Should You Control Your Teens’ iPhone Use?
So you got your teenager an iPhone! Nice. You realize, of course, that you just gave 100% complete access to all the world’s information & content on a device more powerful than the Apollo 11 to a pubescent young adult whose prefrontal cortex is nowhere near developed? Yeah, let that sink in for a few minutes. Teenagers are stupid, and they need boundaries. Here’s how we are able to reign in both the content and the time our kids consume on these devices using these three tools to help parents control teens’ iphone use.
A Little Background
Smartphones are a part of our lives now. I’ve come to accept it. As parents, my wife and I held off for a very long time, and even had major disagreements about when and how we would allow our teens to have phones. Ultimately, it was 9th grade, after 3 years of
“Dad!!! I’m the ONLY ONE in the entire middle school who doesn’t have a phone!!!” DADDDDD!!!!!!!“
And there’s a big conundrum there: you give a kid an iPhone and in 10 minutes they know how to maneuver it 10X better and faster than you do. That means they can outsmart you and get around just about any rules or restrictions you put on them. But you’re the parent, and it’s your job to make sure that iPhone is no more a danger to your kid than the soccer ball you’d prefer they kick in the yard. It’s a tool, not a savior. But kids don’t see it that way. To them, it’s a lifeline to their social connections. We didn’t grow up with these things, so we can’t see that, at least not instinctively. That’s how you have to think as step 1, much like our cars were our lifeline to social engagement in the 80s and 90s (and earlier).
Who owns the phone?
Step 2 is this: you. are. the. parent. Do you pay for the phone, the cell service, and the internet service that your kid uses at your home? Then you hold all the power. Will you use it? I’m shocked everyday reading the protests of parents who seem at a loss for what to do when their kid screams in holy terror at the very mention of possibly taking away phone privileges for any amount of time.
You’re the parent. Take away the phone. There will be anger, crying, gnashing of teeth, and threats of lawsuits and terror and emancipation. Take away the phone.
Set the Expectations
But before you get to that point, set three things: expectations, limits, and an example. For the expectations, those must must must come before iPhone touches teenager’s hand. For us, our expectations were as follows:
- It’s MY phone; I am allowing you to use it.
- You break it, you pay to fix it. Both our kids have cracked and had to pay to repair an iPhone screen.
- Phones in the kitchen charging station at bed time, which used to be 9pm everyday and is now 10 or 1030 or later on the weekends, depending on what they’ve earned (or lost).
- I can and will check your phone randomly at anytime. If I find anything I don’t approve of, you lose your phone for a length of time TBD.
- When I call or text you, if you do not answer my call or return my text in a reasonable amount of time, you lose your phone for a length of time TBD.
- If you change the screen passcode to your phone or remove my thumbprint, you lose your phone for a length of time TBD.
- If you disable location services or Life360 for any reason that is not pre-approved, you lose your phone for a length of time TBD.
- My permission is required to install and remove apps (Apple settings).
- If you misbehave in other ways not related to your phone, you may lose your phone for a length of time TBD.
- If you lose your phone for a length of time TBD, and you ask to get it back, I might just give it to you, but you gotta ask nicely.
Set their Limits
We found OurPact and Life360 early on in this journey. Recently, Apple has (finally!) offered up a little bit of help (they could do so much more) to parents with their new Screen Time settings. These apps are a good start. Used together, we have turned our kid’s iPhone 7 into nothing more than a really nice phone. The kid has the potential to earn more features – like text or other apps – once the kid can handle the responsibility just having an Apollo 11 in his pocket.
Note: I want to be able to use text with my kids. It’s how they like to engage naturally, and when I can’t be there in person to talk to them, text is their favorite way to engage me. No, it’s not face to face or talking or writing, but it is easy communication. But once you allow texting, anyone can text them anything and they can text anything to anyone. No good! Enter Slack, which is primarily a business team communication tool, but which also has a free version (mobile app and desktop) for which I control the members/users. Your family is now your new “Team.” When I send my kid a slack message, they get a notification just like a text, and they can reply just like text. They can attach files and pictures and emojis, too. Problem solved.
OurPact allows us to set rules for phone usage. Both our kids have their phones on them at just about all times except during sleeping hours. We have a set of schedules that we use as the default. If a kid is doing well, we reserve the right to extend schedules. Or, if there’s a special occasion and a kid asks nicely to extend their phone for a certain time period, we reserve the right to say “yes.”
OurPact also allows us to control which apps are available to our kids during or outside of these schedules. That means if I don’t want my kid to have access to Safari or Chrome, I turn it off, period. It literally disappears from their screen right before their eyes. The settings are always available, available per their schedules, or never available.
OurPact is a little tricky to install, and you have to actually have your kid’s phone in your hand when you do it, but their instructions are pretty good. Sometimes it takes an uninstall/reinstall cycle, but it’ll eventually work.
Life360 give us the ability to know exactly where our kids are at all times. Now, this is kinda where I struggle, because I grew up in the 70s and 80s. My parents had no idea where I was most of the time. My mom would step out on the front porch and yell or whistle, and if I heard her, I come home (maybe). When I turned 16 and got my license and a minimum wage job that very same day, I was gone. If I was home, I was either really tired, really sick, or really hungry. Sound like your kids? Mine either. This generation is weird.
So, we wanna keep tabs on our kids. In the early days, we would track them all over. Over the last year or so, we’ve really toned down on this one, and just use it to check when we think they’ll be home. Or, as has happened more than a few times, to determine where Mom or Dad is because Mom and/or Dad said “I’ll pick them up”, but we can’t remember who – mom or dad – actually said that or when we might have said it. So, it’s more of a convenience than anything, but still very useful.
But, we do live in Atlanta. It’s a big freaking city, and teenagers are stupid. We need to be able to find them when they hit a mailbox or a Mercedes or a tree. Or so I’ve heard.
Finally, Apple finally gave us a built in tool to help control what we cannot otherwise control because Apple (apparently) doesn’t want us to control it. Little rant here: Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al, absolutely 100% know and completely understand that they have created virtual drugs in their apps and devices that they now use to reap huge profits. I’m a capitalist, so I have no issue with this system. What I take issue with is these same companies turning a blind eye to the addictions they have created and giving parents nothing, no tools, to help stem the tide.
Which means we have to be the parents. Parenting isn’t easy. Adulting sucks.
Apple Screen Time
The new Screen Time in iOS12 is pretty good for tracking your own Screen Time so you can set an example for your kids because most parenting is caught not taught. In other words, they are watching you to learn what to do. It’s also helpful in complementing apps like OurPact and Life360. For example, if your kid has the tendency to look at inappropriate stuff in a browser, you could use OurPact to disable Safari or Chrome or whatever browser app you use. But, did you know that just about every other app comes with a built-in broswer? Yup, and guess what any kid can get to with that somewhat limited but built in browser? That’s right.
Screen Time now lets you limit the functionality of that built in browser. If a kid gets to the browser in the Remind or GroupMe app, that browser cannot be used to go anywhere except the web page(s) that the app itself contains.
Set the Example
I struggle the most here. I love my iPhone, and I have it with me at all times. That’s no crime. But what is a crying shame is when I am on my phone and my kid wants to tell me something, but gives up because I am into my phone more than I’m into my kid.
Yeah, that has happened. More than once. A lot. You, too?
We are the parents. Yes, our kids know their way around an iPhone way better than we do, but we’re the parents. Parenting is hard, and adulting sucks. But if we don’t do it, our kids will expect participation trophies, demand presents at every kid’s birthday party, and will never hear the word “no.” That doesn’t do them any good for when they get to start adulting. It’s just wrong.
Don’t be that parent who cannot stand up to a teenager. Take away the phone. Then set expectations, limits, and an example.