"I Dropped my Phone in the Hot Springs," Says The Teenage Son. (And the mother says...) | Dr. Heidi Skye
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“I Dropped my Phone in the Hot Springs,” Says The Teenage Son. (And the mother says…)


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My son brought me the pieces of his cell phone. My first thought was, Oh, no, he ruined his phone — again.

“Can we go to the store and get a new one today?” he asked me.

“Do you have money for it?” I replied.

“Well, I don’t want to spend my money replacing it — can you pay for it?” Again? I think. I did pay the deductible for the one he accidentally dropped in the hot springs, and now I want him to take full responsibility for replacing this one.

“I’ve got an idea,” I said, “why don’t you make me a proposal on how we can get you a new phone? I’m open to you working it off through chores, me giving you a loan and you paying interest, or something else creative. Get back to me with your ideas and we’ll discuss them.”

Fast-forward two days. I’m waiting to pick him up at high school, and he’s not at the pickup point. Five minutes pass, now 15 minutes, now half an hour. I can’t call him, of course, because he doesn’t have a phone. Part of me is wondering if I’m being deliberately tested. Part of me is just anxious to get to the appointment I’m rapidly becoming late for. And it’s frustrating that I can’t call him (grrrrr)!

Eventually he shows up, delayed by the line for the printer in the library.

And every cell in my body wants to go and buy him a phone right then!


I wanted to solve the problem. I could afford an inexpensive phone for him. It would be so easy and one less annoying thing in my life if I jumped in to save the day!

But I didn’t follow that impulse.

Because being a supermom defeats learning.


Whether it’s your kid spilling milk, struggling through a homework assignment, or getting lost while they learn how to take public transportation, there are so many things kids learn through frustration and trial and error. (And I don’t know about you, but letting someone spill milk doesn’t make me cry, but it does make me cranky!)

Doing it for them may make life easier in the short run, but it makes for a helpless kid.

At some point we all have to let our kids use a sharp knife.


Let’s teach self-sufficiency. Letting kids learn slowly and painfully while you sit on the sidelines watching their process builds a brain wired for problem solving. And this translates into every aspect of life.

What do you want for your kids? Do you want them to be empowered and capable of doing these things on their own, or do you just want to take a shortcut that will make it easier on yourself? (And yes, in the real world I know every parent sometimes makes the latter decision.)

So here are some questions to ask yourself when you want to take over for your kid instead of letting them try it their way:

• Am I doing this because I am frustrated?
• Can I leave my child to work through this and take a break from the situation?
• Is this a teachable moment?
• Do I need this to happen right now, or can I take the time to wait for my child to have their process?
• If I do it for them what won’t they learn?
• Did my parents always do this for me? Am I feeling guilty and acting from this place?
• Can I live with my child making a mistake?
• Is my choice coming out of love or control?

As Revolutionary Evolutionary parents we are trying find a way to create very healthy and self-aware kids, and we struggle with the big and small decisions every day.

Letting our kids fail can be difficult and yet it creates growth.

So what’s the end of the phone story?

I’m still waiting for a proposal (sigh…).

This weekend is the formal dance and he still doesn’t have a phone to check in with me. He will have to use a friend’s — and I will have to breathe and accept the fact that I can’t contact him directly. And hope that he does use his buddy’s phone to call dear old mom. I hope he will make good choices. I don’t know if he will use good judgment.

Good judgment comes from experience, and experience often comes from bad judgment. Developing autonomy means making mistakes, and do you really want to be solving all the problems for your kids?

My teenage son needs to flex his decision-making muscle.


So what do I think will finally get him to buy a new phone? I have no idea. Being a parent means sometimes having to sit in uncertainty. Questions around autonomy are relevant because there are so many different elements to consider: our values, our time, our money — and, oh, yeah, the lifelong health and happiness of our precious offspring.

And I need to flex my wait-and-see muscle.


Have you ever struggled with the choice between doing something for your kid and letting them learn? Share in the comments below — I’d love to hear your stories. (And I’ll be sure to let you know what cell phone proposal I ultimately accept!)


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  • Lara
    Posted at 18:13h, 04 February Reply

    Absolutely true and it definitely gets harder as a middle schooler becomes a high schooler who’s off to college in a couple of years.

  • Alane Freund
    Posted at 17:21h, 05 February Reply

    I just love this blog! It is sooooo hard to let them have their bumps, and I agree, even harder when it inconveniences me! I recently saw the new documentary, “Screenagers” made by Marin moms about teens and tech. It was also very enlightening. And…is it true that the kids, boys especially, won’t develop executive functioning until about 25? Yuck. That’s why the smart societies sent their young men on month long hunting trips and year long personal quests. 🙂 I have always done more saving than I should, there is no doubt.

    Regarding the phone, we only let him use old school phones, but at the grandparents’ house over the holidays, my dad asked my son why he’s the only grandchild without a smartphone. My son said, “Because I lose things.” My dad proceded to give him an old iPhone. Interestingly, the kid lost his old phone in the airport on the way home–no, he really lost it, not pretend. At least I didn’t save him that time.

    Now that I have a 15 year old son in high school, I’m also looking for ways to help him learn to negotiate the bumps without me. One of those bumps is learning to self-regulate on the screens when he’s trying to do homework. In our house we decided to set a curfew for homework, meaning no homework after “this hour”–not the same every night depending on after school commitments. That way if he isn’t managing his time well, he shows up unprepared at class which is a hard consequence for an academically motivated kid. But, let’s get real, homework doesn’t take a 9th grader until 10, 11, 12 at night…unless he’s watching youtube videos, gaming, texting, emailing, etc while not doing homework.

    • Dr. Heidi Skye
      Posted at 18:01h, 06 February Reply

      Alane, thank you for your response. I have not yet seen Screenagers but will make sure to view it.
      I agree that teaching our kids how to manage devices is the new frontier of modern parenting!

  • Alex Cusick
    Posted at 17:37h, 06 February Reply

    Great blog post!! I agree full heartedly that children need to learn on their own and from their mistakes. As you say, Heidi, it may be an inconvience for us parents or hard to see your child fail or suffer the natural consequences, but they need that! As a teacher, I see many parents that “aid” their children too much from coming by afterschool on the way home from their own job picking up their jacket, lunchbox, etc,, everyday to turning in their homework for them when their child forgot to put it in their backpack. The child never learns from the natural consequences of their mistakes. Parents then marvel at why their child is so irresponsible, careless, disorganized, forgetful, etc.

    • Dr. Heidi Skye
      Posted at 18:07h, 06 February Reply

      Hi Alex! Thanks for your perspective! You see the direct result of failing to let kids experience natural consequences in the classroom. It’s difficult on both ends but the result is so worthwhile – self-sufficient kids! I know that when I forget my wallet at home no one brings it to me!:)

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