Girl intensely stares at her phone


I’m Paying My Kid to Stay Off Her Phone

Mar 31, 2020

A few weeks back, I happened to run into the mom of one of my daughter’s friends. She’s a woman I’ve known casually since our daughters started SK several years ago. The conversation quickly turned to our daughters’ compulsive cell phone use, a dilemma that we both – and I suspect most parents of kids this age – wrestle with daily.

She shared a recent incident where, out of frustration, she grabbed her daughter’s phone and threatened to crush it in her bare hands. I listened intently, seeing she meant business. I understood totally; I’ve thought of every angle to reduce phone time, even paying her to stay off it. My reoccurring fantasy is pulverizing the damned thing with a sledgehammer. It is only the fear of having to part with another G-note to replace it that restrains me.

"Routinely searching the phone is also off the table, as it forces kids to become deceptive to protect their privacy."

Fast forward a few weeks, and the world has become unrecognizable. We are now living day to day, struggling to adjust to life under COVID-19. Maybe it’s the constant proximity of quarantine, or the fear that I’d better get my dad-lessons done now while I have the time. Whatever the reason, I vow to do whatever it takes to curb my daughter’s cell phone use – and to make it a conversation, not a confrontation.

I’ve tried the latter, and it goes nowhere. A parent’s nuclear options to manage cell phone use are woefully few: take the phone away or routinely search it. When you remove a phone, you’re taking away a kid’s lifeline to close friends, entertainment and social connections. I’m not about to do that, especially at a time of physical distancing. Routinely searching the phone is also off the table, as it forces kids to become deceptive to protect their privacy. 

Myself, I resort to a dash of deception to get the conversation going by saying that I’m writing a piece on kids’ cell phone use, and I need her input. She readily agrees, likely out of boredom, and my privileged peek into teen cellphone use begins.

The first thing I learn is that my kid’s social platforms are entirely different from mine. Facebook? It’s for old people. Instagram? Boring. Twitter? Irrelevant. I wince. Aside from movies, her phone time splits between three social platforms: SnapChat, Houseparty and TikTok. 

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She gives me a brief demo on how she uses each — which I’ll share here for those parents not yet in the loop:

Snapchat is an entertaining way for kids to communicate and express themselves with filters, lenses, Bitmojis and a bunch of other effects. As she walks me through it, I finally understand why she snaps so many pics of herself.

Houseparty is a live video app for group conversations of up to ten people. The downside is no formal moderation and users can lock participants out of the chat. I now totally get why being occasionally shunned by other kids on Houseparty was so upsetting for her.

But it’s TikTok that gets my attention. In just four years, this app has grown to become one of the world’s most popular, all based on quirky 15-second videos, some of which are simply brilliant. As I watch the videos that she and her friends have shot, edited and uploaded, I can’t help but feel excited about how this generation will evolve filmmaking.

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Since school’s out, possibly for the balance of the term, I suggest that my daughter pick a software program related to filmmaking and learn it for an hour each day. An additional hour will focus on physical activity and exercise.

To sweeten the deal, I promise to pay her to do it at her regular babysitting rate. She considers it for a moment and agrees. With a fist bump, the deal is done.

I know it will be challenging to keep this deal going each day. But at the same time, we’ll likely never be in a situation again so conducive to taking on an ambitious learning project. And, if it costs me a few dollars to stimulate a new interest, so be it. In my opinion, it’s money well spent and a welcomed distraction while we wait out this virus.

Article Author Craig Stephens
Craig Stephens

Read more from Craig here.

Craig Stephens is an award-winning writer and producer passionate about projects that explore social issues, human potential and innovation. He lives in Toronto with his wife, a writer, theatre producer and podcaster, and their teen daughter — his most challenging and rewarding project to date! You can catch his latest work at

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