Pros and Cons of Taking Your Child’s Phone Away

By Andrea Nelson
May 9, 2024
Child rolling her eyes at mom taking phone away

Restricting access to a child’s phone has become a go-to punishment for many families. But it’s not always the most appropriate or effective consequence. It’s wise to first consider the pros and cons of taking your child’s phone away — here’s what parents should know.

Factors to consider as you make your choice

Every situation is different, and nobody knows your child as well as you. But as you decide whether or not to take your child’s phone away, it’s important to understand some broader points about the role they play in the kids’ lives. 

It’s not just a phone 

Virtual communication can be positive and developmentally important. Like it or not, phones are how modern teens communicate with their friends, and communication is necessary for development. Taking away your child’s phone is equivalent to unplugging the television and the stereo, banning games, cutting off their contact with friends, and grounding them — all in one fell swoop. If you do take away their phone, know that you’re imposing a serious consequence.

Social media is the new hangout space 

Social media has replaced spaces like malls and movie theaters for unstructured socialization with peers. That time is valuable for trying on new identities, forming independent relationships, and figuring out who they are as people. 

It’s easy to take things out of context 

Some online behavior, like slang or swearing, might seem inappropriate at first glance, but are in fact developmentally appropriate. If your first instinct is to take your child’s phone away because of their online behavior, take a step back and consider if the punishment fits the crime.

Access to technology helps kids learn positive habits

As parents in the digital age, our job is to teach our kids how to have healthy relationships with technology, so we must tread carefully when it comes to phone privileges — both granting them and taking them away. 

Pros of taking your child’s phone away

While caution is advised, there are some situations in which taking away your child’s phone may be called for. 

  • Temporary safety. If your child’s targeted by an online predator or cyberbully, removing their phone can keep them safe while you address the situation.   
  • Emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. For many kids, losing their phone is the worst possible punishment, meaning it can convey how seriously you take their behavior. 
  • Reduced distractions. Without a phone, your child won’t have as many distractions from homework and family time. 

Cons of taking your child’s phone away

If you do decide to take away your child’s phone, it’s important to understand the potential ramifications. 

  • They lose their line to you. Without a phone, your kid can’t as easily communicate with you when you’re not together. 
  • They might go behind your back. There’s a chance your child could resort to sneaky behavior like borrowing an old phone from a friend. That means they may continue their problematic behavior — now without your watchful eye. 
  • May hurt your relationship. It's easy to believe that removing your child's phone will increase family bonding, but it's just as likely to cause conflict and potentially harm your relationship.
  • Punishment may not fit the crime. Consequences work best when they’re related to the behavior. If what your child did wasn’t connected to their phone, punishing them by taking it away isn’t the most effective method for correcting that behavior. 
  • Removes a teaching tool. An all-or-nothing approach to phone restrictions limits opportunities to teach your child how to regulate their own tech use. 

Alternatives to taking your child’s phone away

If you decide against taking away your child’s phone as a consequence, that doesn’t mean you’re without options. Here are some alternatives:  

  • Connect before you correct. The most effective way to shape your child’s behavior is to rely on your relationship with them. Ask your child about their behavior and find out what was behind it. Explain why it was unacceptable and what you hope they learn from this mistake. 
  • Limits not bans. Rather than removing all access, set limits around your child’s phone use. Target the restrictions to the problem behavior. For example, if the issue was with a particular app, you could delete it from their phone. Requiring them to leave their device in another room during homework and bedtime minimizes distractions. Another good idea is setting rules the whole family must follow, such as no phones at dinner. 
  • Monitor their phone use. Staying involved in your child’s online life allows you to spot problems so you can target specific behavior rather than imposing blanket bans. Some good ways to monitor their online behavior include following them on social media, holding tech check-ins, and using a monitoring service

The takeaway 

Rather than taking away your child’s phone, a more effective approach is to use targeted restrictions, practice open communication, and monitor their online behavior. 

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