This is something we all dread as parents: I found something on one of my boys’ phones that really bothered me. As I was jotting down some notes on my phone about how to handle this, I realized my process could be valuable to others. After leading teenagers in the church and parenting them in my own home, I’ve learned the goal is not “correcting” them but “convincing” them—convincing them you are a safe place in an unsafe world. I’ve learned that the way I react is way more important than what I just discovered. So while processing my own response, I created three steps to help you navigate these situations.
1. Discover. The first step is the discovery. The moment you discover something inappropriate on your child’s phone I want to you walk away. This is critical. You have to take a moment to gather your thoughts and control your emotions. This is the moment where you decide to lead instead of react. Take a few minutes and go for a walk, a drive, or listen to your favorite song. Whatever it is that you need to do to calm down and collect yourself, do it. After you’ve taken a moment and you’re ready to calmly address the issue, you can move onto the next step.
2. Respond. The next step is to respond. I started this difficult conversation off with a question, and I suggest you should too. I simply said, “I’m going to ask you a hard question and I want you to take a moment before you respond. Can you help me understand why ____________ is on your phone?”
During this step, I also shared with my son how I felt when I discovered this. I wanted him to understand this isn’t just about rules; it’s about life. I told him when I saw it, I was confused because I know he has more character than this. In this step it’s important to address their character as well as the consequences of their actions. It’s your responsibility as a parent to help them see the big picture.
Teenagers often live in the here and now. It’s one of their greatest qualities, but it can also be their greatest downfall. I suggest postponing punishment at this time. This will keep the focus from the punishment and keep it on the “crime.” I take 24 hours before I give my sentencing for said crime! I like to give myself time to think about it, while also giving them time to think.
3. Follow Up. To close this not-so-exciting adventure we must remember step number three, which is the follow-up. I wait a few days, or however long it takes, and then I come back to the topic. I ask them how they’re feeling about what happened. I also use this moment to learn and grow as a parent. I ask the difficult yet powerful question, “How did you experience me during that time?”
My hope is that we all grow through these moments. We won’t always get it right when they get it wrong. But if we stick to these simple steps, we’ll create a safe place for our children to mess up yet grow up in an environment that builds character and integrity one mistake at a time.
Pam and I went into the podcast studio and recorded a podcast for you on this topic. I encourage you to check it out.