phone home – redux


The night before last, I posted the picture above of Katie, happily reunited with her cell phone after a three-week, er, sabbatical. The text read:

Someone has been without her phone for three weeks. Which, when you’re thirteen is like, ya know, forever. To celebrate getting it back, she asked to go out. To, um, stare at her phone.

{image is a photo of Katie sifting through the God knows how many texts and emails that accrued over the last three weeks. No, I wouldn’t normally allow this. Yes, I’m allowing it. Photo taken and shared with her permission, as always.}


Y’all had a lot to say about many aspects of that post, so I thought I’d offer a follow-up to clarify a few things.

— To the reader who wrote something along the lines of: “Why would you take away her phone? How’s that going to teach her a lesson? Make her read a book or do chores or a family thing.”

My response, which disappeared when that reader chose to delete her comment was:

“I’d offer a question in return .. Why judge when every child / family is so different? My daughter devours books. To “make” her read a book would be “forcing” her to do her favorite thing in the world. And “a family thing?” Well, that’s just what we do – things as a family. And they’re, ya know, fun. So teaching her a lesson? Not so much.”

(Yes, the queen of restraint got a little snippy. It happens.)

— To those of you who couldn’t imagine Katie doing anything that would warrant her being “punished” so harshly:

Firstly, you’re right. She’s a great kid and thank you for seeing her awesomeness. But great kids are still kids. Kids mess up. From where I sit, it’s our job as parents to teach them how not to mess up in the future. So, yes, I took something away from her. As for the harshness of the punishment, however, it’s not really what it seems. She had the opportunity to earn the phone back immediately. It took her three weeks. That was her choice.

— To those of you who want to know why any thirteen year-old needs a phone:

They don’t. But it makes all of our lives much easier and gives her a great deal more independence than she might otherwise have. She can make and change plans on the fly, tell us when to pick her up from an event, call us if she’s in a bad situation and needs help, and even be tracked in case of emergency. Given that Luau and I are so often on the run in different directions, any of those things would be very difficult without a phone, especially given that pay phones pretty much don’t exist anymore and the world is now set up with the assumption that everyone has their own phone. Oh, and truthfully, it just makes me feel better to know that when she is walking to and from school every day, there’s a phone in her pocket.

It also allows her access to the the primary mode of communication of her generation. We may not love the idea of texting and emailing, and we may (and do) encourage her to interact far more face-to-face than online, but we accept that times change and technology evolves and we want her to be able to participate in the method of communication used by her peers.

— To those who, in a wonderfully respectful tangential conversation, expressed concern about the fact that we are not respecting her privacy because we periodically read her texts, emails, FB messages etc:

When Katie got the phone, we wrote up a contract detailing how it would (and would not) be used. We signed it and so did she. The understanding was that we would read her texts. We are very cognizant of and respectful of her need for and right to privacy. We are also extremely keen on ensuring that she understands that there can be no expectation of privacy on an electronic platform.

She knows that we will never, ever listen in on a verbal conversation. Ever. She also knows that texts are not verbal conversations. She knows (because it’s happened time and again) that kids pick up one another’s phones and read through them (and send texts from them pretending to BE them) ALL THE TIME. She knows that they screenshot and forward conversations to other kids. She knows that they can send something to the wrong person in error.

In short, she knows that there is no such thing as privacy on a format with an indelible electronic memory. So while we absolutely respect her privacy, we also all agree that said privacy is not to be found (in writing) on her phone.

Additionally, I will tell you this – no kid, no matter how savvy or mature or just plain awesome they may be, is truly equipped to handle the stuff that other kids are throwing at them in real time on social media. If we’re being honest with ourselves, I don’t think most of us adults are either. I won’t get into details because for Katie’s sake I can’t, but please, please, no seriously, please believe me when I tell you that they need help navigating this mess. Threats of violence, talk of and threats of self-harm — really, really serious stuff is bandied about like talk of the weather when these kids type away, cloaked in the false sense of security they find behind their screens.

Your kids need you to walk them through this. I’m kind of begging, guys. Trust me on this one. 

— Finally, to the woman named Rainbow who responded to my hashtag #ParentingAintAllRainbowsAndUnicornsFolks with, “Parenting isn’t even all rainbows and unicorns for moms named Rainbow”:

I’m pretty sure you just won the Internet.


So there you have it friends.

Oh, and just in case,  remember, #NoHashtaggingOnText.



39 thoughts on “phone home – redux

    • I love that that there are more parents that act and feel like we do. We have the passwords to all of their online accounts and to their phones. They do not know when and if we will look at something and if they do not want us to know what is being said then do not post it in a comment or in a text if it is to be private. Our oldest is a sophomore in college and we still can access her accounts. We do not as often because she is growing up, but it can still be done. My three kids do not hide anything and are very open about what and who they are communicating with. Good luck and great parenting!! 🙂

  1. Jess
    I completely and wholeheartedly agree with what you write about parents having to guide their children through all this virtual/social media world that you discuss.
    Too many parents don’t.
    Children/young people are vulnerable to being placed in very difficult situations which they do not have the skills to deal with. It is a scary place.
    It is not about respecting privacy it is about keeping them safe.
    Well said!!!!

  2. I have been a parent for 25 years now and my youngest son, autistic, is 5. I have a 16 year old and like your Katie she is smart, funny, a great big sister and overall one of the best teenagers I know! That being said, she is a kid. Kids need limits and they need to know we’ve got their back through the good and not so good moments in their lives. Taking away the beloved “phone” is what works for you and it has worked for us. No one and I mean no one should ever tell another parent that something of this nature is too harsh. We don’t live in your home, walk in your shoes or even really know your child. Who are we, as parents, to judge! Unless the child is in physical danger it is not our place to tell you what you SHOULD or SHOULDN’T do! What works at my house for my kids might not work for others BUT it is up to us parents to stick together! It is hard enough being a parent these days without being made to second-guess our decisions (not that you did, just sayin’).

    Good for you and good for Katie for earning her phone back 🙂

  3. OMG what is with the judgi-ness of people these days?! Everyone parents differently; no-one has written the bible on which is THE best, most perfect way (even if they think they have). For what it’s worth, I’m with you, I like the way you do things and I am SO borrowing that contract for my 9 (yes, 9!) year old. She doesn’t have a phone just yet, but she does have an ipod and access to wifi like many of her peers now, so it’s important we understand that and keep an eye on it. Thank you.

  4. I always love reading your posts about tween/teen parenting. Maybe it’s because I was “free-range” child of 70s parents who loved me but fully expected me to be safe and healthy and raise myself all on my own almost. Now I have to figure out how to be a 2014 parent. My kids are little – 7 and 5 so I have a few years.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly. My son knows that I’ll check his phone as I please and he knows that it’s to keep him safe.

  6. Jess, Didn’t weigh in yesterday, but had to today. As the parent of supposedly grown children, who still need parental input now and then, THANK YOU! It is wonderful to see parents being parents, now matter how busy they (you) might be. Working with kids in a variety of settings, there are too many times I’ve thought to myself, “I wish the parents would be parents and not try to be their child’s friend”

  7. We’re getting Sam a phone this week for the very reasons you write down here. And I am way flipped out about it–for the very reasons you write here.

  8. I agree that you know your children and you know the punishments that work. In our house, we try to fit the punishment to the crime (if you are so slow in the morning, and make your mother feel like a slave for doing breakfast, then prepping all the lunch boxes, then the next morning, you wake up with mom to make the lunches). Of course, if you insist that you can’t turn off a screen, until something on screen happens, and then make us late for an appointment, you lose screen time.

    And as a child, I loved to read. . . . . and my dad was so mad at me that he took my TV time away, which was fine. I didn’t really watch alot of TV and I spent every day in the library for a week. My dad said looking back he should have taken away my library card for a week!

    Every parent gets to punish and reward their own family. . . and decide on the family rules. I can’t make you follow my house rules – every family is different.

    As far as a phone, my older one got prior to sixth grade, for communications, and we have used it when an afterschool activity was cancelled due to snow, or I was going to be later than expected, and he is expected to communicate with me.

  9. You are an amazing mom. I really hope to be half as good as you. My kids are younger, but I get great ideas from you. I love the idea of a phone contract.

  10. I completely agree with you and I say parent how you want to parent! YOU know your kid, YOU know what works and YOU have the hammer! (A phrase my mom used ALL THE TIME! lol)

    With regard to your “invading” Katie’s privacy, I say have at it! Within reason and the bounds of trust that you’re constantly establishing and growing with your child. She’s 13 not 23. Safety comes before all and accountability is also a wonderful thing to teach her. You’re also her parent first, her fiend second. Good on you! 🙂

    There hasn’t been a day go by since I started following you on FB that you have not made me smile and encouraged me in some way. I kinda hope to be you when I grow up. 😉

    I think you’re doing an amazing job! Keep it up!

  11. Unlike (apparently) a few others, I understood both why the phone was taken away (“punishing” Katie by making her READ? LOL) and why Katie has a phone in the first place. While I might not agree with this whole idea of five kids sitting next to, and texting, each other, this IS the way younger people are choosing to communicate. I’ve been reading your blog and related Facebook posts for a while now, and I have nothing but admiration for the manner in which you handle a–shall we say–“challenging dynamic” of a family life.

    Your girls are both wonderful kids, but they are kids. And kids occasionally (or more often) mess up. How you react and how you turn that into a lesson is what affects what they become as adults, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in either girl.

  12. Thank goodness you
    1) disciplined your child in a way you saw fit. SO many parents would rather be a friend than a parent and shy away from any form of uncomfortable responsibility that parenting requires
    2) offered her a way to redemption.
    3) stood by your decision despite flack thrown at you via comments.

  13. Bravo to you mom! I to have taken away my 13 yr old daughters phone, as a matter of fact she lost ALL electronics I to have a wonderful daughter but she has turned into this Dr Jekyll mr Hyde lol I know it is the teenage thing happening along with puberty but it was literally the only way I got through to her. My daughter and I have always been very close but over this transformation of hers she has become mouthy and disrespectful and that is something I WILL NOT tolerate so she lost it all with no time frame I told her also that she needed to earn these things back one by one all she had to so was stop the fresh mouth and the disrespect and keep up on her chores ( doing the dishwasher and keep her room clean!) she to was and is an avid reader and with all the electronics ie iPhone Xbox laptop etc etc she kind of lost all that. Not reading at all not interacting with her father and I not drawing playing piano and not doing much of anything. To my pleasant surprise all of these things came back and were important to her again. It took her a long time to gain these things back. After about 7 weeks she had it all again. But through this I learned a lot. I’m more strict with how long she is on any of her electronics. When she is not consumed with them she is kinder and still does the other things she loves. If course I still get a hard time from her when I say “shut it down” but, I just look at her and say do you want to loose them again?! And boy does that smarten her up real quick.
    I also agree with you on looking at their phones and texts etc etc at this age they’re not equipped to handle certen things. There is nasty things said to them or their number or email is given to someone and they are cyber bullied. We as adults sometimes can’t handle when someone is mean or nasty and even though we know it means nothing it still hurts and a child or young teen is not equipped to handle it and still need our help. Unfortunately my daughter last yr and the yr before was being bullied severely and I did not know until the end of the school yr this past yr. my daughter finally told me and broke down and broke my heart into a million pieces. The signs were there but I was contributing it to the teen yrs starting and her finding her independence. She became very withdrawn and angry and sad. My daughter is beautiful and always outgoing and always enjoyed spending time with her father and I. Looking back I could smack myself for not doing something sooner. It’s a tricky time in their lives at that age and we need to be more aware of what’s going on in their lives. So again I say bravo to you for all you do and have done with your daughter. In today’s day of electronics we as parents need to adapt and be more aware and always check these things to protect our children even if people think it’s invading their privacy and think we are wrong. Every child is different and WE as their parent have to do what’s right for them. NONE of us are perfect and do our best and as long as we love and protect them as best we can then that’s all that matters.

  14. lol…. I am so glad that I am not the only mom that thinks her girls should have a break from their phones to read a book or smell the fresh air outside.

  15. I have to laugh because I got grounded a lot when I was a kid, but they never took away my books. I LOVED MY BOOKS! I loved my radio and my phone, too, but being left with nothing to do but read was not so bad. 🙂
    Stay strong, Mama! Only you and Luau know how to parent your girls, and shame on anyone that feels it is their right to question your choices.

  16. Uhhhhhh…… this is the problem with our culture. The fact that people think taking away a phone is remotely harsh is beyond my realm of thinking. I remember being grounded from EVERYTHING for a month when I was a kid. I didn’t go anywhere. I didn’t watch tv. I didn’t get to use our rotary phone. I didn’t see my friends. And, I learned my lesson. We keep viewing privileges as entitlements and the character of each generation is becoming more and more ego-centric. I applaud you for caring more about your daughters character and well being then her entertainment. Way to go Mom!

  17. As someone responsible for teaching cyber safety to k-5th grade, let me just say bravo. Allowing children to communicate with their peers through the methods of today is great, but all too often kids are unitentionally thrown to the sharks by their parents. The digital world is a tricky one to navigate, and you are doing an amazing job guiding your daughter.

  18. I totally agree. These days a phone is safety and communication but it is also really dangerous. Kids are giving other kids advise in 3 seconds that in times past they would have had to ask Their parents about. Kids do not have the experience to give that advise. I use my mobile watchdog on my kids phones I see every text I know who calls them and who they call and I know where they are. My kids know an are fine. My rule is just don’t be stupid. I could care less about 99.99% of any of the texts that come and go and knowing I see them does not slow them down a bit. Every once in a while one comes through that I say oh that is an issue and we talk about it. I have intervened when a parent got ahold of my sons phone number and said some really nasty things. Yes some of the parents of my sons friends suck! I am open and honest with why I need to know and they tell me pretty much everything anyway it is who we are.

  19. GREAT KID, GREAT PARENTING!!! It’s too bad most parents don’t have the gumption or the willingness to work at the parenting like this…
    BRAVO to all of you.
    Love you,

  20. I couldn’t possibly agree more on every single thing you said. Never mind the naysayers! You’re doing great! And I love that you stick to your beliefs and don’t feel the need bend to what others say. At a certain age, a child will require a certain amount of privacy. But she is still very young. A child. Her well-being is far more important than respecting her privacy. More kids would be better off if more parents were more concerned about what’s going on in their child’s life than about respecting the privacy of a 13 yr old. Maybe some parents wouldn’t be clueless as to why their child suddenly committed suicide…maybe they could even stop it before it happens…if they were more aware. Not saying that she shouldn’t be allowed SOME privacy…Just saying you should do so wisely and in a limited manner. At 13, how much privacy does she really need? She’s not an adult!

  21. Thank you for your explanation. I have been the target for much the same criticism with regards to my son and his phone. Your words have made me feel as if I’m not stranded on my own parenting island.

  22. I 100% agree!…my, then 14 yr old son, “lost” his phone last year for quite a number of days and had to earn it back. It was his timeframe…and I can tell you it was over 100 days. I think he has learned a valuable lesson and his relationship with his family is stronger than ever. He is an awesome kid and is complemented by adults all the time for how respectful he is. Parenting is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, especially where discipline is concerned, but it is necessary…that’s why our kids are awesome!

  23. I just want to say that I admire you and your amazing family. Your sharing provides me with a different perspective from my own and helps me be more understanding with my 4th grade students and my 5 year old son. Thank you!

  24. I SO wish I’d known/thought to create a contract for my daughter 7 years ago! Maybe the things that happened to her wouldn’t have tsk.

  25. Conversation I’ve Had Multiple Times:

    Me: Oh man, when I was younger I used to get so pissed off because my parents would (blah blah blah blah blah) and then even when I would (blah blah blah) they’d just stand there and (blah blah blah blah)!
    Other Person: Rough! What will you do if/when you have kids?
    Me: Are you kidding me? The exact same thing. Works like a charm.

  26. My twelve years old, who is chomping at the bit to turn 13 and get Facebook, *wants* me to monitor what he does online. He wants my input on how to deal with this or that problem that comes up. But most of all, he wants me to be his safety net. No matter how much puberty has made him cranky and sullen, he knows that I respect him and consider giving him a safe environment in which to grow and make mistakes my most important job.

    And he is acutely aware that there are a LOT of unpleasant, disgusting, and dangerous people out there. I frequently share articles* with him about cyberbullying, bullying and assaults, and the potential consequences. We discuss strategies for dealing with unpleasant people and for dealing with peers who might be in danger of self harm. Given that he has depression, discussions about how to help peers who are in trouble are about a lot more than peers.

    I really wonder though, at people who assume because you have a good kid, they shouldn’t need discipline. Hell, I’m pretty sure my twelve years old misbehaves on occasion, just to be reminded that I care enough to take away privileges! And that aside, they…are…kids. Their brains aren’t fully developed. One of the most underdeveloped areas is that which mediates decision making in relation to emotions – which won’t fully develop until they are in their mid twenties.

    * I actually share all sorts of articles with him, not just ones about unpleasant, scary topics.

  27. I just took a screen shot of the whole section on why you go through her phone. Maybe if others saw it written by someone other than me, they would understand why we do the same thing with our kids. It’s not about not trusting them, although they do screw up sometimes and make bad choices. It is about helping them understand all of the ways people can and will use what you say and do in texts, online, and in whatever app is currently cool against you or to hurt you or steal from you.

  28. I love everything about this post. Well done Mom for being a parent first and the friend second. I took away my sons game controllers for 3 weeks. It was his currency and yes he could’ve earned them back through chores. But he chose that time to be mad at me. He got over it and so did I, and he earned the controllers back. But he thinks twice now about how much sass I will tolerate.

  29. I completely agree with this! My children have cell phones and facebook accounts. The conditions set forth BEFORE I allowed them were these. I would (and do) periodically and randomly look at there conversations, and if at anytime they decide it is okay to change their passwords without prior permission from me, the accounts/ phones would be lost. I believe they deserve privacy but the fact remains we are still their parents and it is our job to protect them. I am thankful that my kids understand this. I actually intervened in a situation with one of my kids that I was unaware of and had I not seen these messages myself could have had disastrous effects for him had I not caught this in time! Kids don’t tell us everything even if they want to. Sometimes they are afraid or ashamed or maybe feel for some reason they will not be understood. Privacy is a privilege not a right. Trust is earned and can be easily lost. As good as my kids are, they are still kids and as you put it, they will make mistakes. I do have a 19 year old and the day he turned 18 I stopped checking his phone/facebook and you know what? He still hasn’t changed his password!

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