Do you hate your teenager's phone?

Teens on phones

Part one of a focus on mobile phones and our students. Next time, we’ll look at the issue of mobile phones at school.

I have to be honest, I think I hate the combination of teenagers and mobile phones. My brother tells me he has thrown three of my niece’s phones in the pool and I totally understand.

Let’s be realistic, there are some good things about phones. I mean, as a teacher, when phones ring in class, it is undoubtably Mum. I have had some fairly entertaining conversations with parents who are always “just letting John know…”. We use them to convey information too. 

And I really do think that out of school particularly, phones have real value. They are convenient and we never want our kids left unprotected. Before phone age, I can’t tell you how many times I sat at home worrying over a late bus, only to find out later, it has not even left the school. Now we get a message and can go get them. What about when your teen gets a job? Yes, definitely good to know when shifts change and a lift home is needed. In fact, when our kids have a phones, many parents feel reassured. We get calls when training ends early, buses are missed or they are somewhere they just don’t feel comfortable.

I’d be pretty silly too if I did not recognise that times have changed. Teens rarely watch TV or even chat on the phone. Messaging, group chats, gossiping, checking out new fashions or products, watching sports apps, even hearing important news stories – all these occur via the phone. For us parents too, more often than not.

Boy with phone

Yet, there are problems as pretty much every parent of a teen knows. Let’s look at those and grab some concrete tips how to cope. Just a heads up, I haven’t gone into the very real dangers of phones, for instance, in terms of social media. That will be a whole blog on another day. I think that deserves some focused attention, don’t you? Meanwhile, what do you think of these more general hints? 


I admit, I always train my kids to be able to message me, “I forgot to feed my fish...” or something innocent their friends can see. It’s a bit of a code, and I know to call immediately and tell them I am coming to pick them up as there is some sort of family emergency. Peer pressure is real and it sometimes very hard for kids to disentangle themselves when they know they should. Plan a code of your own. You can use the phone cleverly!

But, let’s be honest, the mobile phone can be counter productive too. Every year, I tell new Year 7 parents NOT to fall into the trap of playing runner. You know the scenario - and you have probably done it - at least in primary school. You watched little Lucy complete her assignment all week and then, on the day it is due, she calls you having arrived at school without it. And, there it is on the desk, by the door, on the lounge… Now, for those of us who are already at work, we probably can’t help – but for those on their way out the door or at home, the dilemma is there.

Most of us can’t help ourselves but jump in the car and drive it right up to them. I am going to say, DON’T DO THIS TO THEM. Honestly, being late with an assignment in junior school is a learning experience. Will their academic career crash to the ground? No – quite the opposite! Trust me, you fix it and the failure won’t stick – it will happen again. If you don’t drive it up, they are far more likely to learn from the error and, when it does matter, like for senior assessment Tasks, they won’t make the mistake again.

Remember too, how many times do we hear, “Oh everyone forgot, so the teacher gave us another day’” OR “The teacher was absent, so we have until tomorrow”? These days, submitting work online is changing this scenario but the other day my son forgot his sports uniform – same deal. Holding firm, (‘I’m so sorry but I have left”) I asked him when he arrived home, what the punishment was. He said, “the teacher doesn’t mind – I just like walking home in it”! Pretty glad I did not make myself late for school by doubling back to somehow get it to him!

Teenager sneaking a look at phone under desk

Is your teenager on the phone all the time?

If your kid is a teenager, you likely think they are on the phone too much. I agree, I am tired of seeing to top of my son’s head (although he is now starting to tower over me, so it is more his forehead , but you know what I am talking about). He can’t leave the phone alone. He is always tapping messages, scrolling through feeds, or those bleeding air pods... And I am trying to be reasonable.

Firstly, as a mother of three sons and a pretty successful teacher for over twenty years in a leadership position, time has taught me, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It is tempting to scream and even stomp on the bloody thing. However, that does tend to be counterproductive. The blocks go up and the resentment is at you – so the focus moves away from the phone completely.

Sleeping off the rage and having a calm discussion the next day – without the phone – but where you explain your fears for them, is more likely to have a better result. Explain how you feel ignored, you are missing the family chat and the focus on school seems to suffer. You may even have genuine health concerns.

What I don’t suggest is banning the phone, full stop. Let’s face it, dealing with a mobile phone is an issue for many adults too. Ideally, what parents need is our teens to be able to manage the phone. Raising successful adults is helping them learn these skills.

Parent praying as daughter on phone

So, let's try and set some rules

Trust me it is easier if you set these before they become issues but you can still bring them in.  Maybe try one at a time.

  • Time it right: Many parents wait until Year 7 until the phone is given as ‘theirs’. If they have access sometimes when they are younger, it is yours and they just can borrow it.
  • No phones at the table if people are eating together
  • Put the phone aside while doing homework. This is hard for them – try and sell it that they will actually finish faster. On the desk is better than in the lap.
  • Only allow one air pod in if you are travelling – they can still hear with the other ear. I like to encourage my son to play his music in my car. He can use my Spotify account or his. Admittedly, we skip songs I find a bit much. If you are both focused on the same song, you may even chat and turn it down!
  • No phones in the bathroom – there is just no need. We’ll chat more about phone safety and dangers in another post.
  • Put the phone out of the bedroom at night. They will sleep better for sure. I have to be honest, this disintegrated a bit for us over time and holidays (we kept forgetting to insist) but you might be better. A specialist I went to last year actually told me he does not allow the phone within 3 feet of his daughter’s head while she sleeps.

Are you walking the talk?

Parents on phone at dinnertime

One last thing, I can’t help but add is that many parents set poor examples. How do you use your phone.? Try and model the behaviours. Make a family pledge to all follow the rules. I have a friend whose family has technology free days. I think if you bring these in when the family is young, they can be part of your family culture.

Anyway, I am hoping something here helps. Feel free to add some comments to help others below. The reality is, the more you rant and rave, the less likely it will get better. I wish you all luck and remind you: I don’t think we are trying to eliminate the phone, instead we are encouraging better management of it.

  • March 09, 2023
  • Total Education Centre
Write a Comment

NOTE: Comments must be approved before they are published.

  • March 17, 2023
  • Janet O'Hearn

In my house we have just not allowed a phone until our kids turn 16. We can’t see why they need one.

  • March 17, 2023
  • Lee Mikael

Janet that’s a bit naive. Phones are part of life . They are not just for needs.


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