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Cell phone struggle with 14 year old

Dear Dr. Laura,
My daughter just turned 14 today. Last October I got a family cell phone plan. The phone's original intent was for emergencies only. Then I got talked into text messaging plan and call display so her part of the bill is $50 a month.

Last night I found a message on her phone regarding me and some very poor language that I just don't tolerate. I found this after I caught her taking personal calls on the cell phone. We have pooled minutes and she was told no personal calls. Well in 4 days she has racked up 30 min.

Her dad and I are divorced but we still talk. He thinks I should take the phone away for a year. I think I should take the messaging and call display off and she uses the phone for original intent... emergencies only. The only reason why I am saying that is because I still have to pay a minimum of $35 a month for that phone.

Is there any thing else I can do? I feel like she is taking advantage of me. She doesn't contribute to the family in any way, most of her time is on the phone, computer or playing guitar hero.

I told her she can't take her phone to her dad's this weekend and she told me that she is not going. There is no option with that as I work and don't want her here all weekend alone.


Dear Kathy,
You certainly have your hands full!
This is why moms dread the teenage years. The kids get too big to order around, and if they don’t have a good reason to obey us, they simply don’t.

Your primary question seems to be whether to take the cell phone away from your daughter, as your ex-husband suggests, or whether to simply change your plan so your daughter doesn't have the "extras" (text and call display). You are also unhappy with her using the phone for personal calls. But your problem seems much bigger: your daughter doesn’t seem to be connecting with you, which lessens her motivation to cooperate, and she is apparently angry enough at you to have used disrespectful language in regard to you on her phone. I can hear in your letter that this is a source of heartbreak for you. And I know that it’s not good for your daughter, either. Teenage girls need to feel connected to their mothers. When they don’t, it’s a risk factor for all kinds of acting out, such as poor school performance, drug use and sexual promiscuity.

Of course, teenage girls also need to be connected to their peers, and cell phones are a kind of private space to them, a lifeline to the outside world. So we have to recognize a big disconnect in perspective: while most adults consider cell phones a privilege, our kids now think of them as a basic right.

Here’s what I would do if it were my daughter:

1. Change the plan to one you are comfortable with. (When you say you "got talked into" the “extra” texting and call display, it sounds to me like you did what we often do as parents, and went beyond your comfort level. Don't blame her -- take responsibility for your choice -- but you certainly should be listening to your own gut and changing that plan.) Explain to her that any use of the cell phone beyond emergencies is a privilege that you provide and that she needs to earn with responsible behavior. Using those extra minutes was not responsible behavior.

2. Decide what behavior change you most want from her – more involvement with the family? More respectfulness in dealing with you? Make a chart that you and she can check in on together daily to give her a star if she has exhibited the desired behavior. Tell her that you will give her a cell phone upgrade (texting/call display and/or extra minutes for personal calls) if she can earn stars for at least 25 days out of the next month. Explain that she will have to maintain that level of stars to retain the cell phone upgrade in the future (and that you reserve the right to change what you’re asking of her in future months.)

3. Have a heart to heart with your daughter. Before you do this, get in touch with how much you love her. When you sit down with her, express that love. Then say that it hurts you that she feels so distant, that all she does is play guitar hero and spend time on the phone and computer. Acknowledge that teenagers need time with friends, but say that you also need her to stay connected to you and your ex and any siblings. Add that your feelings were terribly hurt by the disrespectful language used in relation to you on her phone. Remember that all of us defend against hurt feelings by getting angry, and commit yourself to staying in touch with those hurt feelings rather than the angry defensiveness that makes you want to attack her.

Listen to your daughter’s response with as open a mind as possible, even if you have to bite your tongue. In fact, really try to see it from her point of view and offer her empathy. For instance, if she says she doesn’t want to be around you because you always find fault with her, just listen, and don’t take it personally. This is information about her, about how afraid she is that she doesn’t measure up in your eyes. Just reflect her feelings: “So you find it hard to hang out with me these days because you think I criticize you a lot?” If you think there is also some truth in there about your own behavior, great, acknowledge it. Don’t make excuses, and don’t attack back. Think of this as a test you need to pass to get your daughter back. Your willingness to hear her out and stay calm will be like opening a door. She won’t be able to tell you this now, but she will be enormously grateful. Someday she may tell you that it changed her life.

Before you end the conversation, state plainly that you expect your daughter to treat you respectfully, both to your face and behind your back. If she has a problem with you, she can express it to you directly and you will try to listen with an open heart. Tell her that clearly the two of you need to communicate better and that you intend to start by expressing your love for her every single day, and give her a hug. Then make a deal that you and she will have a daily check-in to touch base and catch up, such as a cup of tea before bedtime, as well as a date every weekend, such as going for a walk together.

4. Prioritize rebuilding your connection with your daughter. Keep those daily tea dates and weekly walk dates and use them to listen. (Forget about lectures; she won't hear them anyway.) There’s lots of info on this website about how to do this. I also highly recommend the book Staying Connected to Your Teenager: How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They're Really Saying by Michael Riera.

The good news is that in the larger scheme of teenage life, this skirmish with the cell phone is actually a relatively minor dispute, which highlights the fault lines in your relationship with your daughter. You have an opportunity now to do the necessary repair work to lay a foundation for the teen years ahead. Good luck!
Dr. Laura

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Linda commented on 23-Jan-2011 02:26 PM
We, too, had given our 14 year old daughter a cell phone, and then the texting request came, and then another upgrade to "unlimited" texting came. I, mom, allowed it, and paid for it, with the understanding that no texting was allowed after 10:00 p.m. She always got up for school on time, but the grades started falling. Partly because of being in a sport and there was not much time for homework, but another HUGE part was she was texting every other do you keep your concentration on homework with this kind of interruption? She disagreed. We removed texting, but not her cell phone use. She rarely will talk on the phone anyway, but could, if she needed to reach out to friends about here dilemma. WELL, the cell phone was removed shortly thereafter when she quite bluntly said she didn't love us or respect us at all. I know it's just acting out in anger, but it can not be tolerated. She also was caught cheating on a test, which now she must serve a detention for. We have said if this is acceptable to her friends, she is hanging with the wrong crowd. She refuses to attend the supper table to eat with us as well as do any few chores I ask her to. I have turned over all punishments to father at this point. She must go through him to receive any priviledges again. We do NOT have any communication hardly with our daughter, yet we will bend over backwards to support her with sporting events she is in or items she needs for school or personal care. She has her own world, which she sneaks in, but will not open up to us because we are "annoying". It hurts, I have told her so, but she says she doesn't care and I don't need to know and don't know her friends. Now, we have decided she can no longer go to her friends house, either, since last time she went, she met up with her 17 year old boyfriend, which we knew nothing about before, either, until I looked at all the texting numbers shown on our cell phone bill that were going to his number (checked that number on her contacts list on her phone) Sneaking = No priviledges. We can not trust her, now. I can't tell you how hurt we/I feel over all of this disrespect, sneaking attitude. I would give my everything to help her...and I DO give every penny I earn on my job to send her to a good, private school. I don't get a thank you as she hates school. Trying to do my best, but feel it is hopeless. Why is this such a disaster! Her older sister is still at home, no job, but attends college. She lays around every day when she doesn't have school...and also shows disrespect to us....definitely wore off onto younger child. My husband got fed up with this, too, and disconnected HER cell phone. She will have to go to him to earn it back or plead her case to show reason she should even have it. My only concern is for emergency in car. Now she won't have it there so I am rather concerned, but he say she doesn't need it. She hate us tremendously, but not enough to move out closer to college. We even offered to help pay rent for her, plus we pay tuition every other semester to help her out. We think it's TIME TO GO for her....she won't respect us and even get up to go to church on Sundays, which was ALWAYS a family thing. Now our 14 year old see this and resents us for making her go....BTW, our 14 year old goes to a Christian this a mess or what?
Laura Markham commented on 14-Nov-2011 09:43 AM
Linda- Your daughter is spinning out of control, and you don't have the relationship to reel her back in. Your punishments are just driving her away, and you are seeing the results - lying, sneaking, cheating. Please Please Please get your entire family
into family counseling now. Don't wait for the drugs and sex to ruin your daughter's life.
Anonymous commented on 11-Apr-2012 07:12 AM
hahahahahhahha... live and let live, the more you come down on your kids, the more they will push away. I mean really? You're worried about them making phonecalls or texting all the time, or going out with friends and playing games without having time
for family? Maybe, it's because all they ever get is hassle for doing the things they want to do. Why are you trying to change your child's personality into something that YOU want it to be? Everyone is different, all you can do is be a guide. Try this, next
time your daughter is playing guitar hero, join her for a game... now that's a real parent/child bond. Don't expect her to see things from your point of view, if you won't see things from her's. You are going about this totally the wrong way. Linda- Your daughter
is spinning out of control, and you don't have the relationship to reel her back in. Your punishments are just driving her away ^^ this ^^ Punishment for using a phone. Punishment for playing games. Jesus... get a grip...

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