Your teen stays up late texting before an exam: What to do

Say your teen has a midterm in the morning. Despite several warnings from you to put the phone away and go to sleep, your child is still group-texting with friends well after midnight. The last time this happened, your teen bombed the test the next day. Should you let your child fail again?

Teens often have trouble thinking through consequences before they act. For teens who struggle with self-control, thinking ahead can be extra hard. So when do you let teens face the consequences of their actions, and when do you bail them out?

In this case, do you treat your teen like a young kid and take away the phone? Or do you let your child face the consequences? Three experts weigh in.

Set rules about taking the phone away.

Ellen Braaten, PhD, director, Learning and Emotional Assessment Program, Massachusetts General Hospital: Letting your child wait to see if there are consequences to staying up late may not work. Most teens won’t make the connection that their actions caused them to bomb the test. In fact, they’ll blame everything except texting and lack of sleep.

Instead, I recommend having rules for every family member (including you) about when cell phones need to be turned off. Develop a cell phone contract. If the rule is the phone needs to be turned off at midnight, and your teen doesn’t follow the rule, then your teen loses the phone.

Consider testing out your teen’s theory.

Mark Griffin, PhD, founding headmaster, Eagle Hill School: Most of us perform better when we’re well rested. But your teen may believe the opposite is true.

It’s important that you talk together about your concerns. Then, give your teen a chance to test the theory that rest and test performance aren’t related. (It’s better to do this with less-meaningful tests than with midterms or finals.)

Be clear that if your teen does well on the test, you’ll back off on your concern. But if your teen does poorly, then you’ll insist on no distractions the night before (or two nights before) important tests. So if you need to take away the phone, you will.

Remind your teen that a phone is a privilege.

Donna Volpitta, EdD, founder, Center for Resilient Leadership: Remind your teen that a phone is a privilege. To have one, kids need to show they can handle the responsibility.

Group-texting after midnight is a sign your teen may not be ready to handle having a phone without limits. In this case, it might make the most sense to take your child’s phone away.

Without a phone as a distraction, your child may or may not choose to study for the test. If your child chooses not to study and then bombs the test, that can help drive home the consequences of not studying.

No matter what, your child should still feel the consequences for not using the phone wisely. That means studying and being rested for midterms and other tests. What’s important is that you don’t just take the phone for the night. The lesson comes when you place significant limits on phone use until your child does what needs to be done.

Learn more ways to help your high-schooler develop self-control.


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