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Taking Electronic Devices from an “Addicted” Child as Punishment

Taking Electronic Devices from an “Addicted” Child as Punishment…

What Parents (And Those Around Children) Need to Know About Removal as Punishment and Its Connection to Divorce, DCS Investigations, And Criminal Charges

Parents who have children heavily involved with the use of electronics have all probably observed a “meltdown” when devices are taken as a form of punishment.

However, with a certain segment of children—even very young children—mainstream psychology publications began widely reporting in 2017 various psychological issues with detachment and depression with removing electronic devices from the child. Pre- and teenagers had some changes in behavior, but also took outrageous steps to seek the return of the devices on par with what drug addicts do to obtain drugs to avoid withdrawal. In general, from a legal perspective, the claims made by children whose devices have been removed appear to be in the ill-guided attempt to reacquire the electronic devices to stop “withdrawal”—perhaps with these children not yet understanding the implications and consequences of such. Specifically, some Children who are seeking the return report or threat to report physical, sexual, or mental abuse as “blackmail” for their return. This blog explores the three common acts rising to this level.

The first, occurring, in married and divorced (or unmarried) couples, is a child telling the parent if they did not return the devices, taken often as a form of punishment—mostly in response to inappropriate behavior, such as sexting—they would report they were abused (hit by a parent). When this happens, it triggers a range of reports, typically to teachers or therapist by the child: he or she is (was) physically or emotionally abused in a certain way is a common claim. This mandates a CPS report, and sometimes the child gets so much attention by this, it is hard to recant (or he or she does not tell about the “fib”) and put the proverbial genie back in the bottle. This is because reports often require CPS or police investigation and interview of the child.

Given somewhat of a de facto view that a child would not make up such a story, a parent should consult with counsel before making any statements if confronted with such a situation. Some allegations are hard to disprove and can create criminal risk and potential for a CHINS filing by CPS, but this may be minimized with the right approach by counsel at the outset. Typically, parents get these calls from CPS or the police unexpectedly and just follow the lead of the investigator—thinking it is obviously childish behavior and will “go away” with some explanation–without understanding the severe legal implications of an incomplete response and corollary constitutional rights that should be invoked. An adult’s statement taken out of context, while seemingly innocuous or exculpatory, may not be so viewed, given the unknown nature of what was alleged. A statement may, in fact, further the case due to a psychological concept is known as “confirmation bias”.

The second ploy made by a withdrawing “addicted” child losing access to electronic devices, occurring with divorced families or where the parents were never married, is more extreme–a false allegation of child molestation by the child typically against a subsequent spouse or significant other. This puts the biological (custodial) parent in the situation of effectively picking his or her child over the other adult, with wide-ranging consequences. If the biological/custodial parent does not “choose” the child, he or she could face neglect charges or be the subject of a CHINS case because the perception maybe he or she is not protecting the child from an abuser by believing the other adult and not believing the child’s allegations. Thus, in this context, divorce filings, custody modification actions, and/or protective orders, with corresponding criminal charges for the alleged abused, are commonly filed. At this point, the love or connection between the parents is adverse, and at least legally, and both would be well advised to get counsel to navigate the simultaneous legal proceeding this may invoke.

The third ploy plays out in a variety of ways. Here, a third party unconnected with the parents may have the child make an allegation of abuse or molest against them to remove that person from the equation if they dislike the person or are projecting onto this third party some harm they had inflicted upon them from another person. This can be the result of significant psychological issues, such as sexualizing normal behavior against certain other adults (or children). This creates legal issues for the family and third party. Often this may lead a school to reshuffle the teacher away from the child. With other third parties, it may necessitate severing a long-term family-to-family or friend-to-friend relationship to stop or minimize unwanted civil or legal consequences in the present or in the future.

The take-aways from this blog are three. First, parents need to understand their children, to monitor reliance on electronic devices (and not let it get so far), and seriously consider the implications of completely removing them as a punishment in advance. Second, where an allegation is made that corresponds to the removal of electronics, the parents must be able to understand and identify the ramifications of it to help the family help itself. Third, there are competing legal implications for every adult accused of abuse or molest by a child within the family or for third parties who are so accused. Thus, competent legal counsel should be selected to aid in navigating these waters. The implications for failing to appropriately respond are severe, ranging from the coercive intervention of the court with the parents that could result in termination of their parental rights to imprisonment of the accused if he or she does not engage the constitutional rights1 provided to every citizen in these situations.

Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle a wide array of cases that fall within the category of a child making a false allegation, including one triggered by taking of electronics (which generally is just prudent parenting). The firm handles these throughout the state. This blog is written for general informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation for legal services or intended to provide advice. It is an advertisement.

  1. These include the right to counsel and to remain silent.

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