How often do you take away your kid’s phone? RoongsaK/Shutterstock
Do you take away your teenager’s phone to manage their behaviour? Maybe when they arrive home late from a party or receive a bad report card?
Confiscating, time-limiting or permitting additional access to technology has become a popular parenting strategy. Surveys show that 65% of American parents with teenagers confiscate phones or remove internet privileges as a form of punishment.
It’s no longer simply a tool of distraction – technology access has become a means of behavioural control. But my recent research suggests that this approach might not be the best idea.
I’ve spoken with 50 Australian families with 118 children aged 1-18 about this issue. The data will be published in 2018. Among my sample, a family with two children owns on average six to eight devices. Some children also had devices from a very young age – the youngest was a one-year-old who received a tablet for her first birthday. The youngest mobile phone owner was six years old.
My qualitative investigation suggests that using technology as a bargaining chip can have adverse effects. It may impact the trust you build with your child and how they use technology.
For children 12 years and younger, I saw that parents often use technology as a reward for good behaviour. For example, allowing a two-year-old time on a tablet for using the potty “successfully”.
While it’s important to recognise a child’s achievements, kids can begin to associate technology with being “good” and making their parents proud.
As one eight-year-old explained while sitting on the couch with an iPad either side of him,
I’m a really good boy, that’s why I have two iPads!
This strategy also places emphasis on “use” as opposed to “quality use”.
Quality technology use is commonly understood as use that emphasises creativity and problem-solving. It’s important not to encourage kids to think about screen time in terms of gratification alone. Instead, it should enhance learning, help develop one’s sense of self, or facilitate positive connections.
To give your kid an iPad or not to give your kid an iPad? Jim Bauer/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
In my study, parents with teens often removed or limited technology use as a punishment. For example, taking a phone from a 13-year-old because he was rude.
In separate discussions, parents and teens talked about the backlash to such actions. While parents often interpreted their protests as the punishment “working”, teenagers in my study explained it differently.
If their phone is taken away, they often withdrew from their parents. Instead of focusing on what they’d done wrong, they fixated on not having a phone and finding someone else’s to use in the mean time.
On top of this, teenagers characterised it as a privacy issue. One girl explained,
I don’t know what my mum does with my phone when she has it. She probably searches through it!