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February 14, 2016
by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

Dad Found Not Guilty for Taking Daughter’s Cell Phone: When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work

February 14, 2016 06:05 by Dr. Dawn Crosson,Psy.D

In January of 2016, Ronald Jackson was found “not guilty” for confiscating his daughter’s cell phone (Bever, 2016). The court ordered the not guilty verdict, ruling that the state failed to provide sufficient evidence. At the time that the phone was taken in 2013, his daughter was 12 and sent a text message regarding her father’s girlfriend and children that included the use of the word “ratchet”. Mr. Jackson found the word to be offensive and inappropriate. As a result, he took his daughter’s cell phone.

After the phone was taken, police came to the home to convince him to return the property. Mr. Jackson refused. He reported that “he was being a parent” (Paul, 2016). Eventually, Mr. Jackson was arrested for property theft, a Class B misdemeanor for not returning the phone. According to Bever (2016) Ms. Steppe, the mother of the daughter, was in agreement with the cell phone being taken but didn’t agree with Mr. Jackson not giving her (Ms. Steppe) the phone when the visit was over. She asserts that while the phone was on Mr. Jackson’s cellular plan, the actual phone was purchased by Ms. Steppe and her fiancé’; therefore, the phone didn’t belong to Mr. Jackson.

Some argue that the mother, Ms. Steppe, was to blame for not supporting the decision made by the father. While others argue that Mr. Jackson overreacted and was at fault. While both parents appear to have valid arguments regarding the situation, was it necessary to include the law? As it pertains to this particular incident, what’s the message that we are sending to our youth about parenting?’


One of the key elements of effective co-parenting is communication (Arizona Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, 2011). However, effective communication can be stressful and difficult after two parents divorce or separate. Ineffective communication may burden the child by sending mixed messages and result in inconsistent discipline. Children will often test boundaries and rules. A united front in co-parenting is recommended (Serani, 2012). While both Ms. Steppe and Mr. Jackson have valid points regarding the cellphone situation, it may have been more beneficial for them to have communicated and come to a mutual agreement on a punishment for their daughter.  

Research suggests that children’s well-being is damaged when separated and/or divorced parents can’t agree on parenting and there is high conflict. Placing the needs of the child first can make the co-parenting experience positive and successful. When the child’s needs are the priority, decisions are not made to punish the other parent but instead to benefit the child. In this case, it appears that some of the focus was on the cellphone and who it belonged to and the use of the word “ratchet” in reference to Mr. Jackson’s girlfriend instead of the child’s needs.

High conflict may be inevitable in separated and divorced families. Placing the focus on reducing conflict may improve parenting and the well-being of the child. Family therapy can be useful in assisting the parents to establish a united front. The main therapeutic task in high conflict families is to help the parents separate their previous relationship problems from their current ongoing parental responsibilities (Kruk 2012). Often times, individual therapy for one or both parents may be needed to address the pain and difficulties experienced during the previous relationship to ensure that those issues remain separated from the co-parenting partnership.

In this case, it can be argued that this is an example of the law usurping parental authority and this type of situation results in our children demonstrating little respect for parents. Many parents argue that the social, educational, professional, and economical contexts of childrearing make effective parenting unachievable (Taffel, 2012). Child clinicians, educators, and law officials often tend to blame the parents for what’s happening with the child. As a result, many children are able to shirk the responsibility of their behavior. With the types of abuse that many youth endure across the world, it’s extremely necessary for them to be protected by the law and judicial system. However, in this case, it may have been more appropriate for the parents to have mutually problem solved on remediating the situation instead of having the law interfere.

This ordeal could have been avoided with the use of effective co-parenting techniques. The relationship between Mr. Jackson and his daughter has severed. Since the incident, Mr. Jackson reported that he has not spoken to his daughter. He reported that he can’t ever have a relationship with them again (Bever, 2016).


Arizona Chapter of the Association of Family Conciliation Courts (2011) Communication Co-parenting Guide

Bever, L (2016; Jan 31) I was being a parent: Father found not guilty after taking daughter’s Iphone. Retrieved February 14, 2016

Kruk, E (2012; May 15) Co-parenting and High Conflict. Retrieved February 14, 2106

Paul, J (2016; Jan 26) Father Arrested For Theft After Taking Daughter’s Phone Vindicated. Retrieved February 14, 2016.

Serani, D (2012; Mar 28) The Do’s and Don’ts of Co-parenting Well. Retrieved February 14, 2016

Taffel, R (2012; Feb 22) The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority. Retrieved February 14, 2016.

About the Author

Dr. Dawn Crosson Dr. Dawn Crosson, Psy.D

While there are a variety of places that offer psychological services, many of these services use a "one size fit all " approach to treatment. Dr. Dawn Crosson provides quality services that are tailored to meet the need of the individual.

Dr. Dawn Crosson has a clinical practice in Harrisburg, PA

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