A Parent's Right to Just Say No
Back in the day (you remember the day, don't you?) when a teenager wanted to communicate with the outside world, chances are they did so on a telephone landlocked in the middle of the house. They could only take the conversation as far as the coiled cord would allow. There were time limits, party lines, and bedtimes to which they adhered. Not to mention house rules in terms of language, who they could call, and if they were even allowed to use the phone at all.
I am certain some of them even invented secret codes and developed a sixth sense alerting them to approaching parental units.
Now, of course, communication - okay, okay, social networking - takes place anywhere and anywhen we, or our young counterparts, want. And, much to the dismay of the aging immigrant population (that's us), the land of technology natives has a new lawmaker - the teenager.
Snapchat and the Erasable Future
When I was maybe 15 or 16, I remember talking on the kitchen phone, which incidentally was orange, and using the word "hunk" to describe, well, a "hunk" at school. My mother never flew so fast across the kitchen. Not only was that conversation over, but subsequent phone calls were tricky to negotiate.
Today, we often don't even know who our kids are messaging, let alone what they are saying. With apps such as Snapchat making it possible for people to send messages and photos that disappear within seconds, there is often no record or way to track what our children are doing either online, or on their phones.
In a recent conversation with a parent, I was told that she didn't feel she had the right to check her 13 year old daughter's phone. Wasn't her daughter entitled to some privacy?
Here I answer, in all my opinionated infamy - uh, no!
There is, nor ever has been, a manual for parenting bestowed on newly anointed parents. But, if there was one, section 13, subsection t would certainly read: You, as a parent, have the right and responsibility to know where your child is and who they are with at all times. It helps keep them safe! It helps them know they can depend on us and makes them feel secure.
Pratfalls of "Right to Privacy"
We most likely can begin to pinpoint this teen takeover to the time period in our history when parents ran out of ideas for holiday gifts. Is it not so much easier to decide your nine year old really should have a cell phone, than to deliberate endlessly as to what 17 gifts they absolutely must have for their birthday? With the price of an iphone, hey, in one fell whoop and hoorah, we've covered Christmas!
And, it is great to be able to text your kids when dinner is ready (who wants to walk to the bottom of the stairs and yell, anyway?). I love that I can call my daughter at any time. It is convenient. But, the notion that she is entitled to use it at her own discretion, with no supervision is not something I believe makes for good parenting.
What are some of the dangers of unsupervised usage you ask?
- Lost and inadequate sleep, especially on school nights due to late night texting.
- Probability of romantic attachments before a child is ready.
- Use of inappropriate language and pictures that can endanger reputation and/or friendships.
- Long term damage to reputation.
- Concentration problems.
- Inability to form IRL relationships.
- Encounters with pedophiles.
- Access to adult content that may cause confusion, stress, or bad decision making.
- Due to inadequate knowledge about privacy settings, teens personal information is at risk.
- Overview | Pew Internet & American Life Project
Parents, Teens and Online Privacy
What Are We Doing?
No doubt, teenagers have a way of making us feel inferior, less than, incapable, and just plain old. Let's face it, we very may well be but we don't have to admit it to them. Any parent of a teenager will tell you it's a Herculean task to get your teen to talk to you. So, if you can't beat 'em...text 'em.
We need to know what they are doing, down to the name and purpose of each app on their phones. At any time, my daughter knows I can request to look at her phone, and she hands it over. Many times we will look at it together and messages with her friends often spark a conversation between us.
At thirteen, my daughter is entitled to a private life - for sure. She can talk on the phone (even in her room with the door closed). But messages, photos, any permanent digital trace, I want her to know I may be viewing them. For her safety today, as well as for her future reputation.
Practical Tips for Teen Cell Phone Safety
- Set ground rules, time limits, and know who your child is communicating with.
- In our home, to text a boy means to first ask permission.
- Know the websites and apps your child uses regularly.
- Get an Instagram account!
- Get a Twitter!
- Get a Facebook account and friend your child!
- Read privacy policies.
- Know how to set filters on google and youtube.
- Talk to your child about what they do on their phone.
- Do random checks of their messages, etc.
- Lay the groundwork for trust. Establish a policy that you won't just secretly check their phone. Look at it together.
- Have realistic consequences in place and follow through.
- If your child regularly uses a technology, you should know how to use it, as well.