BACK IN MY DAY I walked to the sketchy corner grocery store alone, at night, to pick up milk or eggs for my parents. Also back in my day:
- I played outside long past sunset, until my mom hollered for me to come inside.
- We biked and walked to friends’ houses, to the store, to school. We didn’t need rides.
- We had four TV channels: PBS, CBS, ABC and NBC. In high school, some kids were lucky enough to get MTV. We weren’t among them.
- My high-tech gadgets were a handheld Simon and Wildfire pinball machine.
- We had one phone that could only go into another room if we had a cord that was long enough.
Everything has changed. According to an online child safety website, 95% of children, 12 – 17, are online. So many of them accessing the Internet via smartphones.
We finally caved and got Serina, our oldest and a member of the so-called Linkster generation, an iPhone when she turned 12. The breaking point was at a volleyball tournament. Everyone on her team had a smartphone (and an Instagram account) except her and one other girl, who was 10. For us, it was time.
But let me be clear: Just because she got a phone didn’t mean it was her phone. I have her passwords and check her accounts, which initially caused many arguments, especially when I discovered she changed her passwords to lock me out. “Mom, there’s nothing on there.” “You don’t trust me.” And so on.
After all, to a teen, a phone signifies independence. It is a sign of growing up. It is a license to communicate freely. And it terrifies me.
My concerns were validated at middle school orientation when the principal not only encouraged, but begged parents to stay on top of their children’s phone use, particularly with social media and text messages.
Be nosy. Be as nosy as you possibly can.
“Times have changed,” Dr. Dianne Hasty reminded us. Today, the bulk of bullying takes place online, where mean-hearted kids (and adults) hide behind the screen of anonymity. Experts blame cyber-bullying for a number of teen suicides across the US. Additionally, the National Center for Health Statistics recently released new numbers, stating that the suicide rate among girls, ages 15 – 19, hit a 40-year peak in 2015.
Depression is also becoming more prevalent.
“Look for signs of depression,” Hasty urged, adding that teachers are instructed to do the same, taking all threats of suicide seriously.
Hasty didn’t go into the subject of online predators, but I am fully aware of those dangers, too.
That night, David and I drew up a contract for our daughters (yes, daughters — we caved again and got Sophia, 10, a phone, too). We started with this: Having a phone is a privilege. Not a right. It is our phone. You simply get to use it. We laid out what constituted violations of this privilege, which included:
- Swearing/inappropriate language.
- Visiting inappropriate websites.
- No phone after 9pm.
- Staying in a message group in which someone is locked out/excluded or being bullied. At the onset of any bullying, you will come to us immediately. We will discuss and you will remove yourself from the group. You will block the bully.
- Changing your phone password. (If you do change your password, notify your parents of the changes immediately.)
- Seeing someone you follow use crude and/or sexual language and not blocking/unfollowing. Warn your friends that if they use this language or participate in any bullying, they will be blocked and, if warranted, we will tell their parents.
We also listed consequences for violating our rules:
- 1st offense: Lose phone for two days
- 2nd offense: Lose phone for one week.
- 3rd offense: Lose phone for three weeks.
- 4th offense: Lose phone. Period.
As we navigate these rocky new waters, it’s hard to say what will work and what won’t. This is hardly the solution for all social media and smartphone madness, but for us, it’s a start. As we move forward, we appeal to other parents to also “be nosy.”
It still takes a village to raise a child. Today, however, we villagers need to be more vigilant than ever before.