Hypothetically, if a child has a cell phone that they paid for with their own money that they saved by doing chores or whatnot, can a parent take it away as a punishment for doing something wrong?

Please don't send a complicated answer, just a yes or no. I am not a lawyer.

  • 2
    Are we talking about children above or below the age of majority? (I.e 18 in most countries)? Also which country are we talking about? Laws vary? Dec 28, 2021 at 8:05
  • Laws vary. There is not a simple yes or no answer in most cases. The law isn't that clear.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 29, 2021 at 17:15

3 Answers 3



The child owns what they own - it would be illegal for the parent to take the item and dispose of it or otherwise permanently keep if from the child (once they became an adult).

However, parents are their children’s legal guardians and are responsible for the raising of their children including matters of discipline. It is both legal and appropriate for a parent to limit access of a child to their possessions.


Where I live (and as the comment pointed out, laws vary from place to place), children may own property. And it is the right and duty of the parents to raise their children, which may mean controlling what the children do with their property.

  • If I give my niece $100, she owns that money.
  • If she wants to spend it all on ice cream, her parents may forbid that commercial transaction. They can take that money away from her, for safekeeping until she reaches her majority. Or more likely, to disburse it in smaller chunks that do not lead to stomach problems.
  • If I give her $100 worth of ice cream, storage for a couple of years is unrealistic. But the parents can still control if and when (and how much) she gets to eat.

I guess your hypothetical child would be older than the niece I've been talking about. Again the parents would have a role to play.

  • The parents' signature would be required on any contract involving recurring payments, like most phone contracts.
  • While the parents should educate the minor about living in the real world, which usually involves having a phone, they are also supposed to supervise media use and to keep harmful content away from the minor. This may include taking the phone away, as long as they return it by the 18th birthday ...

If child means someone who is not yet recognized as a free adult because of their age then legally children are property you own (subject to a few limitations). Property can not own property. The reason for this is in part because ownership includes liability and a child can't be held liable for property damage. The same was true of chattel slaves. Their children were property of the slave's master for the same reason (the slaves that were biological parents were viewed as property and thus not own property).

Just to be clear how this relates, a "child's property" isn't recognized by the state, because the state has a long history of viewing children as property themselves and to own property means to incur liability which children can not do. Parents can give their kids a car, and take it back! Or a college fund (even if advantaged by the state like a 529 plan). Or, a cell phone (where in the case of Texas a divorced mother gave the child a cell phone which the father took).

See also,

  • Where is that supposed to apply?
    – o.m.
    Dec 28, 2021 at 15:22
  • @o.m. Parents own their child and everything you may otherwise think their child owns. Because the child owning anything is an illusion of society that the state doesn't recognize. Dec 28, 2021 at 17:36
  • You still didn't answer where that is supposed to apply. Unless it is philosophy rather than law.
    – o.m.
    Dec 28, 2021 at 18:32
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    -1 I do not know of any jurisdiction in which parents actually own their children. In most places slavery is no longer legal. Under traditional English-derived common law a father owns his children's wages, if any, but not gifts made to those children. Under the US Uniform Gifts to Minors acts, gifts to a child become legally the child's property, not the parents' property. Many US states have modified the common-law rule by statute, and wages may be the child's property. In many but not all cases parents have a right and duty to control what children do with their property. Dec 28, 2021 at 19:44
  • 4
    It’s very rare to see an answer that is wrong in every point. This is one.
    – Dale M
    Dec 28, 2021 at 21:13

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