“That’s So Unreasonable!” Setting Parental Limits on Technology—without the Backlash

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Let’s be honest, we all do stupid things. And unless we’re teenage boys out on a Friday night with nothing to do, our intentions most likely were not to do that stupid act.

I remember when I was a teenager. I had a 1984 Camaro my parents bought new and then gave to me as a 16-year-old. It’s never a good thing to give a 16-year old, whose brain isn’t fully developed, a Camaro. One of my parents’ rules was not to allow anybody else to drive the car.

My girlfriend at the time, who lived less than a mile from the high school, had her car in the shop. Since I had wrestling practice after school, and it was raining, she asked if she could borrow my car to drive home.

Now remember, this was the 90s. I didn’t have a cell phone. Calling my parents to ask permission wasn’t possible. Besides, it was less than a mile. Not a big deal.

Unless, of course, you grew up in a small town—where everybody knows you—and that bright white Camaro driving through town is as famous as Justin Bieber drag racing in a canary yellow Lamborghini.

Needless to say, when I got home that night after practice, I was in trouble. Big trouble. (I still don’t know to this day how my parents found out.)

Now parents, put yourself in my parents’ position. Your 16-year-old just disobeyed you by allowing somebody else to drive their car. What’s your initial response? Pretty fired up, right?

Blatant disobedience. Lack of respect for authority.


Okay, so hashtags were properly referred to as the ‘pound sign’ back in the day. But you get the point.

How would you respond to your child in this moment? Be honest.

Allow me to turn this conversation around a minute and look at it through my 16-year-old eyes. My underlying motivation wasn’t to blatantly disobey my parents. My underlying motivation was to help my girlfriend. Besides, I didn’t want her to think I didn’t trust her with my car.

For me, in the moment, those factors were more important than disobeying my parents. My relationship and reputation with my girlfriend trumped a rule I thought I was barely breaking.

Your Kids and Technology

The teenage years are ripe for identity development and figuring out where we fit in the pecking order of our cultural mores. And wow, have things changed.

Today, social media has become the primary “hang out” for figuring out this social order. You hung out at the mall; your teenager hangs out on social media. In many respects, their underlying motivation is simply the desire to be with their friends and find their place in the world around them.

So when your kids disobey or fight back on rules you set concerning technology, don’t immediately assume the worst about them. Consider that the underlying motivation of your kids may have more to do with their perceived reputation with their friends and fear of losing social status than purposely disobeying you.

Being a teenager has gotten much more complicated. And our kids need a reasonable and safe place to land.

Paul, in Philippians 4 writes, “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” When you think about setting limits with your children, teenagers, and even yourself, think about it in the context of that word reasonableness.

The Greek word for reasonableness in this verse refers to an attitude of seeking the best for other people.

As you think about this in regard to setting parental limits on technology, consider how reasonable you’re being with your teenager.

First, don’t immediately assume the worst about them, that they perhaps blatantly disrespected you. (If they did, that’s another matter entirely). Second, be open enough to consider their underlying motivation.

As you maintain reasonableness in your rule setting—seeking what’s best for your teens spiritually and relationally—the technology issue becomes an ongoing conversation about so much more than technology.


Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is the President and Co-Founder of The Connextion Group. He is the coauthor of God Attachment and The Quick Reference Guide to Counseling Teenagers. Josh specializes as a relational bridge builder between the generations. He speaks and writes on the two key ingredients necessary for building healthy families: intentional parenting and a loving marriage. He wakes up each day striving to love others better, starting with his wife Christi and their son, Landon. You can find him on Twitter @joshuastraub or on Facebook.