book, For Parents Only, has seen firsthand just how important a cell phone is to a teen. One of the rules of the Rice household is no texting while driving. Well, one of Lisa’s daughters skipped that rule and backed into a car, doing about $950 in damage. I’m sure Lisa and her husband wanted to pick out a nice box for their little princess to live in, too, but they gave her a choice, instead: lose the cellphone for two weeks, or work at the movie theater all summer to pay off the debt and have little or no take-home pay.

I learned through my research into the minds of adolescents that the human brain does not fully develop until around the age of 25, and Lisa’s daughter’s response is proof, because she chose to spend the summer working with barely any money to call her own, just so she could have that cell phone in her hand! Now that’s crazy!

Taking away your daughter’s cell phone is like the nuclear bomb of punishments. Since you didn’t mention the crime, I can’t help but wonder if maybe you’re pulling out the Mother of All Punishments for minor infractions that could be dealt with some other way. Save the biggest consequence for the biggest infraction. There are so many other consequences out there that will both amuse you and teach your kid a lesson without extracting her very soul in the process.

Explore. Open your mind. Get creative, but make sure you’re not taking away her electronic independence just to send a message she would just as easily have heard if you made her stand in the front yard with a weed-whacker on a Saturday afternoon.

Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and teens, including For Women Only, For Men Only, and For Parents Only. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit for more.

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