I'll Cut Up Your Cell Phone and Other Lessons in Tough Love

by Parent Co. August 18, 2016

I didn’t plan to cut my daughter’s SIM card into teeny tiny pieces. I had high hopes for my weekend and not a single one of them included turning her SIM card into high-tech confetti. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing after my daughter found a new way to bypass my boundaries.

My daughter isn’t a bad kid. She’s a teenager, in every sense of the word, but she doesn’t do anything truly awful. Her flavor of rebellion is much simpler than sex, drugs, and whatever else it is that teens do to torment their parents. In many ways, my daughter is like an overgrown (and profoundly hormonal) toddler, always ready to tantrum and meltdown, but with a much more sophisticated sense of how to make sure her angry barbs hit their mark.

I’ve tried pretty much everything to teach my daughter better ways of handling her emotions. I’ve had deep talks with her, listened as she poured out her feelings, and taken every last bit of rage that she could fling my way. But the more I took on her feelings, the more she seemed to believe it was okay to dump them on me. I mean, why not? It’s got to feel better to dump your shit on someone else than to learn to shovel it yourself.

By the time my daughter was regularly screaming at everyone in my household, I knew things had gone too far. I’m all for talking things out, but screaming isn’t talking. Screaming meant my daughter didn’t have the tools she needs to process her feelings, and I decided it was time for her to develop them.

Instead of sitting around and waiting for her to magically change, it was time for me to step up and teach her some serious limits and boundaries. Part of teaching is listening with compassion, but it's just as important to enforce limits, too.

Like most parents of teenagers, it didn’t take me long to find my daughter’s currency: her cell phone. I can ground her, give her extra chores, and lecture her until the cows come home, but that cell phone? It’s the teenage equivalent of an umbilical cord, and she will do just about anything to get it back. Even, and including, curbing her behavior (and her mouth).

The problem is that my daughter’s love affair with her cell phone trumps whatever limited desire she has to follow the rules. At first, I downloaded fancy apps to limit her access to her phone’s features, thinking that would be enough to help keep her in line. When that failed, I went back to the old-fashioned way and simply took away her phone. No matter where I put her phone, she found it and used it, and enforcing her consequences quickly became my full-time job.

By the time I had to hide her confiscated cell phone underneath my mattress, I knew it was time to get serious about consequences. My daughter had different ideas. She got an old iPhone from a friend and began to sneak out her SIM card, leaving her cell phone in my bedroom. It was a brilliant plan except that her sudden lack of interest in getting her phone back quickly gave her away.

That’s when I found myself in my bedroom turning her SIM card into confetti and then calling my cell phone provider to turn off her phone service. I’d like to say I felt a little bit bad about cutting off her phone line so dramatically, but I felt nothing but pure, unadulterated joy as I watched the tiny pieces of her SIM card float onto my bedspread.

My daughter has a lot to learn about life. One of her biggest lessons will be that life owes her almost nothing. It certainly doesn’t entitle her to a fancy iPhone, a free phone line, or access to the Internet. I’ll love my daughter until the day I die, no matter how many awful things she says to me, but I wouldn’t have any self-respect if I kept paying for her phone line. When she earns her cell phone access back, she can buy herself a new SIM card and cell service.

Part of my job as a mother is to teach my daughter how to be a strong woman. That means that even when it’s my daughter doing the pushing, I'll show her how to conduct herself with respect, and to never let someone take advantage of her. She may not always like me, but I know she will respect me. More importantly, she'll know how to respect herself, too.

So long, SIM card. You and your relentless game of hide-and-seek won’t be missed.

Parent Co.


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