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Teaching Financial Responsibility


I have written many times about financial lessons and my children…How the Kids are Involved and Helping Kids Manage Money are just a couple of them.  But now we are dealing with a new situation and I’d like your opinion.


Last spring, History Buff saved up enough money and bought himself a smartphone and has paid the data fee associated with it ($30 per month.)   At the time of purchase, he also bought a good, name brand protective case.  He ended up taking the case off the phone because it made the phone too bulky in his pocket.

My Observations

Over the last months I have seen him on several occasions, make the statement of how the phone is “shatter resistant” or “shatter proof” and then drop it on softer surfaces to make his point.  Multiple times, I told him this wasn’t a good idea AND that it would be wiser to keep the case on it.


At homeschool co op a couple of weeks ago, evidently, History Buff was doing the same show I had seen several times.  And a girl seeing this either knocked the phone from his hand or he handed it to her and she dropped it as well.  He claims the former, but the girl’s mom claims she saw the incident and that it was the latter.  I tend to believe my son is telling the truth.

When it happened, he called me crying.  I had two gut reactions: anger that this happened and what I see clearly at his part in it (not having the case on and his ‘demoing’ the shatter proof) and sadness that I was not in a position to financially fix it for him.

Follow up

I waited a couple of weeks hoping the girl’s parents would reach out to take responsibility or at least partial responsibility.  But I/we hear nothing.  I called the mom and she essentially said History Buff was lying about his version of the story and thus her daughter was not at fault.

I didn’t have a clue what to do.  I was torn between defending my son whom I believe and calling another parent/adult a liar.  So I called the administrator of the co op and asked for her input.  She called a couple of witnesses without speaking to my son and they compared their versions with what History Buff told her and there was no variation.  She is going to follow up with the other parent.

So Who Should Pay

Should History Buff bear the cost of repair/replacement alone?  Should the other student bear it alone? Or should it be split? Or ???

I voiced my opinion to the administrator that I felt that History Buff’s actions which I have witnessed in the past set a bad precedent and having the case off was irresponsible.  So I believe him to be at least partially responsible.

As soon as I said that, the administrator said “no, this is not his fault.”  We are great friends and I respect her opinion and view on the matter.  So we agree to disagree.

Current Status

My sister had an old phone that she is letting History Buff borrow until he can save the money to get his fixed.  We are still awaiting feedback from the other family, but I do not think I will pursue it further.  I just don’t want any bad blood in our tight knit homeschool community.

But am I doing a disservice to History Buff by not pursuing his side further and just letting it drop?  I value his honesty and want to reward that and I don’t want him to think I don’t have his back in these types of situations.  So what are your thoughts?


  • Reply Carrie |

    My daughter has dropped her smart phone numerous times since she got one! I have personally lost count how many times either her phone or screen had to be replaced. She has/had a name brand expensive case to protect phone but says sometimes case makes phone not function as well as it should. She has paid to replace/repair each time with her own money.

    Once a girlfriend and her were messing with each other. My daughter either scared her girlfriend or threw something at her; my daughter ‘s actions caused her friend to drop the phone and her friend’s phone screen shattered. I offered to pay to fix/repair phone but my offer was turned down. Trust me if I had paid she would have paid me back.

    Cell phones are not toys and are expensive! Cell phones can run up to $650 plus without a contract or insurance on the phone. I believe that History Buff was informed by you a few times (no less) that he should keep the case on the phone to protect his investment but he chose to believe his phone was shatter proof. Children make mistakes and bad choices in life and sometimes they just need to deal with the consequences of those choices.

    He is lucky your sister had an old phone he can use until he can get his phone fixed!

  • Reply Adam |

    Sounds like you are feeling some guilt from your financial situation, which you shouldn’t. Try to let that go.

    How much is it to fix? If it’s just a shattered screen you can probably get it fixed at the mail for like $50, or you can even order repair kits online and do it yourself.

    It seems like shared responsibility to me. I’d say ask the other family to contribute half of the repair cost, one more time. If they still refuse, let it go. This will also be a good lesson for your son that life isn’t always fair or just and he will need to take care of himself even if other people are crappy. Tough lesson but important to learn.

  • Reply Diana |

    He needs to pay. An important life lesson about tempting fate. My daughters tell me some of their friends do that at school. Look, I will drop my phone and it won’t break. Someday it will. My oldest broke her ipod screen twice in a week and had to pay $100 of her own money each time to fix it. I felt bad for her but it was her fault.

  • Reply Mindy |

    A smartphone is not a necessity. And, he was warned repeatedly to use the case. So, yes it sounds like HE should be responsible for at least some of the cost of repairs, if not all given the other family’s unwillingness to step up. You can “have his back” by saying you believe him. Spending money you don’t have to spare to “fix” a situation that isn’t an emergency and could possibly have been avoided really doesn’t seem to be a good lesson in fiscal responsibility.

  • Reply Cathy D |

    You’re helping your children learn the difference between a WANT and a NEED. Do you want to teach your children that a cell phone is a NEED? That is the message you give by spending your hard earned part time salary on fixing his phone. I am 53 years old and can remember life without cell phones, so they are not that important to me. Yes I have a smart phone, but I can go days without it. My husband on the other hand is attached and addicted to his phone and has passed this value down to our children, and I fight it! Think about what your values are and the lessons you want to teach your children and you will make the decision that is right for you. By the way, I think the other family is too embarrassed by their daughter’s actions to fess up to what she did and/or they don’t have disposable income and will not be paying to fix your son’s phone. Just my opinion.

  • Reply Nathalie |

    IMO you are experiencing misplaced anger. The girl might or might not have dropped the phone but the reality is that the phone was your son’s. HE was in charge of making sure nothing would happen to it. That includes protecting a fragile electronic device with a case (that you provided, no less!) and not letting friends handle his device.

    This really is a no-brainer: your son needs to learn the consequences of not taking care of his phone. He was negligent for not putting the case on, especially since he was warned about it repeatedly. Honestly, by refusing to put it on, he showed that he lacked the maturity to have such an expensive device. You are in no situation to help financially nor should you. He needs to learn from his mistakes. Replacing the phone for him will teach him the wrong thing. If anything, he should be paying for the screen repair that another reader suggested.

    My daughter broke several iPod Touches and phones, most of which she bought with her own money since her dad and I refused to buy her any more electronics until she showed she could take care of them properly. Now at 17, she is being a lot more careful, having finally realized how much money she wasted all those years and for what?

    Teaching responsibility (financial or otherwise) isn’t an easy task for parents. Fixing their problems for them isn’t helping them, it’s enabling them.

    Good luck with your job search.

  • Reply Teresa |

    Whether your son broke it or a friend broke it, tossing around the phone without a case was an activity that he was condoning and demonstrating and I think he should take full financial responsibility. He will learn to be more responsible in the future. It is a tough lesson but an important one.

    • Reply Nan |

      Thar’s exactly what I think and I’d never expect the other party to pay. Does he routinely have his phone out at homeschool coop?

  • Reply Mrs. G |

    Isn’t he about 17 years old? At his age he should know better and he had been warned by you that the phone could break. So no matter how it broke it’s his fault and his problem. Really if you break the story down he was showing off to his friends and in the process he broke his phone. If he had the case on it could still happen. If he wasn’t trying to prove a point about his phone being shatter resistant it would of never happend. Now if he had leant the phone to the girl to use it may be a different story but in this case I would tell my 6 year old that he bears the full responsibility for it breaking.

  • Reply Jen From Boston |

    I didn’t interpret Hope’s question as wondering if she should pay to repair the phone, only to what extent she should pursue the other family to help pay.

    Really, the only way you could force the other family to pay would be to sue. That would cause bad blood, and it isn’t a sure thing. If they don’t have the money to pay they don’t have the money. I doubt I’d go so far as to sue. That seems unnecesarily punitive to the girl and her family. Yes, she shares the blame and her parents should be teaching her that she should step up and make things right, but it isn’t your job to force that lesson.

    You could tell History Buff that you believe his story, but he should have had the case on, and he shouldn’t have been claiming the phone is shatterproof. You will do what you can short of legal action to get the other family to help pay for repairs, but life isn’t always fair, and you can’t count on other people to act honorably. He needs to accept responsibility for his role in this, and to realize that smartphones aren’t cheap toys – they’re handheld computers! It’s unfortunate he’s learning this lesson the hard way, but that’s the way life is sometimes.

    Finally, if he’s one of the adopted children (sorry – I forgot which kids are adopted and which aren’t) be sure to make clear to him that you still love him and many people make these types of mistakes. And that you can be angry at him and still love him. I say this because one of the challenges adopted children and adopted people face is feeling valued. One of the psychological responses to being adopted is feeling like you have to be perfect in order to be loved and kept, so a regular screw up can be a bigger deal to an adopted child than a non-adopted child.

  • Reply Mary |

    I would not pursue this matter any further. I would have not have asked the other student to pay for the phone regardless of who is at fault. Things like this happen.

    In terms of your son, I think he learned an important lesson with regards to being more respectful of his belongings. I’m speaking in terms of him testing fate, not of the actual incident . Although normally you could probably help him with his under the circumstances, he’ll just have to wait until he can afford to get it repaired. That probably helps with the lesson, lol.

  • Reply Connie |

    He needs to save up and get the phone fixed himself. Stay out of it; you’ve already done enough. When my daughter was about his age she lent her sterling silver flute to another band member. The other child managed to step on it which left it creased with two ill fitting keys. I told the other mom about it, and she made no offer to pay although I was in your position and she was quite wealthy. She told me that my daughter shouldn’t have lent it in the first place. I paid to have it repaired. This set up a long string of financial predicaments that my daughter go into and I paid to get her out of. She’s now 35 and finally making more sound financial decisions, but I credit her husband for that.
    Let him learn now that the only person who can get us out of a mess is yourself, and tempting fate enough times is a sure way to create a mess. He’ll thank you later.

  • Reply Joe |

    Tough situation and I feel bad for the guy, but cell phones for children are primarily for safety, in my opinion, and should be treated gently for that reason, not as a “toy”.

    I agree with others that the other party should be left out of it, especially if there is any ambiguity about the circumstances. A good opportunity for learning/teaching financial responsibility for sure!

  • Reply Val |

    He knows better – because he’s old enough and because you’ve told him – and he has the means to keep it safe with a nice case. This is a great lesson for him to learn. I wouldn’t ask the parents to contribute or have taken it to the administrator (and got other people/witnesses involved) because it’s his responsibility, bottom line. No matter which story is true, the girl probably wasn’t trying to be malicious whether she knocked it from his hand or she dropped it (I couldn’t really see the difference). It sounds like he was showing off, and in a way, she called him out on it. It’s not right of her (if it was on purpose), but if he was claiming it was shatterproof (and dropping it too), then it really shouldn’t fall on her. Like others said, a smartphone isn’t a “need”, and he has shown carelessness with it before in front of you, so this should be totally on him.
    I understand you feeling bad and wanting to help though. It’s hard to see your kids fail or make mistakes and not be able to jump in and fix things, but they are better off in the long run if you show compassion without making things better or try to place blame or responsibility on someone else.
    One thing I’m forever grateful for, is that my parents were incredibly supportive, but did not fight my battles for me once I was old enough to do so myself (high school?).

  • Reply Kristen |

    Another lesson that might be learned is – only have your phone out around people you trust. You weren’t clear about whether the girl’s intent was malicious or not, but regardless, hopefully he keeps his expensive belongings safer in the future. I am glad there weren’t cell phones when I was 17- I was too irresponsible and they are so expensive!
    I think the old phone was a good idea- bare bones until he can afford to upgrade back to his smartphone. Have him do the research – I am sure he has friends who have had damaged screens. Support his effort without sabotaging it by paying for it/feeling guilty.
    It is good that you worry about him – just don’t worry too much!

  • Reply debthaven |

    The responsibility should be shared, at best. But I agree with all the others, painful as it is, your DS was being very silly with his expensive phone.

    To be honest, I don’t see how your administrator could say that it wasn’t at all your DS’s fault. It seems obvious to me (and to all the other posters) that your son has at least some responsibility in what happened to his phone.

    If I were you the most I would do iwould be to ask the family if they would like to contribute to repairing the phone. If I were me, I would suck it up / tell DS he has to pay for it. Because sorry, he WAS irresponsible with that very expensive piece of technology.

    I’m American and I live in France, and we don’t have family plans here. Once my kids turn 18, I put their cell phones in their own names so I don’t have to deal with any repairs or changes they may opt for in their subscriptions.

    So at 18 they become responsible for their phones, even if I help them financially through college.

    By the way, is the phone insured? Might insurance cover the damage?

    Best of luck to you and your son in navigating this situation. If I were in your position I would make him take responsibility, but I would probably help him out with a $10 or $20. But I’d make sure he paid for the lion’s share.

    • Reply Jen from Boston |

      I thought about why the administrator would say it was entirely the girl’s fault. I came to the conclusion it’s like getting mugged at 3 AM. It’s foolish and careless for the victim to be out that time of night (if they didn’t need to be), but ultimately the mugger shouldn’t be mugging people, so that’s the person we arrest, charge, and put on trial.

      Yes, it was foolish of him to be bragging about his phone like that, but she shouldn’t have knocked it away – she violated boundaries by messing with someone else’s property.

  • Reply debthaven |

    ETA: When my kids get a new phone I always buy a new case for them (if the phone needs a new case). Some of my kids use the case, some don’t. I always tell them, I’ve bought you a case, here it is. I strongly recommend that you use it, but obviously I can’t force you to. But if something happens to your phone, and it’s not in a case, I’m not paying for it.

So, what do you think ?