If you’ve ever picked up your teen’s phone and found something that made your heart skip a beat, or your blood boil, you’re not alone. Whether it’s a questionable text, Snap, or photo that crosses the line, it’s a visual that can send you into a tailspin. But before you go confiscating phones and grounding your teen for life (because that feels justified), let’s talk about a different approach—one that fosters trust, meaningful conversations, emotional safety AND reduces the chances this happens again.
Driven by fear.
Your first instinct might be to go into full-on “parent mode,” laying down the law and taking away privileges. I get it; it’s a knee-jerk reaction fueled by fear and concern for your child’s well-being. First, let me share a real-life example to help create some perspective.
I recently had a conversation with a parent who found a mildly risqué photo on her 13-year-old son’s phone (his female friend sent it to him unprompted). She was ready to ground him and take away his phone indefinitely, followed by a LONG lecture. However, after a heart-to-heart conversation, she discovered her son was just as uncomfortable with the photo as she was. He didn’t know how to handle the situation and was afraid to ask for help or hurt his friend’s feelings.
Below are the steps I coached her through and the surprising outcome…
The power of curiosity
Instead of reacting with immediate punishment, this mom got curious. She asked her son brief, open-ended questions, allowing him to explore his own thought process. This approach not only diffused the tension, it also helped her to calm and regulate without acting on assumptions and saying or doing things that create painful disconnection with her son. This conversation empowered her son to express his thoughts, feel understood, and know what to do next time.
The science behind it…
Reacting with immediate punishment doesn’t support a teen’s executive function development. In simple terms, it doesn’t teach them anything about how to think critically about the impact of their actions or decision making in the future. By getting curious and asking questions (⬅️ talk less, listen more 😉), you’re helping your teen develop these essential life skills.
The emotional rollercoaster
When you find something sketchy on your teen’s phone, it’s not just a moment of panic for you; it’s an emotional rollercoaster for them as well. They might feel embarrassed, ashamed, or even angry that you invaded their privacy (yes, even if you pay for their phone and declare it yours). It’s crucial to acknowledge these emotions and create a safe space for open dialogue that connects AND corrects.
It’s not just about what happened and filing in details based on your fear, but also why it happened (assuming won’t help change anything). Getting a full understanding of the situation requires calm conversations where you talk less and listen more.
Coming at your teen with guns blazing burns trust and respect and only ensures your teen hides more or turns to friends for bad advice on important issues.
Setting boundaries and rules
It’s essential to set some ground rules for phone usage. Make it a collaborative effort with your teen, so they feel part of the decision-making process. This not only sets the stage for responsible behavior but also fosters mutual respect and the same executive function development mentioned above.
The Digital Age Dilemma
We’re living in a digital age where everything is just a click away, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s essential to equip them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate it safely upfront rather than giving them free reign and losing your sh!t when they go off course.
So when you find yourself in this situation, take a deep breath, get curious, and build that bridge to better communication and real behavior change.
“Omg it went better than I could have imagined all because of you. I am so grateful! PS. We crossed the river [went through the hard conversation without sinking] because I shut up lol”
If you’re struggling with how to navigate the tricky waters of parenting a teen, I’m offering a free masterclass called “Transform Your Teen,” where I share my 3-step framework for having hard conversations that build trust and respect, so you see behavior change that lasts. Click below to get your spot!
Let’s do this together,