Raising a teen today with access to the world literally in the palm of their hands, or at the very least in their home, is awesome but downright scary. Our social culture urges us to give our kids a phone at a very early age; most of us justify it by boasting safety and having the ability to get in touch with them easily.
But tucked inside each phone and every other technology related comfort we hand our kids is a tiny thing I like to call entitlement. Combine the power of global access with their sense of entitlement and it literally is a recipe for disaster. Evidence of this is all over the news with stories of young lives that are being destroyed because of internet bullying and sexting.
These aren’t just popping up in the news anymore either, they are rearing their ugly heads in our very own backyards.
I’m old school and while I try my best to be a reasonable “advisor” to my 16 and 17 year olds most of the time, they are not adults and do live under our roof and therefore must have the respect to follow our rules. They are given the chance to respect and act according to our rules but when they are broken we take measures in order to protect them and ourselves no matter what our “social cultural” influence is.
It isn’t a matter of “if” it’s “when”. No matter how bright, how perfect, or how naïve you think your teens are, they will make mistakes, big ones, and chances are they already have. Some of the mistakes our technically savvy teens are making are not easily taken back, some will last forever and some will even be tragic. Ultimately, we all do what we feel is best for our children based on a number of factors like how we were raised, our ever-changing social culture and mood. I want to take a stand and say, CHECK your kids’ phones and computers. While a cuss word here and there in a text might not bother you, it’s what is being deleted that might. The more they get away with it, the more they will do it and the deeper it gets.
Bank robbers don’t wake up one day and decide to steel $50,000 from the local bank. They start small, building their confidence each time they get away with it, getting bolder with each successful score. You can apply these same principals to your teen’s confidence in hiding things from you.
I have posted questions in the past on social media sites asking if other parents would want to know if their child is sending or posting inappropriate material and how they feel about monitoring their teen’s electronics. The responses are mixed; some are in favor of monitoring and some are not. Usually the younger crowd says it is a violation of their privacy. However some parents said they felt it was wrong to monitor, morally. Some said they would want to know and that they would also tell another parent if they saw it was happening but most people who wouldn’t monitor or tell didn’t comment at all.
We monitor in our house. If they have nothing to hide then it can’t be a violation of privacy, after all, they aren’t 18, they didn’t buy the phone and they don’t pay the bill. You wouldn’t tell your boss they can’t monitor your computer because you would be offended and it’s wrong. We monitor but we also give full disclosure.
We explained that it is our job to keep them safe and guide them down a path of making good decisions. We let them know that their phones are going to be monitored using software that has the ability to obtain deleted data of any kind. Before any routine download we let them know and also give them the opportunity to tell us face to face if there is going to be anything inappropriate that might come up.
While we are upfront with them about the monitoring we certainly don’t have set appointments on our calendar so they can prepare ahead of time. Their answer before every download is always the same, “No you won’t find anything.” However, there is always something. If they think there is a remote chance at all they can get away with it, they try, every single time.
No matter how well you KNOW your child, they are NOT perfect. Weak moments are only exacerbated by instant gratification and feedback. When I was a teen if I thought about saying or doing something to someone good OR bad, I had to sit on it all night or all weekend before I could act on it, until I saw the person. OR if I was really motivated and I happen to have their phone number I could pick up the phone with rotary dial that had a cord attached to the base located in the center of our kitchen for God and everyone to hear my conversation. Or I could use the one in my parents’ bedroom which was much more private but always off limits to us kids (Hmmm…), and hopefully someone would be there to answer.
Sometimes just the thought of their mom or dad picking up when I called would keep me from calling. That element is long gone with cell phones providing direct access. If someone else picks up a call on someone else’s phone it’s considered rude these days. In my day there was no machine to leave a message on if no one answered, I’d have to try back until I reached them, physically go to their house or wait until I saw them. By the time I did see them or they called me back I was usually already over it. I thank GOD I didn’t have a way to interact instantly when I was a teen.
I feel it is our JOB to be their BEST PARENT not their best friend. They will lie to us at all costs if they think they can get away with it, unfortunately that is typical teenage behavior and a necessary part of finding their place (Yes even your perfect angel!). The problem is, it’s getting more and more difficult to stay ahead of them with technology advancing at such a rapid rate. I can barely use the darn tv remote most days let alone stay up with the newest app my teens are using. But darn it I try, it’s my job.
Recently I discovered an app named “Hide My Folder” that teens are using. This app allows teens to hide texts, pictures and videos in a “secret file”. If you happen to stumble upon the app on their phone it requires you to put in a password. If you ask your teen for the password it will let you in but to a folder that has nothing incriminating in it. The app has 2 different password capabilities. If you put in one, it takes you to a “safe” folder. When you put in the “real” password it takes you to the folder your teen doesn’t want you to see. It was set up this way for that very purpose.
There are dozens more that do the same thing such as Best Secret Folder, Lock Photo + Video Safe, My Secret Folder, Private Photo Vault, and Hide Photo+Video Safe. If your teen has a “secret folder” on their phone chances are they are hiding explicit information they don’t want you to see.
Sexting is a word that has become popular in the 21st century and means, “the sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone.” While looking through some teens Instagram, Vine, FB and SnapChat accounts recently I was amazed by the amount of young girls posting over the top, sexy “selfies.” It has become the NORM and perceivably accepted.
If your teen is posting/sending “selfies” that are borderline inappropriate for the world to see, they ARE (or will be very soon) sending more explicit if not 100% explicit selfies of themselves privately and are making their way into the “private folders” of God knows who. Which, by the way is legally classified as “possession and distribution of child pornography” and your teen can not only be charged for that but labeled a sex offender – for the rest of their life.
The teen that receives the photos can also be charged. AND, if they innocently send that photo on to a friend saying, “I can’t believe Sally sent me this” they too can be charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. THIS IS HAPPENING in every school and every city across America.
These are not just borderline inappropriate selfies, this is sexting.
Hundreds of teen girls are taking their lives because of sexting. They make an “innocent” mistake and send one picture in a weak moment that gets distributed around their school and the embarrassment is too much for them to bear.
Recently, 15 year old Jesse Logan took her life after sending a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend who promised to keep it to himself. Once they broke up he distributed the photo to students in 2 different high schools. The boyfriend got charged with possession and distribution of child pornography and will forever be registered as a sex offender.
Another sad story involves 13 year old girl who took her life after she sexted a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend. One night at a party her boyfriend set his phone down and one of his friends picked it up without him knowing and thought it would be funny to send her picture to all the people at the party from his phone. These stories are frightening, that’s not only a horrific loss of two beautiful young lives but a devastating blow to the boys future, their parents and an unfathomable loss to both of the girl’s parents.
Here’s where all of this gets CRUCIAL on so many levels.
Once a picture has been sent from your child’s phone or posted online, it’s gone for good – no getting it back EVER. There is no “do over” or slap on the hand. News reports indicate there is new legislation being written to “protect” teens. In fact, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill last November to take effect in January 2015 that will require social media websites to allow California children under age 18 to remove their own postings. I’m not sure what good that is going to do if someone takes a screenshot of the under aged teen and saved it to their phone or computer and sends it out. They can’t get it back “protection” has got to go much deeper and it has got to start with us parents.
To tell you the truth, I don’t blame teens. I think it is our responsibility as parents, collectively to make sure that educational and safety measures are in place before we hand them a powerful device that allows them to access, send or receive information in a heightened emotional or hormonal state.
As parents we have a small window of opportunity to influence our teens, we need to come up with a plan and stick to it. Once damage is done is too late. Staying ahead of them is time consuming yet imperative. Let’s use our freedom to access information available 24/7.
Here are 3 easy tips to help stay informed:
- Contract – Before you give your teen a phone have them write you a letter explaining all the reasons they should have a phone and how they are going to come up with a designated portion of the cost. Have them include what measures they are going to take to insure responsibility and what the consequences will be if they don’t. Then create a contract that is built together using at least 5 items your teen and 5 items from you that should be on it. Sign, date and keep handy. This gives them ownership of having an “adult device.”
- Communicate – Don’t assume that because cell phones have been around for a while now, that your teen knows the capability and dangers are of having one. Research and share current videos and news stories with your teen on the latest issues and trends related to cell phones once a month. This will allow for open communication and questions, strengthening the relationship and building trust.
- Spyware – find a spyware that will keep you informed and your teen safe. Be transparent with them about having it and using it. Explain exactly what it looks at but have regular unscheduled “audits.” Give them the choice before you audit to tell you if there is anything you are going to find. This will empower your teen to think before they act modeling transparency.
SPYWARE – is technology that aids in gathering information about a person without their knowledge. It’s not “spying” on them without their knowledge if you tell them ahead of time. They should reconsider the name in order to market to parents, such as “SAFETYNETCARE” or “MOBILEPARENTING.” Spyware programs are widely available, such as My Mobile Watchdog, Mobile Spy and Net Nanny Mobile. Some can even send any photo your child takes or receives on their phone immediately to your phone and laptop, even before your child has sent the photo anywhere. YouKnowKids.com has an easy dashboard to navigate through with the capability to monitor their social media, locate where they are and see their patterns of use.
If we think back to our own thoughts and actions when we were teens I believe most of us would agree that we would be doing the exact same things if we were growing up in this digital era. Temptations are still the same but access sits in the palm of their hands. Parenting teens effectively will continue to remain challenging but investing the time in finding out what technology is out there, which ones they are using and how they are using it will help curtail some of the lasting damage that can negatively impact them for rest of their lives.
Written by Laura Page