Does the punishment fit the crime? Is taking away your child's phone justifiable?

Taking away your child's phone can create the potential for an emotional backlash. This has become the ultimate punishing tool. Is it the best solution?

Table of contents

  1. Is taking away your child’s phone justifiable?
  2. The digital revolution
  3. When is the right time to give your child a phone?
  4. Privacy and trust
  5. Making the case…you don’t have to punish to teach.
  6. Smartphone – the new disciplinary tool.
  7. What’s actually going through your teen’s mind when you take their phones away?
  8. What do teens have to say about parents searching their phones or taking it away?

2. The digital revolution

When your child becomes a teenager, you may need to adjust your parenting style. By now you should trust your child enough for them to make some choices on their own, even if you think it’s a bad choice.

The digital revolution is connecting children to a world of opportunity and providing them with the skills they need to succeed in a digital world. 

Your teen will also want more privacy and may want to keep their social media conversations private. Although that can be scary at times, all of these changes are a normal part of growing up.

We have a responsibility as parents to teach our children how to manage their own online presence to ensure they’re healthy and safe in their digital lives. 

Here is a link to a brilliant guide to keeping children safe online. READ MORE


3. When is the right time to give your child a phone?

Your child is ready once you’ve taught them the following and they are ready to manage their device in a healthy way.

  • Is your child self-aware, able to recognize their strengths and their challenges?
  • Is your child able to regulate and control their emotions, behaviour and thoughts?
  • Do they understand how the online world operates keeping themselves and others safe online?
  • Will your child follow the rules you have set out and stick to a well-balanced routine?

Introducing your teens to the digital world is a big responsibility. By taking this step, both parent and child agree on the set terms and conditions. Parents should now understand that they give the liberty and opportunities that come with the digital device to their adolescents and it is very difficult to turn it back.

As mentioned above, it’s the parent’s duty to teach their children to be good digital citizens. By now you have also worked long hours instilling qualities required for success in life, and then came to an agreement, right?

And then, suddenly things change. The young person starts to reevaluate themselves. They want to unhook from how they were as a child, from how parents are and want them to be. This may just be too much for parents to watch their children pull away finding their identity.


4. Privacy and trust

Children must have privacy. But giving a child privacy is a privilege you give them because they are trustworthy and honest. It’s not a right. Trust is the secret to finding a balance between your child’s desire for privacy and your need to know what’s going on.

Wanting more privacy and time alone doesn’t suddenly mean there’s anything for your child to hide. Secrecy goes along with the growth of individuality. It’s a necessary part of adolescence.
However, intense secrecy may often be a warning sign.

The best monitoring is low-key and is focused on trust and remaining connected with your child. You need to monitor your child differently than when they were younger.

5. Making the don’t have to punish to teach.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the huge emotional impact Covid-19 have on our teens. It’s therefore only logical to drastically change disciplinary strategies and match it to your child’s temperament. In other words, increase discipline effectiveness foccused on your child’s needs.

“Educate your children and it won’t be necessary to punish them”― Pythagoras

Discipline Vs Punishment

Discipline is the practice of training someone to behave by aset of rules outlining the norms, regulations and responsibilities or accepted practices so they can acquire beneficial future behaviour. Punishment is inflicting suffering in someone for their past behaviour.

The word, discipline, comes from Latin disciplina (teaching, learning or instruction) To discipline means to teach. To teach is to demonstrate and explain how to do something. You don’t need to punish to teach. 

By trying to change your teen’s behaviour by installing fear (punishment), you are modelling superiority and intimidation.

6. Smartphone - the new disciplinary tool


Are you just going to find a hammer in a decent toolbox for carpenters? Hell no, typically a wide range of instruments to achieve the ideal outcome.

Every parent should have a discipline toolbox, equipt with a variety of different customized discipline tools for all the different discipline strategies.

Unfortunately, some only have one tool in their toolbox these days, the ultimate threat, the easy way out, cutting them off the friends…. taking away their phone!

In most cases, parents use technology for good behaviour by offering it as a reward by buying their children a smartphone and then turn it into a punishment tool! Is this an effective curb against unfavourable behaviour?

7. What's actually going through your teen's mind when you take their phones away?

Due to covid-19 restrictions, many gathering places are off-limits for our teens. Networked spaces are among the few places where teens can express themselves, connect to their social circle and develop their identity without adult supervision.

Teenagers use the internet experimenting with an identity, which is a very typical and healthy part of adolescent development. It becomes problematic when parents take things out of context. Social connection is a teens lifeline. Taking it away can lead to a major emotional backlash and cause harm to the parent & child relationship.

This form of punishment does not solve the problem. Some children believe that the possible breach of privacy (when the phone is searched by parents) is worse than the lack of access when parents confiscate their phones. Teens feel untrustworthy and therefore don’t trust their parents either.


I am very blessed being involved with a swim club where the average age of these wonderful athletes are between 10 and 15 years of age. I’ve made it a mission to take the time to try and find out how teens ‘tick’.

Functions such as planning, goal setting, decision making, and problem-solving. What did I learn from them?

They are not waiting for adults to figure things out for them.

8. What do teens have to say about parents searching their phones or taking it away?

The main reason they feel is that their parents don’t trust them. 99% of teens will tell you that they do understand the dangers of the digital world. They understand that their parents are scared and want to protect them, but spying on them breaks trust and invades their privacy.

They also feel that parents are inconsistent and are not the perfect digital role models. Invading their privacy creates frustration. It creates an emotional backlash to a point where they don’t trust their parents either and would then rather turn to their social peers for support.

Their phones help them stay in touch with the individuals to which they feel closest. It’s tied to personal memories. Their phones are an extension of themselves. Taking away your child’s phone is like ripping off their lifeline especially during covid-19 limitations. For them, it’s not a punishment for some wrongdoing, but rather injust parent/child psychological warfare.

Teens feel that most parents don’t understand the difference between discipline and punishment. They even go so far as to say that their parents find pleasure in cutting them off from their friends. 

Is it really helpful and effective confiscating devices? Why not create an opportunity to correct your child’s behaviour without creating unnecessary tension in your relationship? Teach your child to learn from natural consequences. Discipline and teach and remember the 3 “R’s” of natural consequences; related, respectful and reasonable. At the end of the day, it’s up to each parent to decide the best way to discipline your children, but take into consideration the controversial effects of taking away a child’s phone.