Combating Tween Phone Entitlement

The spirit of Christmas can easily get lost within a sense of entitlement. And nothing seems to drive a sense entitlement among tweens more than the desire for a smartphone. At least that’s the recent experience in our family. Elliott, our 11-year old has been begging and negotiating for a phone for a couple of years now. Age nine seemed a little young, both to have such an expensive electronic “toy” and also to handle the risks and responsibilities. But as he went off to middle school, the concept of phone ownership began to make more sense. Certainly many of the kids his age now have one (he maintains all but him!), but more importantly, there is now some utility to him having a phone, such as when he misses the bus home from school or needs to contact me at work, when texting would be less disruptive.

However, we felt that a step of this magnitude required him to earn the privilege of phone ownership to some degree. So this past fall I put together a plan for him to earn “grades” for good behavior and for doing things around the house – including a tracking sheet to monitor his progress. With the goal of him getting a phone for Christmas. Unfortunately the whole thing fell apart….Elliott was extremely indignant that he had to step through our hoops to earn a phone – and especially that I was “tracking” his actions. And we got tired of having to hover over him and nag him to do the things on the list (the original idea being that his desire for the phone would finally compel him to do all these things WITHOUT us nagging). I finally gave up on the whole tracker. In hindsight, I think it was too complicated, with too many vague elements of behaviors that were difficult to measure.

As time marched on towards Christmas, my husband and I were increasingly concerned about the phone decision. Not only did we feel that he hadn’t really done anything to “earn” it – but we felt his sense of entitlement (shown through his complaints and comments about other kids’ phones) would persist once he had the phone – possibly making him resist our plans to heavily monitor his use and activity on the phone.

In the end we decided that none of us were yet ready for the big phone adventure. While we knew Elliott would likely see our actions in a very bad light, we decided he would not get a phone for Christmas. We are instead putting in a shorter and simpler requirement: one month without ANY late homework – and we will go phone shopping with him. But we are also going to have a detailed talk during that month about how things will work in the brave new phone-owning world:

  • ANY late homework and he loses the phone for a couple of days (other very bad behavior will also have a similar outcome)
  • We will always need to know his password – and will regularly check his phone including texts/etc – inappropriate behavior could risk lost phone privileges
  • We will be running parental controls and monitoring remotely on his phone
  • He will have to pay himself for the running of the phone – which he can do by earning allowance

I’m not sure how well this plan will work either, since we haven’t had much luck to date and our only child does tend to think that the same rules that apply to adults (e.g. our phones are personal and private) should also apply to him. But in the end, we can keep sticking to our guns and refuse to buy the phone at all. He may not like it, but in the end I hope he will learn a valuable lesson.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited fourteen-year old boy. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global diabetes education programs as well as by her fourteen-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a member of the PedSafe Team

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