Do I Make My Son Pay for His Own Replacement Phone?

Updated on September 08, 2019
J.B. asks from Boston, MA
23 answers

My 15 year old son has a habit of being careless with his cell phone. He'll decide that he doesn't like the bulk of a case, remove it, and then it'll get dropped, fall out of his pocket, etc. Last year, he had an older model iPhone that was on life support for a while. He cracked the screen beyond use (chunks of it fell out) and had to pay for a replacement screen. Then he broke that screen and he ended up pooling birthday money this year to get a newer version (I think a used iPhone 8). Within a few months, he managed to drop that one too and there are pieces missing from both the front and the back but it still works fine. Until yesterday...

We were boating with relatives yesterday and unexpectedly, we hit the trough of a huge wave and a 4-ft wall of water splashed over the boat. My boys were sitting in the front of the boat. My son literally said "look at the wave" and held this phone in his hand *as the water was dumping over him.* To be fair, this had never happened to us or anyone else on the boat before so while you expect some spray, we normally don't expect a soaking wave. That said, there were five of us on the boat and only his phone was destroyed because everyone else's phone is in a case and/or is fully intact without giant cracks and holes into which water would seep.

So the phone is now in a bag of rice and we're hoping it will come back to life but if not...would you make him pay for a replacement phone? Split the cost? Cover it? On one hand, if the phone wasn't already broken and/or was in a case, it might be fine. On the other hand, it he wasn't doing anything particularly careless when the wave hit and if we hadn't had this freak thing happen, his phone would still be usable.

Any thoughts on "forcing" (by holding the fact that I pay the bill over his head) him to replace, if needed, with a more durable phone or use a case all the time? He loves Apple products but they're not built for the beating he gives things.

Thanks for any thoughts or feedback!

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answers from Sarasota on

If he is being irresponsible then he can now learn the consequences. How naive he is to think he doesn't need a case on it for accidents that may or may not happen. Make him pay for it or he will never learn the value of a dollar. My daughter's phone has been cracked for 6 months because she is slowly earning money to pay the deductible for her replacement.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I’m pretty lenient with these things but it’s his fault it wasn’t in a good case. It’s not the first time for him. I had mine out of a case for a few days. Dropped it. Cracked screen. I’ve never had it out of a case again. So first time he should have learned. This is on him now. I have an almost 15 year old and she’d never do this. She always uses a case. Maybe after this he will and it’ll teach him for other valuable items too.

5 moms found this helpful

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answers from Denver on

I suggest that you use a contract system. I did this with my son when he was about your son's age. True, it wasn't about a phone, but a complicated and expensive calculator. The first one that I bought at the start of the school system disappeared pretty soon afterwards. The second one was dropped and broken.

So we sat down for a conversation. I made sure I was calm. First, I reviewed the costs of the calculators, making sure he understood how much the two lost/broken ones had cost. You might do the same with the phones, going over the prices, the monthly access fees, and any related costs on your phone bill.

Then I told my son I would buy one more calculator. If at the end of the school year he still had it, in excellent working condition, I would rip up the bill. However, if at any time during the year he lost/broke/damaged/loaned it, he would be responsible for the entire cost, plus any replacement costs. He would not get a new one until the entire cost was paid back in full.

We put this down in writing, and I reminded him that soon he would be getting jobs, and expected to perhaps sign a written agreement with his employer, or be responsible for company equipment, or have certain standards in writing. It was time he learned to be responsible - in writing.

This way, your son has to agree to use a sturdy case, not treat the phone carelessly, not loan it out, not go over data, etc. If he still has the phone in excellent condition after a period of time that you establish (for example, one year), you won't ask for the cost of the newest phone back. Or you can tell him that he has to keep the phone for 2 years which is most cell phone providers length of the contract. Whatever works for you. And if after a year or two he wants an upgrade, he'll be responsible for that cost too.

But put it in writing, and sign it - both of you. Keep the contract where it's safe and accessible. And don't treat it as a harsh punishment, but as part of being an older teen, part of being more responsible. Remind him that being responsible and reliable will be part of getting a learner's permit, a driver's license, a job. This is his amazing chance to demonstrate that he can be responsible. Make it a goal, a chance to earn the privileges that come with being 16 and older. Keep it positive.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

The fact that he took it out of the case was his decision and thus his consequence. Sorry but anytime you are on a boat, you should expect things to get wet.

My daughter was terrible with her phone. She dropped 2 in a pool without months of each other. She was in college at the time. I did replace the first but I got her a flip phone and took forever to text on. :)

She saved her money and bought a smart phone. Bought a water proof case and miracles of miracles, she never had an issue again.

I disagree with your statement that Apple products aren't build for the "beating" he gives them. If his phone is in the case it will survive just about anything. Its his irresponsible behavior that is causing the issues not the phone.

Buy him a flip.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

sure. i'd have no problem expecting him to pay for his own in this case. if you feel that it's your responsibility to give him 'keep in touch' technology, offer him a simpler sturdier one, and if he wants an apple he needs to pony up the difference.

it was a freak thing, but the fact remains that the phone was unable to weather the wave because of its damaged condition, which was not a result of the wave.

no easier way to teach a teenager financial responsiblity than to require it of them.


10 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

As long as you make excuses for him and replace the items he is careless with? He will never learn.

Yes. You make him purchase a new phone on his own. He won't die without it. Neither will you. He needs to get a phone he can afford to lose and that's not an Apple product. He needs a flip phone until he's mature enough to handle a phone that he won't damage.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My daughter was bad with her phones. We use Apple and ALWAYS carried the insurance on them. Still do.

I don't think it Apple is the problem. Problem is not using a proper case, and being careless with it, understanding consequences, etc.

I know accidents happen. Daughter got to use her apple with a horridly cracked face over a year because she "prefers no case" so I refused to buy another at that time. She was embarrassed by this and now at 24 she is much more responsible and pays for her own phone and has a good case.

We do have insurance on the products and have used it way too often.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

You are probably counting on him having a phone to be able to reach him, etc. He wants a phone, not only for that purpose, but lots of other purposes like calling friends, hopping on the internet, maybe playing some games, etc.

Our kids didn't get cell phones until they were 16. The deal was that we would pay for the phone that we thought they needed - but they could always pay for the phone they wanted. We purchased and paid for the most basic phone you can possibly imagine, and the plan that corresponded to it. When our one daughter wanted an iPhone, she had to pay the difference in cost (pretty substantial) AND pay the phone plan difference (our plan charges more for iPhone). She actually ended up finding a refurbed older iPhone and everyone was happy.

How about offering to replace the phone he "needs". If he wants more than a flip phone (or whatever the cheap phones are nowadays), then he needs to pony in the rest.

As an aside, have you ever checked into SquareTrade for insurance? I love it and they are really good (or at least have been when I've had to turn in a damaged item).

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Our son insists on a water proof case for his and it's saved him more than once.
He's on occasion dropped it in puddles or one time he was soaked - pouring waterfall type rain at a football game with the phone in his pocket - and the phone came out fine every time.

How much does your son really need a phone?
If he 'needs' one - a basic flip phone will do for calls and texting and they are much cheaper to replace.
After the number of incidents your son has had with his phone I would not offer to replace or repair it anymore.
You can provide/replace with a basic phone but only if he needs it.
(The only time you spring for an iPhone for him is if the rest of the family is also getting replacements phones (maybe keep the old phones around to give to son when he needs a replacement)).
If he wants another iPhone asap he's going to have to earn the money for it - each and every time - and after working his tail off to afford one either he'll become more careful or he'll be perpetually working to constantly replace his phone.
I've seen grown adults drop phones over the side of a boat - and in salt water its not likely to recover even if you could get it up from the bottom.
Accidents happen.
Repeat carelessness is not something you should be saving your son from all the time.
It's time he start dealing with some natural consequences.

None of us got smart phones till our son graduated high school - he really uses it a lot in college.
When he was in middle school and high school we all had basic phones.
He's worn out some cases and we've replaced them but he's never once busted any of the phones he's had.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I suggest it's past time he pay for his own phone. He hasn't learned that a phone needs protection. I wouldn't replace it because he's chosen to not have an adequate protective case three times. Natural consequences teach best.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

our "smart" phones are all insured. If my kids break theirs? They pay the fee associated with their phone if they want a phone.

I wouldn't pay for it. I would tell him that he didn't care for his phone properly and he needs to pay for it.

My oldest son goes to college by a beach. His first year he damaged his phone. He was upset. I didn't pay for it. He was mad and pitched a fit. I said you KNEW where you were going and you didn't plan and prepare. Cough up the money for the insurance and you'll have a new one in 24 hours. He did. He wasn't happy. He went out and bought a waterproof case for his phone. Now he takes it with him when he goes to the beach with his friends.

In this case? You were on a boat and he didn't plan properly. however, since this was NOT expected (sorry but in reality - you're in water on a boat and it IS expected, even if it hasn't happened before). I'd tell him we'll split this 50/50. However, in the future? You are 100% responsible. And make him pay for it BEFORE you get him a new one. Show him you're serious.

He needs to know you're serious. At this point, he knows you will cave and get it for him. He needs to learn to be responsible. He will get his act together REALLY fast when it starts hurting HIM. When he realizes the COST of things and that you're not his personal ATM?? He MIGHT make the change that is necessary to grow up. He really needs to know the costs involved. He needs to know WHERE that money is coming from. Does he understand that?

Good luck!

8 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

I love Elena's answer!

I will say my own son who is 14 is still on one phone after almost two years because he had an accident with our family tablet. He spent many many many maybe hundreds of his time allotted hours playing a game on it. This was before clouds and back ups on games. He was walking with it tripped over a cord and dropped it. The tablet was ruined and the game nonrecoverable. (It was 100% an accident but he is very very careful now with his electronics.) If he were to have a phone accidentally get broken I would feel reassured in replacing it as he is so careful with his device. (knock wood.)

My daughter on the other hand just spent all summer without a phone earning the money to buy a replacement. Why? She didn't treat it with care and ended up having it crushed in an accident that could have been avoided with some better planning. It had already been dropped and mistreated. She did extra chores. She worked cleaning out the garage in the heat. She treats her new phone like a new born baby.

I understand accidents happen and things get stolen. I am now going to steal Elena's idea to put both kids on the same page and have a phone contract. My son is almost to a "replacement" phone status of two years. My daughter has a ways to go yet. Thanks for this question!!

Oh, and a good case isn't an is a requirement.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boise on

I'd make him pay to replace it, and stop making excuses for his accidents. Sure, the wave was a freak thing but why was his phone out while he was on a boat anyway? That's how most accidents will happen. Because he didn't think to prepare for the possibility of a problem. Why would he handle things differently in the future without a consequence?

When we're on the water all phones are generally left at home or in the car. And if we do take a phone because there's an actual need to contact someone during or after the trip, or maybe because we're taking photos at some location, we put it in a dry bag that's tucked away so it doesn't go overboard.

I wouldn't even "force" him to use a screen protector or a case. Remind him that it's his responsibility to keep it safe and let him deal with the consequences!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Been there.

Mine all have apple, have the cracked screens, won't use the expensive recommended cases that were purchased that would eliminate these problems, etc.

Thankfully, as my older kids have gotten older and work, they no longer need latest phones and just buy second hand phones - and when screens crack, they just buy another one. I don't get it - but I am glad to not be involved.

In your case, I would insist on the case (*like Lori, we use Otterbox ones exclusively), and cover part of it. When he's earning money (part time job) I'd say, you handle it from now on. It will teach him to be more responsible.

ETA - with one of ours, when we said we'd help split the cost of the same phone (an older model by then), he decided it wasn't worth it to him. He ended up using the phone (it worked but it meant using it with a cracked screen) until he could save up for a new phone himself. He worked hard mowing lawns, saving up birthday money, babysitting for our kids, etc. Finally, he had enough to buy the phone he actually wanted - so it was still a *lesson*.

So long as our kids learn a *lesson* somehow, that's kind of how I go about it with these technical device things (phones, ear buds, etc.). I find some of mine are prone to be careless (as is my husband). My husband breaks his glasses constantly.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

Hi JB~

I would probably either split it with him or make him responsible (and leaning toward him being responsible). I know it wasn't "technically" his fault, but the carelessness of how the phone was handled to begin with is playing a part in the demise and he is directly responsible for that.

We use Otter Boxes exclusively. I know they're bulky (we use the Defender) but it's what we do because our work is physical and accidents happen even when you're being careful. When my son (15) said he'd like to consider a different case, I told him that was fine but if anything happened while in a different case, it would be on him to shoulder the responsibility of repair/replacement. He ordered a new otter box.

You can't change someone's tendency to carelessness. You can, however, have them take responsibility for it. Which to me is the only deterrent in encouraging them to make better choices. I would consider offering him the phone insurance if he wanted to add it (and be responsible for it; less than $10 p/mo) once he's replaced the phone. I would also offer to split a new otter box with him to protect his investment.

One of the best quotes from Love and Logic for Teens is "let them make mistakes now when it costs them less so when they're on their own, they know how to make good choices when the consequences are at a higher cost." It's sometimes hard for me to watch with my son (and daughter) but, they're headed to adulthood and if we save them from their natural consequences, we aren't doing them any favors. :)

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I see your dilemma. I must say, I think Elena's response is excellent.

I get that it was a freak occurrence. But why is a phone out in someone's hand on a boat ride?

I suggest a serious conversation about why a day on the boat in waves meant that anyone - ANYONE - should have a phone in hand. I was just on a whale watch last month, and you wouldn't believe how many people missed the sightings because they were trying to get a 3-inch screen focused on the wide expanse of an ocean. I see people at parades featuring, say, the Pope - and people miss the overall experience because they are trying to get it on a tiny screen. Another friend went to a major concert and couldn't see - people in front of her held up phones to film it. So I think it might be time to evaluate the purpose of a phone, and whether things it CAN do are things it SHOULD do. That is, what is your kid missing because he's too busy trying to get a video or a selfie?

Part of growing up, and maturing beyond teen years to adult years, is learning to defer gratification to see the big picture (literally and figuratively). I know you to be a sensible parent with reasonable boundaries, so I know you are not excessive in your leniency. But I also see that you're in this bind because he thinks everything is replaceable. Maybe it's time for either a very hard lesson, or at least a line in the sand going forward. If you can't decide between the 2 (you pay, or he pays), then you split it, I guess.

Keep us posted.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

My oldest is the same way.. a carefree persona. My 2nd born son thankfully is a lot more careful and respectful of electronics.

Since you did not put your foot down after he took the phone out of the case.. he continued on having “accidents” with the phone.., with no punishment or conditions he will not change.. why would he??? Mommy keeps on fixing his mistakes.

My oldest took his out of the case.. I paid for the screen $120 but it came with conditions on using the phone. It stays in the case or you can not use it. And if you can not use it-you can not go out since I can not get a hold of you.

Now I bought them other cases ( otterbox at sprint or att or Verizon are rip offs! They are like $45-$65 when you go to Marshalls and they do actually have them... they are like $12!) also Marshall’s have those glass screen protectors for $6! I hate getting ripped off or to overpay.. and yes the same quality.

My sons picked out a case from a store called 5 below.. and after caving in they got a less bulky case but with a screen protector ( and insurance on any phone is a must) no accidents for about a year now on my oldest phone.

Ps it’s not the phone .. it’s the person that uses it. Offer maybe a flip phone.. that might still be plastic or those pre paid phones. But I strongly doubt he will like those. So, get him a case and a screen protector...if he doesn’t like it, he can not use the phone. Done.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Tyler on

I LOVE Elena B.'s suggestion, it gives accountability. And if he is careless with a phone, are you ready to hand him a set of car keys? Time to learn a lesson about how to value your property. Teach him with a phone before he can truly harm himself and others in a car.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi, JB,
I am sorry to hear that. My daughter was like your son when she used my iPad when she was seven or eightish, she dropped it and it broke the screen and I have to get a new one. It is best to tell your son that it is valuable for use. It is also best to tell him that it costs a lot of money.
Update: I encourage you to buy your son a water proof case.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

He refuses to use protective gear and then breaks phone after phone? Yes, he needs to buy his own replacement phones.
He needs to get some sort of after school job and save up to buy his own phone.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New London on

I understand that the phone got wet by accident

Have him purchase the NEW CASE with his money.

Tell him this is the LAST time u replace the phone and he is paying for the next one and have HIM sign the piece of paper with a short contract written explaining the new phone responsibility he will have.

Does he do simple tasks around the house? He should be doing things like emptying the dishes and putting his laundry away because this is part of being a family.

He can do special jobs to earn some extra money to save for the next phone.

After he pays for the next phone, he will probably put the case on each and every day.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

I’m chiming in late here, but just another thought -

If you want to think about things you can reasonably “force” your son to do, I think a big one is to force him to leave his phone at home during activities like boating!!

A responsible adult with one phone in case of emergencies, is plenty of phone for a family boat ride. If it is a special occasion in need of photos, buy a little disposable camera. Much lower stakes to bring a disposable camera on a boat.

Especially when you paid for the phone, I think you need to look at your son’s use of it as using a very expensive nice gift that you gave him. And, since part of the reason for the gift (I’m guessing) is your need to have a way to reach him, it is a gift that you have a shared interest in preserving.

The same way that a parent would not allow a child to finger paint in the expensive dress that grandma gave her for Christmas - a gift that the parent has a shared interest in preserving - rather than saying that the dress is the child’s to use as she pleases and learn about the consequences.

It’s “parenting by removing any possibility of a problem”, which I think can be an appropriate way to deal with unique and expensive items.

That does not answer the question of who pays for the next phone, but no matter who pays for it, I think you should take that approach toward “parenting” the phone.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

I honestly think this is partly your fault, my boys don't have the option to not have a protective case and screen protectors on their phones. They do drop them, as everyone does, but have not had so much as a cracked screen. Since we do require the covers and screen protectors we of course pay for those items. If it were me I would help him get a new phone but require he always keep it in the case and apply a screen protector.

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