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Should Parents Ban Cell Phone Use for Kids?

by the editorial team and Sophia Ruan Gushée


Cell phones can often feel like an appendage of ours. The average consumer is estimated to check his or her smartphone 47x a day, and those ages 18 to 24 check their phones 86x a day, according to Deloitte's 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey: U.S. edition.

What about our kids? 

According to an article published on CNN in August 2018, 95% of teens in the United States have smartphones now, which is a 20% increase since Pew last examined the issue in 2015.

2 hours 19 minutes

average time per day children up to age 8 spend on screen media (Common Sense Media 2017)

5 hours and 55 minutes

average time per day 8- to 12-year-olds spend on screen media (Common Sense Media 2015)

8 hours and 56 minutes

average time per day 13- to 18-year-olds spend on screen media and reading and listening to music (Common Sense Media 2015)

So when we want to punish our kids, banning cell phones is a common "treat" to take away. 

Some 65% of parents have taken their teen’s cell phone or internet privileges away as a form of punishment 

—according to the Pew Research Center

What should parents consider before taking their children’s cell phone?

The punishment should be related to the crime. If you're trying to address an issue with your child's use of his/her cell phone, then before taking away a child’s cell phone:

  1. Set guidelines in advance regarding phone use.  
  2. Ask your child for help drafting these guidelines.
  3. Make concessions to allow children to have a few “wins.” This will help ensure that your child will adhere to the guidelines.  
  4. Modify your written guidelines together. For example, if your child reads their smartphone at dinnertime or in bed, and your written guidelines didn't address this issue, then consider updating your written guidelines together to limit their cell phone use as is applicable. A healthy compromise on this issue may allow your child to use their cell phone after dinner for 15 minutes, but then the phone should be off and "go to bed" for the remainder of the night.

Once you have decided to restrict cell phone use, consider these tips

Some cell phone providers offer software that can limit the functions of cell phones, which can be a good option for parents seeking to discipline their children.  For example, the app FamilyBase, available on Verizon phones, can help parents learn more about children’s smartphone activity; the app can also remotely turn off children’s phones.

If you do decide to take away your child’s smartphone as a form of punishment, offer alternatives. Both children and adults are so reliant on smartphones that life can be challenging without occasional access. You probably still want your child to have their phone so they can reach you in an emergency, or for other basic needs like Google Maps. Instead, you may decide to disable texting or delete your child’s social media apps rather than forcing your child to live without a cell phone.

Should parents take away cell phones at night?

Ask your child to put away their smartphone at night—after 10 or 11 pm, for instance—and you may find that they sleep better.  Smartphones emit backlights and radiation that may disrupt people’s circadian rhythms. For this reason, you may also find that putting away *your* smartphone at night will help you sleep better as well!

In Summary

Cell phones have become integral to our lives, including for children and students. Teaching balance with technology is as important as teaching children healthy eating habits. However, when banning cell phones as a form of punishment, the punishment should be relevant to the "crime." And we should consider that cell phones are also useful for making sure our kids can ask for help when needed, navigation, and other valuable services. When feeling forced to restrict cell phone use, consider the tips above.

Join our support community to receive the latest updates and advice on how to better manage your children’s smartphone activity.  

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