How am I going to make the boy pay?
February 23, 2007 7:29 AM   Subscribe

I need help coming up with a creative punishment for my teenage son.

Owing to a glitch in the AT&T/Cingular system, on January 1st, the block against text messaging on my son's phone was disabled. My husband flipped his shit this morning when he discovered that the kid had racked up over US$ 150 in text charges. We have already called Cingular and replaced the block, and we should be getting an abatement on the charge, since the company readily admitted that they were at fault for removing the block in the first place.
Kid's gotta be punished, though. He knows he isn't supposed to be texting, and most of the texts were while he was at school - huge no no. Furthermore, the number of texts was egregious - over 1000!
Now we have to come up with some creative way to punish him, something that goes beyond the "we are taking away your phone until you give us US$ 150". He has a phone so we can keep track of him (which was the point of giving him one in the first place), and he doesn't have a job because school has to be his exclusive priority at this point in his life. He already lost his computer last month for crappy grades, so how can we punish him for this most grievous transgression?
I should also add that corporal punishment has never ever been used, so please don't suggest that I beat him with his phone (although the thought did cross my mind).
Help me punish my kid, mefi!
posted by msali to Grab Bag (69 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If he likes writing so much, have him write a letter to each and every one of his elderly relatives - surely he also has an egregious backlog of thank-you notes to write.
posted by jmgorman at 7:35 AM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'm not a parent but the thing which really strikes me about your complaint is that it's not about the texts themselves.

At least, from my point of view as a UK resident - where practically all kids above about ten years old seem to have a phone and where texting at school, work and every other location is commonplace - sending 1,000 texts isn't a major issue. I know tons of people who send 1,000 texts in a month; certainly my package covers that many. It's probably all the more so if you're young and have fingers nimble enough to send that number of messages!

The problem here seems to be that you as parents thought you had an agreement and your son seems to have transgressed it. It's a matter of him abusing your trust and disobeying you. So the punishment doesn't need to be associated with the phone. Why not simply have a heart-to-heart about trust and then put in place one of your usual punishments?
posted by skylar at 7:36 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

ankle bracelets work better than phone GPS.

When I kicked the my bedroom door in, my parents refused to replace it for a year. So I had no door to my bedroom. That could be a good punishment, taking the door off his room.
posted by parmanparman at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2007

Take the phone away . . . wait, here me out. . . and give him a crappier phone.

If he's got a phone he's embarressed to be seen texting on, that will solve the problem AND serve as a reminder of his transgression.
posted by tiamat at 7:37 AM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Find a place nearby that needs some volunteer labor right after school or on the weekends. Make sure he works the Minimum Wage equivalent of 150 bucks. It'll be good for the community and he might even find something he likes.
posted by GilloD at 7:38 AM on February 23, 2007

You need to assess actual damages. How much money will you really be out? It's unreasonable to ask him to repay $150 if the phone company is going to reimburse you. He already can't text anymore, so that's taken care of.

How are his grades? If the real worry is that he wasn't paying attention, & his grades are bad, you need to address that. If it's his defying your authority that you want to punish, you can ground him. There comes a point where piling punishment on punishment does no good. He'll just resent you and do worse behind your back. Does he understand why what he did was wrong?

In the scheme of things, as long as you aren't out actual money, I don't consider this to be a major offense; I don't see why the penalties should be extreme. I have a teenage daughter, so I know where you're coming from, but I don't want a perfect kid - I want (someday) a decent, respectful adult.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:41 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

He directly went against you, so I'd agree that's definitely got to have some kind of repercussion to discourage repeat behavior. What does he absolutely love? Probably a good idea to figure out what's most important to someone and work backwards from there to customize the punishment. If you make his world smaller for a little bit and make your point by temporarily restricting something that really matters to him, it'll make more of an impact. If you say "no tv for a week" but he'd rather be out playing soccer anyhow, the punishment isn't going to mean as much.
(Not a child-rearing expert, but I've had some experience.)
posted by miss lynnster at 7:44 AM on February 23, 2007

Anything you do will take up a lot of your time. I suspect that the thing to do is not to leave him alone when he's at home, and force his grades up through intensive forced studying.

Yeah I know you won't have time for relaxing in the evening, but most effective punishments are time-intensive for the punisher.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:45 AM on February 23, 2007

It's hard to answer this without knowing your kid a little better.

If he's someone with a strong sense of duty and responsbility already - an inner-directed, self-motivated person - the most severe punishment you could inflict would be to rebuke his conduct in those terms.

But he's not - you already took away his computer for having crappy grades. (Are you kidding? The computer is the #1 tool of the knowledge worker. Taking it away isn't going to make him a better student; it's going to make him stupid.)

With regard to beatings, you failed to knock sense into him before he reached the age of reason; he's too old to beat now, it'll just make him resentful.

What does he truly value in life? Money? Social interaction with his friends? Participation on an athletic team, or another extracurricular? Whatever it is, take it away from him. This way, he will learn respect for the ability of authority to deprive him of his pleasures; this will make his future life as an employee less painful.

Or is your goal in punishing him because you're angry at him and want revenge? In that case, maybe you should reconsider. You won't get your $150 back, and there is maybe something even more valuable to lose.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:46 AM on February 23, 2007

No television, no video games, plus he already has no computer, for a week. You could add no telephone at home. There won't be much left to do but homework, chores and read.
posted by caddis at 7:48 AM on February 23, 2007

Why don't you just talk to him about it? Ask him what he thinks his puishment should be.

Clarkstonian is right, when I was a teenager and my parents punished me for something I already knew I wasn't supposed to do, I just tried harder not to get caught. You have to make him feel bad/responsible about it aside from feeling bad because of the punishment. Otherwise, he try to avoid punishment instead of avoiding the behaviors you want to change.
posted by Packy_1962 at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

Another thought... I don't know how old he is or what your relationship is like, but if you communicate well you can try talking to him about what he did... ask him if he understands why he needs to be punished and take responsibility... and then ask him what HE thinks his punishment should be. Turn it into a mutual conversation. If he says something easy as punishment, you can say, "Don't you think it should be a little more than that? You spent a lot of money that wasn't yours." and work together to find one that you can both accept. That kind of exercise can be a good one to get parents & kids communicating & understanding eachother a little better. And it might click with him what's going on & the importance of taking responsibility & take away any anger he may have about being punished.

Or not. But I've seen it happen.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2007

Why do you need a phone to track your kid? And what makes you think that him having a phone will allow you to track him? He could be ANYWHERE if he has cell phone.

Look into getting texting off his phone. He abused it, he loses it.

It doesn't have to be something creative. Just completely ground him, especially for the bad grades. He goes to the dinner table, school or the bathroom. Take away the phone, tv, going out, computer, ipod everything. Tell him he can do pretty much whatever he wants (within reason) as long as his grades stay up. He grades go down, the hammer comes down, no ifs, ands or buts. This way he knows what he has to do, and has control over it over.

Now, during this peroid of grounding, work with him with his schoolwork to make sure he's getting it and give extra hugs/affection, but his butt stays in his room until he can do what is expected of him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 AM on February 23, 2007

posted by miss lynnster at 7:51 AM on February 23, 2007

Let him live off a prepaid phone from Cingular's Pay As You Go plan. Load it up with some balance and tell he's responsible for his phone calls and balance. Text messages are 5 cents, calls are 25 cents/min. A $25 refill expires in 90 days. After every text message and phone call, he'll get a reminder how much his remaining balance is.

I think he'll quickly learn to be frugal with his texting.
posted by jaimev at 7:52 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why a punishment? Why not natural consequences? If you stop thinking of your kid as an enemy to be controlled and more like a person you have a relationship with, things might go more easily.

Punishments have the downside that punished people can think of them as fees to pay for what they want. If what they want is more freedom to make their own decisions, they can be willing to pay a pretty high price for it. (Comparison: library fines. Might work for people who place a high premium on their money, but other people just think of them as rental fees. Not only are the fines ineffective for these people on a pragmatic basis, they don’t see anything wrong with keeping the book without renewing it / longer than the permissible period precisely because they are paying for it.)

If the issue is that you don’t trust him with a phone, take it away. You need it to keep track of him? Well, how did people keep track of their kids before cell phones? Does it mean that you’ll have to pick him up after school and escort him to the mall to hang out? That’s about your relationship with him. If you have to put a serious cramp in your lifestyle — possibly including going to work two hours early so that you can leave early and be there when he gets out — because he can’t be trusted with a phone, he gets the point that the phone is a responsibility and that using it correctly is part of his contribution to the family.

Which it is. So treat it that way.
posted by kika at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

I 2nd jmgoreman, with a twist. When I got in trouble as a kid my parents made me write essays. If I was irresponsible, as it seems your kid was, they would make me write an essay on responsibility. It wasn't fun (punishment) and I think it was helpful in the long run (rehibilitation).
posted by gregoryc at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

This all seems like a lot of trouble (take a door off his room for texting "too much?" him a "crappier" phone?) for a pretty commonplace thing. Kid disobeys parents. Big deal. And for the record, 1000 texts/month is really no big deal. It's how kids communicate these days. The issue, as skylar pointed out, is not the texts themselves. So, do what you normally do when he breaks a rule-- ground him or take away his tv privileges for a weekend. Or, if you like the "constructive punishment" route, have him write letters to relatives, as another commenter suggested. Or, increase his chores for a bit.

Surely this isn't the first or biggest behavior transgression you've faced. I mean, he is going to be a teenager soon, so get used to it. I would wait until he totals your car or throws a kegger while you're away to consult MeFi.
posted by sneakin at 7:53 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Link it to him getting higher grades, because that's what you want and surely what even he wants (though it will cost him some work). Tell him he'll get the phone (and computer?) back when his average for the semester is X.Y and that he will lose it again (for at least the subsequent semester) if his grades fall below that average again.

If he doesn't try, he will never get his phone back. If he does get his phone back, it will be because he's making you (and himself) happy with his grades.

If you think he has to have a phone (probably not true, but parents have been brainwashed into believing parenting without wireless connections is impossible), put him on some kind of restricted baby plan that allows him to send and receive calls between only you or the emergency services.
posted by pracowity at 7:55 AM on February 23, 2007

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's- no wait, that's something different.

When I think back on my teen years I'm amazed my parents didn't just shoot me. Surely no jury of their peers would have convicted them. I was a crappy student and willful enough that there wasn't much my parents could do to get me to do things I didn't see the point in doing. Sometimes - particularly when I see these kinds of questions on Ask - I ponder how I'd approach the problem if I were in their shoes.

What I always come back to thinking about is the thing I think most about in my adult life - having choices - and the fact that so many of my parents' attempted punishments were ineffective because they were either not more unpleasant than what I was not doing (my homework) or I was too stubborn to do what was in my own interest.

So, thinking back to little Phearlez, I think I would try more carrots along with the sticks and - maybe most importantly - I would make them baby carrots. Many of the things my parents tried to motivate me with were just too big or required too much sustained effort to get to. I was certainly capable of getting good grades for an entire quarter, but it was just too distant a goal for me to effectively focus on.

I think we as adults very easily forget how differently kids view time. At 36 now, turning 40 seems right around the corner and I have life goals and plans that stretch out to retirement. But when I entered high school those few years were a length of time that I felt would never get through.

Combine that thought with the fact that good habits take time to ingrain and I think that's the kind of tack you should take here. Figure out something you can get him doing for two weeks that can pay off for him, and make it something that's an appropriate incremental increase. You can't walk out the door and run a marathon and you can't radically change your diet and expect to stick with it. Identify some study/school habits that you can reasonably expect him to pick up and start right off the bat and grow on them.

As far as the text messages, I think you have a real potential carrot right there. Since you can get detailed statements from the cellphone company you have the capacity to extend him some options but, at the same time, insure he never uses it during school hours. Make that the equivalent of DUI - doing it at all, even once, revokes his privileges. Using it other hours is something you can extend to him when he steps up to the plate on the grades.
posted by phearlez at 7:56 AM on February 23, 2007 [13 favorites]

Take the $150 you saved and go find him a tutor for his crappy grades.
posted by filmgeek at 7:59 AM on February 23, 2007

Thanks for all your great suggestions so far.
I wanted to clarify one thing - I used the expression "grievous transgression" in my original question in a joking fashion. We realize that this is not that serious, and in large part, a problem with the phone company, not the kid. The overarching issue is definitely not the actual text messages themselves, rather, the fact that our son defied a rule of the house. Because this is a new type of behavior (i.e., one that neither my husband and I were punished for as teens), we wanted to come up with parameters for a new type of punishment.
Ikkyu2 - there are so many computers in our house, the boy does not lack for the pursuit of knowledge, he just can't play online games.
Kika - I honestly don't know how parents kept track of their kids before cell phones.
posted by msali at 8:07 AM on February 23, 2007

Flip it around, make the text messaging a reward, not a cause for punishment. If he gets good grades, sign him up for an unlimited text message plan. Set limits and a goal of a kickass phone (iPhone? Sidekick?) if his grades improve dramatically. You may be surprised at how much better he communicates with you as well.

My friend's teenage daughter would never call to tell her where she was going, but she'll now send a dozen text messages ("Going to the mall" "At the mall" "Eating lunch" "Going back to the car" "In the driveway" "At the door" "in the house" "In my bed") because--as was said earlier--this is how teenagers are communicating now.
posted by ColdChef at 8:11 AM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

If you feel you MUST punish him, though, have him read this thread to see how much tougher you could have been with him. That should scare the shit out of him.
posted by ColdChef at 8:14 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

The "writing the letters to grandma" thing sounds good at first, but...really, do you want to make communication a punishment? Just a thought...
posted by ColdChef at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Other issues aside, swap your son's phone for this one. If my first grader thinks having one of these would be awesome, I'm sure your teenager would be mortified.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

None of the replies so far have touched on there being a difference of meanings and between the concepts of punish vs discipline. The word discipline comes from the Latin root for learning/teaching. Punish has a different conotation. I think in this instance your objective is to teach a lesson through some form of punishment; so the end goal is discipline.

There are a number of good ideas above. Whichever you go with be firm and be consistent. Good luck.
posted by X4ster at 8:19 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is there any real reason your husband flipped his shit? I mean, $150 is a fair chunk of cash, but he knew that text messaging was supposed to be turned off and it really wasn't worth freaking out about until the billing was sorted out -- and it wasn't a big deal.

So, there's the issue of your son's disobedience in using text messaging. Have you asked him why he's text messaging, and why he does it so often? He might respond that everyone's doing it and that's how his friends communicate, but really what's he getting out of it? If you can make him realize that not every kid is messaging all day at school, and that most of the messages are completely useless - "what u doing?" "im in history" - then maybe you can jointly agree that he's just doing it because it kills time and because it's something he's not supposed to be doing.

Give him a stake in the whole thing -- make text messages off limits during the school day, and offer to let him pay for a messaging plan for use outside of school. Tell him his cell phone has to be off during the school day, then go ahead and call him several times during the day -- if it rings at all instead of going straight to voicemail, you know the phone is on and can act accordingly -- by having him be at home at certain times, and have him "check out" the cell phone from your care. If you're working until 6, then make sure he calls you from home right after school, then is home at 6. Then if he wants to go out, he can borrow his cell phone back from you until he gets home later in the evening.

I had a friend in high school who had parents who flipped out at every minor indiscretion. The funny part was that he and his brother were good kids -- they were unmotivated in school, but I think that was more because of the fact they were bored and they knew their parents would punish them regardless of what grades they got. The groundings, the revoked privileges, all did nothing but enforce the belief that his parents were more interested in having him do what they wanted rather than letting him explore his own interests.
posted by mikeh at 8:19 AM on February 23, 2007

I agree with Skylar, that his punishment have more to do with his behavior of breaking trust rather than what his actions actually were. Im not that old now, only 22, so it wasn't so long ago that I was the one being punished. I remember being grounded and having things taken away, and I wont say those dont work, because they do, but they just make the person avoid doing the punishable action, not understand why they are being punished. I remember the times I actually hurt my parents with what I did and how they made me feel awful emotionally for doing it. Your son needs to learn more respect for you and the rules you put in place. Im sorry that I can't actually think of a punishment for you, as I dont have children and Im probably not the best source of advice in that area. However, I think a punishment that instills some sort of learning on his part would be helpful.
posted by AnnaMolly at 8:23 AM on February 23, 2007

Sounds like you're on track, then, msali.

I remember very well - like it was yesterday - my own father sitting me down the day after my twelfth birthday. I'd done something kind of dumb - don't recall what it was, there were so many dumb things back then - and I knew perfectly well it was dumb even at the time I was choosing to do it. I remember it was the day after my twelfth birthday, though, and that makes me think maybe I was playing with a birthday present in a stupid way.

Dad sat me down and I was like "oh crap, here it comes." But he just looked at me seriously. Told me I was old enough to know better, told me I was too old to spank and that he wasn't going to.

He also told me that he expected that, as I matured into an adult, I would "take responsibility for the consequences of my own actions." (He said it just like that; I remember, because it was far from the last time I was going to hear it.) He spent some time explaining to me that whether or not I took responsibility for those consequence, I was going to have to bear them regardless - regardless of anything he did, or I did.

He then told me that he knew perfectly well that this was not the last lapse I would ever have, and he promised that in the future, if he found that I was not taking responsibility for my actions, he would take it on himself to remind me. And he reminded me that he loved me. And I got up and went away, feeling reprieved and flattered and kind of crappy all at the same time. I was never punished again, not in the way that you're describing, at least; and I think Dad was right. It wouldn't have worked; I'd have chafed under it and become bitter, oppositional and resentful.

I do not suppose I realized it at the time, but this conversation, and the many that followed it, were some of the best things that ever happened in my life. They made me into an autonomous being, ready to face the world on its own terms. I wonder if your son would be ready to hear something similar?
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:28 AM on February 23, 2007 [26 favorites]

I had to second parmanparman's comment - I often had my bedroom door removed as a kid because I would flip out and slam my door shut, stomp around, throw things, etc. (Oddly enough, I'm now probably one of the biggest pacificists you'll ever meet) I can tell you I stopped talking back, arguing, slamming doors, and everything without that door. I was also not permitted to hang a sheet in the doorway, so I had virtually no privacy. It'll definitely teach him a lesson!
posted by slyboots421 at 8:31 AM on February 23, 2007

tiamat writes "Take the phone away . . . wait, here me out. . . and give him a crappier phone. "

Something like the Firefly gnomeloaf recommended was going to be my suggestion. Even if you don't get all gestopo on his records it'll put a serious cramp in his ability to abuse his cell service and can be used as a stick for any cellphone based transgressions.

Along a similar vein when I was in high school a friend's father wired the secondaries on my friend's four barrel closed for one month every time he received a moving violation. A much greater incentive to not get a ticket than the ticket itself.
posted by Mitheral at 8:32 AM on February 23, 2007

You could always try the "smoke a carton of cigarettes" approach and make him text out the complete sonnets of Shakespeare or something in a week.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:33 AM on February 23, 2007

2nding kika on "natural consequences." When I was growing up, I wasn't presented so much with "rules" as with "choices":

"Are you wearing your coat?"
"No, I don't like my coat."
"Well, o.k., it's up to you: You can wear your coat or you can be cold."
"Oh. Maybe I'll wear my coat."

It worked on us kids and teenagers, though not on my Dad, who insisted on being cold. No cell phones back 30-odd years ago, of course...
posted by Robert Angelo at 8:34 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

No punishment, no matter how creative, has ever taught me a lesson about a rule I found pointless in the first place. Sure he disobeyed your rule, but your rule was dumb in both his and my opinion. What on earth is wrong with text messaging? If you had realized that that's how people (kids and adults alike) communicate these days - and I'm sure he tried to tell you - you would have saved yourself $140 by just getting him an unlimited text plan. If you're that against it for your own reasons but can fathom that he wants to text for HIS own reasons, then you should let him pay for the service in chores or volunteer work.

To reiterate, when parents come up with arbitrary rules that don't even serve to protect their children, the children will quickly resent and rebel. Pick your battles.
posted by infinityjinx at 8:43 AM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

Funnily enough, I found out a couple days ago my daughter had sent 1600 text messages last month. I, too, plotzed. But her friends do the same. It may sound like the utter outer limits of irresponsibility, but it is a pretty standard time suck for middle class kids. So I bought her the unlimited text messaging plan, for $15 a month. Three fewer lattes for me = hot-wired into the teen hive-mind for her. She thinks I'm the bestest mommy evar.

I get the feeling from your post that it has been awhile since your son told you you were the bestest mommy evar. Don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying you're not! Only that, when kids are screwing up, they lose privileges, then more privileges. Pretty soon, having lost most of what it is in your power to take away, they give much more importance to that thing that is not in your power to take away: the satisfaction of pursuing one's own will (however dumb or self-destructive) against all opposition. You can't make me. And you can't. You have to be on the same side to win.

Obviously you are on his side. Maybe lighten up a little and let him know it. Tell him that you didn't realize how important texting was to kids, and now you do, you want him to be able to do it, so you got the unlimited plan. Not contingent on anything. Just: Here you go. You know your father and I worry about your grades, but only because they will affect how much you can get of what you want out of life, not because we love pushing you around. This doesn't have anything to do with that. Have fun. I love you.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:59 AM on February 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

What on earth is wrong with text messaging?

Not to speak for the OP here, but I think it's probably more the texting during school time, when he's supposed to be... you know... learning... that is the reason for the texting ban. And I'm guessing Cingular doesn't let you disable texting during school hours only.
posted by antifuse at 9:03 AM on February 23, 2007

You sound like a caring and involved mom.

You say your son doesn't work because school is the number one priority. You don't mention whether or not he gets an allowance. If he does, you could say that since he disobeyed a rule (and by the way, it is not for readers of this question to say whether or not the rule is dumb. All parents have some dumb rules, this is their prerogative) a portion of his allowance will now go to his cell phone bill.
posted by vito90 at 9:06 AM on February 23, 2007

...he doesn't have a job because school has to be his exclusive priority at this point in his life.

Have you considered requiring a job instead? While a job cuts into your free time as a teen, it does instill discipline and motivation. In general, it's better for teens to view themselves as early-stage adults than late-stage kids, and it's difficult, at best, to be an adult if you're not allowed to have a job.
posted by backupjesus at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

There are some great suggestions made about punishing your son. He should be punished in some way. But I am curious that perhaps he has an attention deficit. And 1000 text messages during school hours sounds way out of line. His mind is not on school work. It is wondering all over the place. Perhaps you can find out why he is so distracted from school work.
posted by JayRwv at 9:20 AM on February 23, 2007

It's (barely) conceivable that you could send 50 texts/day during non-class times at school (study hall, lunch, etc.). It's not far-fetched that you could have 1000 texts/month without ever using the phone during class time.
posted by backupjesus at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2007

You already marked ikkyu2's above answer as a best, but it reminded me of when I was in high school. My mom would yell, take away privileges, etc. and my dad (an er doc who never lost his temper) would just tell me that he was disappointed in me. The latter was much more effective.

At first glance I like the idea of volunteer work, but hate the idea of it being punishment. On the one hand, he might love it and do more, on the other he might see it as punishment and never do it again. I went to a high school where we had to do 100 hours of volunteer work before we graduated, and some people did exactly 100 and others did more. It's hard to say how many of the over 100 would've done that anyway, and how many really learned something, but I'm sure there were a lot who never did anything past their 100 because they had met the requirement and were thus "done."

All that to say that maybe a better approach (if you decide to go the 'work it off' route) would be to give him the option. Tell him he can either do chores to the tune of $150 or he can volunteer somewhere (his choice - I did my hours at a hospital and learned a lot) for x hours.
posted by chndrcks at 9:31 AM on February 23, 2007

take away his bedroom door. a guy at work did this to his son, very effective at getting him to meet the terms required to get it reinstalled.
posted by probablysteve at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2007

So, there's the issue of your son's disobedience in using text messaging. Have you asked him why he's text messaging, and why he does it so often? He might respond that everyone's doing it and that's how his friends communicate, but really what's he getting out of it? If you can make him realize that not every kid is messaging all day at school, and that most of the messages are completely useless - "what u doing?" "im in history" - then maybe you can jointly agree that he's just doing it because it kills time and because it's something he's not supposed to be doing.

I work in a school, and I can almost guarantee you the response will be, "But everyone IS doing it, mom!" As has been shown in this thread, text messaging is how teenagers communicate nowadays. I've seen it happen before, and not allowing him text messaging at all can be a decent way to ostracize him from friends. Telling him, "No text messaging," is akin to tell him he can't talk on the phone at all.
As others have touched one, I think the issue here is the messaging during school. I'm curious if the school even has any rules about text messaging or use of cell phones? Here, some parents have their kids turn in the cell phone to the secretary to ensure it's not used during school hours.

And if your reason for him having a cell is to keep track of his whereabouts, a beeper worked perfectly well back in the day.
posted by jmd82 at 9:33 AM on February 23, 2007

There's a practical issue here. You're putting him in a situation where it's very easy to cheat (by running up charges on your bill) and nearly impossible for him to get what he wants honestly (e.g. by buying a service upgrade).

Even if you plan to keep paying for his phone service, you need to get him on a prepaid phone where he can't run up expenses in your name. Get him a phone, buy him a single refill a month — put as much money on it as you currently spend on his monthly plan — and let him budget those minutes however he wants. If he's clever and responsible, he'll use them for things he needs and enjoys. If he's sloppy or irresponsible, he'll run out and need to pay out of pocket for another recharge. (I know you currently use the phone to keep tabs on him; just let him know that if his minutes run out completely, he'll need to stay home after school until he can buy more.)

Those are natural consequences, not arbitrary punishments, and he'll learn more from them — things like budgeting, setting priorities and saving up for what he needs. But more importantly, the honest approach will suddenly be easier than cheating. He may find that reversal a little stressful at first, but he'll learn a hell of a lot from it in the long run.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:36 AM on February 23, 2007

I honestly don't know how parents kept track of their kids before cell phones.

I hope this isn't derailing, but as one who grew up in the 1970s, a lot of it had to do with access to transportation. In my time, at least where I grew up, it was rare for teenagers to have their own cars. The bus system was extended to our area when I was about 16, but it wasn't that useful. Given this, kids had to go places either in the company of an adult driver, or else by borrowing an adult's car. In my case, I knew I had to take extra-special care of Mom's humongous Ford Country Squire station wagon, simply because it was not mine, and it had to be back home on time.
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:38 AM on February 23, 2007

I don't think punishment works very well as a behavior modifier. It will make you and your husband feel better, because you're pissed at your kid, but I don't think it will actually change your child's behavior.

Think about what you want, and then think about ways you can reinforce your kid for getting there. Perhaps he gets his computer back for pulling his grades up to a specific, agreed-upon level. Perhaps, as someone mentioned above, he gets an unlimited-text-message plan if he gets his grades to a specific, even higher level and keeps them there for X number of months.

With your current model, you're essentially asking him to do the right thing for free, and then docking him for screwing up. I understand that punishment is appealing, but I don't think it does much beyond improve the mood of the punisher. (Which in itself can be a powerful motivator, of course.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:14 AM on February 23, 2007

my younger brother is obsessed with texting during class (he's in high school) parent's solution was to get a pay-as-you-go that didn't include a deal for texting. He realized pretty quick that it cost him a lot less to cut back on the texting in school.

i'm not sure i understand the idea of having him not work so that he focuses on his studies...I've never seen anyone do anything but benefit from the responsibility in that position, and having extra cash that he's earned may help too; it's a surprising confidence booster for teens (from experience and from watching my little brother go from a C-D student to a B-A student in under a year).

As for punishment itself? ::shrugs:: He's a teenager; there is a good chance that taking things away isn't going to make an impact...the things that seemed to work in our family were grounding (if he's talking to friends that much, not being able to call them/see them outside of school, even for just a short time, makes a difference), and increased chores (ie I got into a large fight over clothing with my mother when I was 15...and got stuck doing my own laundry for the first brother didn't come home when he was supposed to for a family dinner one weekend, and had to cook his own food for a week); basically if you take away the computer, he'll find a way to use it when you're not around...but if you have him do something that you can measure (or that, if he chooses not to do, only he'll suffer from), the message is more likely to stick, then to be tossed over for the more appealing idea of "getting around mom and dad"
posted by azriel2257 at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2007

He already lost his computer last month for crappy grades
this does not sound like a wise punishment at all. sure, you want to eliminate the games, but what you also did is make researching a lot more difficult. think wikipedia alone.

you do not wish for your child to earn money on the side and then complain that he cannot accurately judge the financial damage his actions might create. you shot yourself in the foot.
posted by krautland at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I meant to add this earlier and then I couldn't connect to askme

I would post my advice on jobs if I could figure out what my parents did to my brother and me. They always gave us the necessities (food, clothes, etc.) plus soem extra random cash (to go the movies for example) but we never pushed it with that extra cash, and I'm not sure how they instilled that in us exactly.

We would have never run up a $150 bill, but not for fear of punishment. I guess we realized our parents were more than fair and would've felt bad trying to take advantage of that, but I'm not sure how they instilled that feeling in us.

I think part of it was that they always told us we could spend our money how we wanted. If we got money from a relative for a birthday/Christmas we could get whatever toy we wanted with it - we weren't forced to put it into a saving account or something. I think this helped teach us that our money is our money and our parent's money is their money.

When I was a junior, I realized that if I wanted more than the necessities, I'd have to get my own job (to earn my own money, which I could spend on my own things) I got a part time job that my parents were ok with because it didn't require a lot of hours (and it was at the high school so I went early and stayed a few hours after class was over). I probably wouldn't have been doing school work those hours anyway, so it didn't affect that negatively.

Sorry this wasn't more helpful, but that's my take on high school kids having jobs.
posted by chndrcks at 10:54 AM on February 23, 2007

Why would wikipedia be considered a good resource for research? I can guarantee you that his teachers will not allow it as a source for papers.

I would make him get a job and have to pay for his own cell phone. I know you said you want him to focus on school, but it sounds like his cell phone and online games are doing a great job of filling the gap of school-avoidance.

A job will be good for him.
posted by winna at 11:12 AM on February 23, 2007

Are his falling grades truly connected to not paying attention in class? Texting on a phone and waiting for your friend's response is the same distraction level as writing a note, waiting for an opportune moment to pass it, checking for your friend's reaction, stifling laughter, anticipating the response, preparing to covertly receive the returned note, etc. Texting is note-passing, and it's possible to do it for an hour straight in study hall, during boring moments in class, or during important moments in class.

I think the parents need to figure out whether the texting is a cost issue (and who should pay), or if the distraction during class is what translates to falling grades. If he can pay for the use of the phone, use the phone and keep his grades up, there's no problem, right?

It might be helpful to go over his corrected tests and papers and note which errors come from which conditions. Is it "oh yeah, I only studied chapters 1-5 and this question came from chapter 6"? Or did the question come from a class discussion while he was distracted from paying attention? Does he not understand the material as presented and require extra help in the form of a person, book or resource that handles the information differently?

As to the trust issue regarding going against the parents' no-texting rule, if he knew that the phone had the texting option removed, he knew he didn't actually have to control himself, and wasn't expected to. When he suddenly discovered texts working, maybe he thought, "Bank error in [my] favor!" and just ran with it. I've noticed many adults doing just that when they notice they're receiving extra channels they haven't subscribed to on cable.
posted by xo at 11:28 AM on February 23, 2007

Text messaging is an important social interaction at this age. After he has paid his pennance, I am all for using text messaging as a carrot, say an upgrade in his service to include text messaging if he can pull up his grades.
posted by caddis at 11:30 AM on February 23, 2007

A prepaid phone is the obvious answer. Having a built-in limit instills discipline, which is a foundation of responsibility. If he wants a better plan he can get a job and pay for it.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:17 PM on February 23, 2007

I would buy him an unlimited text thingo, and then tell him he had to pay the money back. So he has to do 10 hours at $15 dollars an hour of work for you to pay off the bill.
posted by dydecker at 2:10 PM on February 23, 2007

The not texting during school time rule is futile and hypocritical. Half the adults in this thread must be reading it from work.
posted by roofus at 2:28 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

One of the lessons I learned from having punishment-happy parents goes like so: if you want your kids to trust you, extend them some trust first. Texting in school is pretty minor. Your kid is correct when he says that everyone does it, including the achievers, so it's probably not much of an issue when it comes to grades. Besides, if he gets caught doing it in class, he'll get into trouble in class, which will help him learn the difference between the right and wrong place to be texting. I agree with Methylviolet: get unlimited text service, give it to him without any guilt trips, and see what happens.

I noticed a lot of people suggested finding something he really loves and then taking it away from him. Please, please, do not do that. Kids need to have interests of their own, and they need to feel somewhat safe in those interests. When you punish a kid who loves soccer by taking away his soccer privileges, it will seem to him that he's paying partly for loving soccer, not just for what he's done. This is not the lesson you mean to teach. Also, punishment needs to fit the crime to be effective -- kids who know that their parents will punish them out of proportion to what they've done will do anything they want to, because why not? For example, if the punishment for texting is losing your favorite thing in the world for 6 months (an eternity to a high-schooler), why not escalate to stealing or taking a secret job so you can afford your own favorite-thing-in-the-world, and once you've done that, why not spend the next 6 months lying to your parents in order to hide it? After all, there's nothing left to lose.

Trust me, I spent most of high-school in that sort of escalating avoidance/punishment/avoidance dynamic, and it is not something you want to teach your kid. He's going to have his own life, one way or the other -- your choice is whether you're a part of it or not.
posted by vorfeed at 2:34 PM on February 23, 2007

If are not too concerned about the financial aspect and your concern is related to the fact that he was texting in school, especially since his grades are already poor, maybe the punishment needs to reflect the behavior you want to change. Perhaps speak to his teachers and ask them for short, weekly progress reports. You'll be able to keep better track on his efforts to improve his grades and having to get progress reports will embarrass the hell out of him. So it is pretty much a win-win.
posted by necessitas at 2:59 PM on February 23, 2007

In this age of (teen) txting, why not address the skills that such practice causes to atrophy, for example:

1) Have your boy print out penmanship paper and practice cursive handwriting until you're satisfied; or
2) Have your boy re-txt all his messages, but to you, this time using correct spelling and standard capitalization; or
3) Have your boy learn touch-typing; or
4) Have your boy spend time with family members instead of burying his head over a keypad.

Upside: these are all skills that could prove useful. Downside: you'd better be prepared to learn them too (or demonstrate past mastery).
posted by rob511 at 3:12 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

You could always do what my parents did, and don't talk to him at all - at all - for a few weeks.

At first, he may be elated, but he'll hurt in the end for sure.

Additionally, you state -

and he doesn't have a job because school has to be his exclusive priority at this point in his life

There is never a point where this is an appropriate stance to take. An overwhelming amount of research has shown that kids with jobs do better in school, not worse, as the patterns of responsibility which are critical for success in school and life are emphasized using money as a positive reward for good behavior.

You are hurting your child by keeping him from having a job. I echo the poster upthread who said you should require him to have a job.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 4:27 PM on February 23, 2007

I agree with those who have suggested you give him the unlimited texting plan. If you did, it would make him very happy, putting you in a much better position to ask him to tow your line - especially if you are clear and concise about what exactly you want from him.

* It would be good to explain that you are not rewarding him for disobeying you, but rather that you as parents are capable of re-evaluating your position on texting based upon new information. Rigidly adhering to a position does not convey stregnth.

*If you suspect that this type of response will enbolden him to further disobey you to "see what else he can get" then you must make sure that with this awesome "gift" comes responsiblity in the form of limits and consequences.

One poster asked what you really want of him. Once you have your answer, let's say it's better grades, you will need to quantify in solid terms what expectations you have of him, having laid out your expectations (which should be reasonable), you must also lay out a system of terms and consequences UP FRONT so that there is no question what will happen if your expectations arent met. This system needs to be well thought out, and fair.

Consequences cut both ways, and with each positive step or gain his grades take, an enrichment or freedom should be laid out in your plan (this is VERY important). Good suggestions might include phone upgrades - these will be easy to come up with!

With each negative increment or step his grades take, a corresponding loss of priveledge would be undertaken. Many people have given you great suggestions here for possible negative consequences (I LOVE the Shakespeare sonnet consequence!), but only you know your son and can choose what will really work to motivate him to WANT to succeed on YOUR terms.

*You may want to consider him signing a "contract" before you give him his new "unlimited texting" . Review the "plan" with him, and explain that by signing he indicates he has accepted your terms.

The most important part of anything you undertake will be consistency. To truly affect change on his behaviour, you must be prepared to follow through with what you have laid out in a consistent manner.

Good luck to you.
posted by Kensational at 4:41 PM on February 23, 2007

Have we already forgotten the lessons of The Wheel??
posted by dorisfromregopark at 4:52 PM on February 23, 2007

Help me punish my kid

Nah. That's where you're going wrong.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:13 PM on February 23, 2007

doris you just barely beat me to recommending the wheel. nice thinking.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:27 PM on February 23, 2007

have him write a letter to each and every one of his elderly relatives
This seems like something your kid should be doing anyhow -- and you marked it as a best answer!???
So you are having him do something he should be responsible for already as a punishment, and presenting keeping in touch with family as a negative thing that is a terrible punishment. Ask yourself: What lesson will he learn from this? How will he apply it when his own parents become the elderly relatives?
posted by yohko at 6:51 PM on February 23, 2007

Make him wax your car.
posted by kellygreen at 8:19 PM on February 23, 2007

Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand.
Wax on.
Wax off.
Don't forget to breathe, very important.
posted by caddis at 9:20 PM on February 23, 2007

Add a random element to the punishment. Obtain a pair of ordinary six-sided dice. Let him know that from now on, each and every time he asks your permission for something - to stay at a friend's house, to go to a concert, to get a ride someplace, to buy a CD - you're going to roll the dice first. If you roll a double, it won't happen. Ever. Each time a double is rolled, you'll cross it off the list. Once all six doubles have been rolled, the punishment will be over. It is, of course, entirely at your discretion to determine whether a request is major enough to warrant a roll - "can you scratch my back?", for example, doesn't count.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:05 PM on February 23, 2007

Y'all are awesome - seriously. I appreciate each and every one of the comments made. Obviously, with the scanty information I have provided you with, you would have no way of knowing that many of the suggestions made have already been employed/implemented in our household. We, by nature, are not punitive parents, and we cherish our good relationship with our son, and would like to believe that our open lines of communication, and use of natural consequences are teaching him to be a mature, well rounded and sensitive young man. The reason that I requested a unique punishment (and yes, punishment, not discipline) for this particular situation was because our boy has been warned repeatedly (by us, his parents, as well as his teachers) about using his phone to either make/receive calls/texts in class. There is also a dishonesty component that would be too much to get into here. He really had something coming to him, believe me.
I marked as favorites the answers that I found most thoughtful and creative. Not everyone may agree with making our boy write as a punishment (even my husband doesn't like it), but I found it clever.

We are also not techno-phobes, and are fully cognizant of the fact that mobile texting is quite popular with the young'uns. My husband and I are pretty nerdy, and enjoy keeping up with all of the shiny new gadgets and technological trends. Personally, I have a crackberry, which never leaves my side, and I love it to distraction.

Mobile communication is increasingly shaping the contours of our boy's life, and we, as his parents, feel we have the obligation and responsibility to teach him when and where it is appropriate to use it. Teaching our kids responsibility in the age of instant access to communication, entertainment and content is tricky - for example: is it right to surreptitiously film another person, then disseminate that film on youtube or myspace? My answer is a resounding 'no', but then again, my notions of privacy and personal space are different from his, and around and around we go. Catch my drift? We are not content from an ethical standpoint to allow him to do something, simply because it has become commonplace among his peers. Just because his friends text in school does not make it right.

I thank all of you for your thoughtful, humorous and clever responses. Once again, askmefi came through for me, and I am eternally grateful.
posted by msali at 12:04 PM on February 24, 2007

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