9 Signs You Should Restrict Your Teen's Cellphone Privileges

Keep an eye on your teen's cellphone use.
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Although many teens think access to a cellphone is a right, owning a phone is definitely a privilege. And there may be times when taking that privilege away could be the best thing for your teen.

Be on the lookout for signs your teen’s cellphone is interfering with his behavior, grades, social life, or overall everyday functioning. Here are nine warning signs you may want to restrict your teen’s cellphone privileges.

1. Your Teen Breaks Your Cellphone Rules

It’s important to create clear cellphone rules that outline your expectations. Your list of rules should address issues surrounding cellphone etiquette—like no taking phone calls during dinner—as well as rules that address safety issues—like no sending sexually explicit photos.

Rules should also address the financial aspects of owning a cellphone. If your teen goes over her data allowance because she’s streaming movies, or she needs a new phone because she lost hers, make her financially responsible. Take away her cellphone privileges until she pays the bill, or until she can purchase herself a new phone.

2. Your Teen’s Grades Are Suffering

If your teen’s grades are slipping, taking away his cellphone might be in order. Taking away his cellphone for a while might mean fewer distractions while he’s doing his homework.

But more importantly, you can use the phone as a motivator to get good grades.

Say, “When you get caught up on all your homework, you can have your phone back.” Earning his phone privileges could be the incentive he needs to get serious about his school work.

3. Your Teen Can’t Sleep

While all electronics could interfere with a good night’s sleep, smartphones can be especially problematic.

If your teen is having trouble waking up for school on time, or he sleeps especially late on the weekends, it could be a sign his cellphone is keeping him up at night.

Midnight text messages from friends or checking social media when he wakes at 2 a.m. might be the culprit. Don’t let your teen sleep with a smartphone in the bedroom.

Create a rule that says all smartphones get turned at a certain hour, like 9 p.m. Then charge phones in the kitchen (or another common room) during the overnight hours. Then, your teen won’t feel pressured to take part in late-night conversations with his friends.

4. Your Teen Shares Inappropriate Information

If your teen uses her smartphone to share inappropriate messages on social media, or you learn she’s giving out your address to strangers, it’s important to intervene. Your teen might not only damage her online reputation, but she also may get caught up in some unhealthy activity.

Establish clear guidelines for posting on social media and sharing information online.

Explain the potential consequences—both the social impact and the at-home consequences—of oversharing.

Additionally, talk about the dangers of spreading rumors, cyberbullying, and getting caught up in inappropriate conversations. Discuss how some people tend to say things online they wouldn’t normally say in person and make sure she knows how hurtful her online comments can be.

5. Your Teen Seems Addicted to the Phone

There are reasons why many teens constantly feel the need to be on social media. A positive social media interaction or a quick text message gives them a boost in confidence. So, they keep going back for more feedback.

But, being attached to a smartphone all day can become quite problematic. If your teen’s texting, scrolling, and gaming interfere with her ability to get work done, set some healthy limits on how much your teen is allowed to use the phone.

Consider doing a digital detox as well. Set aside a screen-free weekend for the whole family or make every Saturday a day without cellphones. Creating activities that don’t involve technology can remind your teen she can have fun without her cellphone.

6. Your Teen Is Obsessed With Taking Selfies

While selfies may sound harmless on the surface, taking constant self-portraits can actually pose several problems. For some teens, the quest to capture the perfect selfie can become a true obsession.

For others, the desire to take an epic selfie leads to dangerous decisions. Some teens are risking their lives to capture selfies on the edge of a cliff or while performing dangerous stunts all in an effort to gain attention and admiration.

7. Your Teen’s Self-Worth Is Linked to Social Media Activity

Some teens grow dependent on social media to fuel their self-worth. When they receive positive comments and likes on their social media activity, they feel good about themselves. But if they aren’t drawing enough positive attention, their self-esteem plummets.

Other teens create online personas that bear little resemblance to their real lives. They create social media profiles under fake names or chat with strangers under false pretenses because they enjoy pretending they are someone else.

It’s dangerous for teens to make their self-esteem dependent upon their online activities. Not only do they expose themselves to online dangers—like catfish and cyberbullies—but they’re also measuring their self-worth in an unhealthy manner. It’s important to help your teen feel good about who he is as a person, not just how he feels about his online presence.

8. Your Teen Is Missing Out on Real Life

Whether you’re vacationing in the Grand Canyon, or you’re at a professional sporting event, it’s common to see teens with their noses buried in their phones. It’s also common to see teens ignore the people standing right in front of them so they can text someone on their phones.

If your teen’s cellphone use crosses the line from being a tool that enhances her life, to an object that interferes with living, restrict her privileges. She may need your help setting limits on how much she stares at her phone.

9. Your Teen Is Using the Phone While Driving

If your teen can’t resist replying to a text message when he’s driving, or he can’t refrain from scrolling through social media every time he gets to a traffic light, his cellphone use could have fatal consequences. Establish a zero tolerance policy for cellphone use while driving.

Whether you install an app that restricts his ability to use his phone, or you tell him to keep his phone in the glove box, talk about the dangers of distracted driving. If your teen isn’t mature enough to follow the rules, he’s not ready to be behind the wheel. Not only might you need to restrict his phone privileges, but you also might consider restricting his driving privileges.

Common Concerns Parents Have About Taking Away a Teen’s Cellphone

There may be several reasons that you’re hesitant to restrict your teen’s cellphone privileges. Here are some of the most common questions and concerns parents have.

  • Can I take my teen’s phone away if he paid for the phone? Yes, whether the phone was a gift from Grandma or your teen bought his own phone, you can still take the phone away from him while he’s a minor living under your roof. Even if he pays the bill, you can restrict his phone access.
  • What about safety issues? Letting your teen go to school without a phone in his pocket or allowing him to walk down the street without a phone isn’t likely to cause him harm. After all, you likely grew up without access to a cellphone. If there are certain activities that would make him safer to have a phone, consider allowing him to carry a phone during those times only.
  • How long should I take my teen’s phone away? It depends on the problem. You may simply restrict your teen’s privileges for certain hours during the day. Or, you might want to say he can earn his phone back when he improves his grades or completes his chores on time. Just make sure you don’t ground him indefinitely as that can backfire. Taking the phone away for 24 hours can be a good starting place.
  • Won't my teen just use his other electronics anyway? If your teen is having trouble keeping herself safe on social media or she's engaging in cyberbullying, you may need to take away all of her electronics for a specified time. Otherwise, she might use her laptop, tablet, or other devices to access the internet without her phone. 

Help Your Teen Harness the Power of Technology

Allowing your teen to have a cellphone is an incredible privilege. Whether a phone allows you to keep better tabs on your teen—which means he can stay out later—or he uses an app to remind him of his schedule, a smartphone can help your teen navigate life more easily.

Without spying, keep an eye on your teen's cellphone use. Look for teachable moments when you can help your teen establish healthier screen time habits. 

With appropriate guidance and supervision, teens can discover how to safely integrate technology into their lives. Just make sure to intervene if your teen is developing unhealthy cellphone habits, or if his phone use introduces new problems into his life. 

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