Here's The Problem With Those Apps That Make Teens Return Parents' Calls

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
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Recently, an article about a controversial app that allowed a parent to control a teen’s cell phone remotely was making the rounds again in my news feed. The “Ignore No More” app was designed in 2014 by Houston mom Sharon Standifird and allowed parents to remotely disable a cell phone if their teen hadn’t returned their call or text in a timely manner.

“If your children ignore your repeated calls and text messages to reach them, you simply lock their phones until they call you back,” said the description of the app. “When you lock your child’s phone with Ignore No More your child has only two options – he or she can call you back, or call for an emergency responder. No calls to friends, no text, no games, notta’ until they call you back. When they do, you can unlock their phone if you choose to do so.”

In a 2014 interview with Forbes magazine, Standifird reported that the app was working in her home and that her kids were, in fact, calling and texting her back more quickly than they had been before using Ignore No More. Well, of course, Standifird’s kids were going to respond to her app. She made tracking her kids down by any means possible into a thriving business but, who am I to judge? Good on her for finding a niche market and running with it. I guess?

What appalled me more than the app itself, and we’ll get to that in a minute, was the number of parents who were excitedly “thumbs upping” the app and related articles on various Facebook pages and websites. A resounding cry of “Love it!” came from four corners of the country and parents far and wide were, five years after the creation of this app, discussing how much they loved the notion that they could control when their kids returned phone calls home.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on where you stand on the issue) the Ignore No More app is no longer available on iTunes. However, much to the excitement of many, a more updated version called ReplyASAP, created by UK dad Nick Herbert in 2017, is available in the Google Play Store.

Are you kidding me, parents?

I’m seriously asking here: are we really in a place where we want to micromanage when our kids call home?

Our lives don’t revolve enough around instant gratification that we have to install an app on our phones that will make our kids come running at our literal beck and call?

On his website, Herbert states, “There are times that I need to get a message to him and he has no way of knowing that the call or text he ignores / doesn’t see is important or not, and I have no way of knowing if he has seen it (and I mean really seen it and not just moved it so he can get on with his game).” Herbert goes on to explain that he created the app to solve a communication problem between him and his son and that he hopes that other parents will be able to get in touch with their teens in a timelier manner by using his app.

Uhm, parents?

If you’ve called your teen so frequently that they tune out your name on the cell phone screen, it’s you who has the problem, not them.

If you are texting your kid so frequently that they can’t be bothered to answer, perhaps you need to reevaluate how often you are one sided texting with your teens.

And yes, I get it: an unanswered phone call, email or text can be really worrisome, especially when you are impatiently waiting for information or you have a teen who drives. However, most of us can remember a time when we left our houses without mini computers glued to our hands and we survived having to wait a few hours to find out necessary information, right?

When I discussed these apps with my 15-year-old son, I started by asking him a simply, “Why do you answer the phone when I call you?” And, his answer was unsurprising. “Well, because I know that when you call, it’s important. You aren’t crying wolf and you aren’t calling me to yell at me because I didn’t put my laundry away.”

He went on to tell me that he appreciated that we have found a way to mutually connect on social media and via cell phone that doesn’t make him feel like I’m hounding him all the time.

Here’s the thing, parents: your teen will answer the phone when he or she knows it’s important or, brace yourselves, when they actually have time to squeeze in a phone call or a text to you while they are studying for finals. And if it’s a constant problem, maybe the solution isn’t an app but the need to teach teens about responsible (and respectful) cell phone use.

To the parents who are fans of this app, I have to ask: did your parents chase you down in 1993 for not answering the dorm phone that rang constantly? Did your parents get in the car and drive up to your campus to find out why they had to leave a message on your answering machine for the third day in a row?

No, they most certainly did not.

In fact, they did what parents did back then: they waited for the eventual moment when you picked up the phone to check in. Sure, your mother made you feel guilty that it took five days to call her but she was glad to hear your voice and all was well. And, guess what? Everyone survived. And you will, too, even if your teen hasn’t instantaneously texted to tell you that his Chemistry exam went well.

Parents, please take a step back and realize that an app isn’t going to make your teen talk to you. Realize that communicating with your teen means regularly checking in face to face, discussing needs versus wants on social media and setting ground rules that work for both sides. Consider creating a “safety phrase” that you text to your kid so that they know you mean business but don’t embarrass them by shutting down their phone when they don’t call you fast enough. Can you imagine how mortified you’d have been in your first job interview if the secretary interrupted to tell the interviewer that your mother was on the phone?

Relax, take a deep breath and realize that your kids will call home eventually. Most likely, they’ll need money but that’s beside the point.

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