"Children learn whatever you teach them, whether you've intended for them to learn it or not. "

Time for A Garden Kick


We have our 12 year old son's phone locked for certain reasons. If his grades slip below a B we lock it so he can only call family, if he is disrespectful or doesn't complete his chores, his phone gets locked from certain features. We just found out yesterday that he found out the password last month and has been unlocking it here and there. How should we handle his deception and lies?


Hello and thank you for your question. Last July when you submitted a question regarding your 11-year-old son’s phone I suggested that listening and obeying were really the underlying issues at hand and that it was extremely important to establish some ground rules going forward that will send the message to him that you say what you mean and mean what you say. It appears that he is not hearing your message. You are caught up in a system of micromanaging where you are checking his grades and checking behind him after chores and such and in an endless cycle of turning on and off the features of his phone which he has figured out how to do on his own now. Been there, done that. It's exhausting, isn't it? He does not respect your rules or the boundaries you have placed around phone use, and he is addicted to his phone. Screen addiction is a very real thing. It’s time for the Garden Kick and to decrease your micromanaging. If you are unfamiliar with the Garden Kick you can search it here on Guru in the topical search or read about it in John’s book Teen Proofing. Don’t be alarmed by what you read with the Garden Kick. Feel free to modify the implementation of it as needed but what you should not modify is the time frame. For most of the country, it’s the beginning of the school year so I suggest that you implement the Garden Kick for a minimum of the first marking period of the school year (typically about 9 weeks). If you give in too soon and give your son back privileges too soon, he will only continue to fine-tune his manipulation skills (doing what you want only long enough to get what he wants).

I suggest the following:

1. Sit down with your son and tell him that the behaviors he has been displaying are disrespectful and unacceptable. Keeping it short and using as few words as possible, explain to him that he simply is not ready to handle the responsibilities that come with having a smartphone and that you made a mistake giving him one. One of the best things we as parents can model for our kids is how to admit when we have made a mistake. He is likely going to have a complete meltdown so prepare yourself. Once he is calm, explain the way forward. Make it clear what your expectations are for chores and grades and then implement the following as well.

2. Take away any and all electronics he does not need for school. He does not need a smartphone at school no matter what he tells you. No child NEEDS a smartphone ever and your son is already proving he can’t handle the one he has so it’s time to take it away. Schools will provide students any required technology if it’s needed. If he needs a computer, put it in an area of the house where he can be supervised while on it. If you really need him to have a phone for communication, purchase a prepaid flip phone. They run about $30 at Walmart. Additionally, all phones, including old phones that are not activated will still call 911 in an emergency.

3. Assuming your son’s potential encompasses the ability to get all A’s and B’s on his report card tell him that you will no longer be looking at his grades on a weekly basis and that you expect him to get all A’s and B’s on his interims and report cards. Tell him you already went to school and that it is HIS job, not yours, to manage his grades. If he needs help or tutoring, it’s also his job to notify you of that. Otherwise, you must be as hands-off as possible with any school involvement. Disable all of your parental notifications for grades and don’t look again till the next official report (interim or end-of-term report card). Now for the hardest part, DON’T LOOK! No peeking at his grades. But since I have already been through this myself, I know you will peek. When you do, just keep what you saw to yourself and go take a walk or phone a friend. When the interim comes in and if all looks good you can congratulate him, and encourage him to keep up the good work but don’t give him back all of his privileges again. Wait to do this until the end of the marking period if he has successfully turned his grades and behavior around.

It’s important to remember that you are setting a precedent here in how you handle this issue with your son. Trust me; your younger children are paying attention. Additionally, remember the end game. I am sure, like many parents, you desire for your son to be able to go away to college or at least get a job and live on his own. He must learn now how to self-regulate, make good choices, and manage his time. Learning how to do this well means you have to allow him to fail, mess up, and learn from those experiences now while the consequences are fairly minimal. Eventually, he will be old enough to drive and may want a car, right? He needs to understand now that until you can trust him with the current expectations (showing respect, grades, chores, phone use etc.) you won’t even be able to think about him being able to do all the other fun things that teenagers who respect their parents and their rules get to do.

I know what I have suggested may sound harsh, but I have been in your shoes, and I can tell you that John’s Garden Kick works. Additionally, I know it is countercultural to tell you NOT to look at your kid's grades in the parent portal but I promise you that this was one of the best parenting moves we ever made. You do need to stay informed of important school events and teacher announcements but micromanaging every grade is counterproductive to preparing your child for high school and then college. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to email me directly or submit further questions here on Guru. Hang in there and stay the course by setting the bar high with what you expect from your son. It will pay off in dividends later when he is a teenager and young adult.

Lisa Woodman
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach

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