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An Open Letter to Parents of T(w)eens: Do You Know Where Your Child’s Phone Is?

We have an 8th grade son who we consider to be a kind, caring, and mature young man. We, like each of you, try our best to guide him as he navigates what can be difficult situations for a teenager. We think we do a good job.

Not too long ago, we did a periodic check of his cell phone. He knows his cell phone is not his, but rather, it is a privilege he earns that can be taken away. He also knows we can monitor his cell phone use and are free to do so at any time, without asking. As one concerned parent to another, I wanted to share this message.

We prohibit cell phone use in his room and require him to keep it downstairs overnight. Take note parents, as we have regularly seen texts from his friends at all hours of the night, and often on school nights. I’m not talking 10 or 11 at night; think 1 and 2 am and later, on a regular basis. Many kids are never “shutting down.” This has its own effect on our kids’ health and well-being.

During the most recent check of our son’s phone, we found disgusting, appalling, and abhorrent behavior and language. Not just from him … from nearly all of his friends. Boys and girls. We don’t live under a rock; we know they are going to be kids. They are going to swear. They are going to make dirty jokes. 

But we saw sexting. We saw pictures of 8th grade girls with just their bra. We saw pictures that girls took of their naked backsides. We saw pictures of girls sitting on guys’ laps with texts that described his … well, you know. There were text messages about getting drunk, going out and “hoeing it up” and texts about getting high. There were joking references to the KKK. The language some of these kids used made us uncomfortable (and we’re not exactly PG in the company of other adults). Kids were talking about oral sex. About full-blown sex. Kids threatening our son to fight (which he accepted; thank God it never took place. He didn’t think that far ahead). Over a girl, no less.

Parents, these are our kids. They’re 13 and 14 years old, and talking about getting drunk, high, and having sex. They’re sending naked and semi-naked pictures of themselves. These are A students, star athletes, and generally nice kids. But if you open your child’s phone, you may get a different picture of your son or daughter and their circle of friends. We certainly did, and let me tell you, we were shocked. 

But it opened up a conversation about not just responsible technology use, but more importantly: peer pressure, drug use, sex and sexual behavior, and how to handle certain situations. We were able to right one or two wrongs where our son behaved extremely poorly towards others. We’re thankful for that. This was not the first conversation on these topics. Will this be the last conversation? More like, an ongoing series of talks as he gets older.

In our home, we try (and sometimes fail) to give him the space and freedom to use technology responsibly. He is 14, and unlike other kids his age, he is not permitted to have any social media accounts until high school. He hasn’t proven to us that he is mature and responsible enough to use these yet (we’ve had other issues with his tech use in the past). Plus, social media is full of sex. And call me crazy, but we want to limit his exposure.

We also don’t permit him to keep his phone in his room overnight – ever. Bedtime is bedtime. And finally, it’s understood that his phone use is a privilege and tied to satisfactory performance in school. Grades come first, then socialization (for the record, we ask for a B average to maintain phone privileges). And as I mentioned above, we do random checks of his phone.

He is never punished for anything someone else says on his phone. What we look for is how he responds, and within reason, he is also not punished for crude language. Kids will be kids.

Think we’re being too harsh? Consider that phone addiction is actually a real thing, and half of teens say they feel addicted to theirs. Not to mention cyber bullying, which we’ve seen firsthand and also affects a huge percentage of youth. All that aside, when we limit our son’s phone use and he’s not tied to it all the time, he’s actually happier. He’s less moody and more talkative.

We set these guidelines to help keep him focused, and if I’m being honest, a little sheltered for just awhile longer. He’s not naive about what’s out there, but that doesn’t mean he understands how to process it all yet. For example, he didn’t understand the consequences of lying to a girl about how his dad let him get drunk on New Year’s Eve (most definitely would never happen). Lying to fit in makes sense, but he didn’t understand that his lie could result in potential jail time if the wrong person took it at face value. Or that having semi-naked pictures of girls on his phone could have legal consequences, even though they’re both minors (this is why we deleted everything on his phone after our discussion).

Ask yourself: would I find anything so different on my child’s phone? Even if you don’t feel it’s necessary to set stricter boundaries (because everyone’s parenting style is different), would you be comfortable with the version of your child his or her friends see?

So please, I implore you, know what’s on your child’s phone. Know how they’re using technology. It’s not snooping at their age. They are younger than they realize, and they are getting themselves into situations they don’t fully understand. We try to maintain an open line of conversation in our home, as I’m sure you do, and if my child is being bullied or pressured into sex, drinking, or drugs, I want to help him through that. Not be kept in the dark. 
It’s our job as parents to create the uncomfortable conversations. Let’s start here. 

~anonymous

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24 Responses to An Open Letter to Parents of T(w)eens: Do You Know Where Your Child’s Phone Is?

  1. Claudia Rapp May 9, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    All social media is a very scary place to hang. It brings out the good, bad, and the ugly in all. I am very strict with my two boys. They are not allowed to cuss because it is a lazy persons way to live. Controlling cussing is a great way to control emotions and ccommunicate more intelligently. I also do not allow dirty jokes as I am teaching them to respect and not to act like an animal. Again, self contriol is taught. I do teach to save all sexually behavior for marriage. I also teach to respect the privacy of those who are pretty much naked in public by turning their heads or walking away. I limit tech time and try to teach my boys to live in the world of real people. So many live in the real world so they can just get their gossip for the social world. This is so unhealthy. When people meet my boys they cannot believe how nice they are and complement me. They say they are kind, trustworthy, and hard working. I would say they are good despite me. I am such a normal mom. I do see social media as a monster coming to eat our society and I am hoping more parents will stand with me and say no! We, the adults, need to set the example. Starting with the seniors who use to teach the value of hard work but now teach to play hard. Do you have people to your house to just share a meal? Do you go check on a neighbor? Do you compliment people in your day? This monster was created by us and it can be tamed by us.

  2. Fran May 11, 2017 at 9:39 am #

    No I don’t think you are being too harsh. I think our culture has mistakenly thought it wise to allow kids more exposure so as to not be naive about what’s out there and also to almost keep up with their peers or to say ‘it’s part of life these days”
    It’s ok to shelter some. Our society has allowed the notion that kids should grow up quickly and be independent and they are not ready for all that plus such exposure. Let them be young! Let them be “in between a kid and an adult”
    Why does society want to skip over that middle part so quickly just because it seems to be the norm. In order to reverse the norm, many parents have to put more restrictions, or risk being sheltering a little!!

  3. Steph May 11, 2017 at 5:12 pm #

    My sons are now 32 and 26, so it has been quite some time since I dealt with this issue. Both boys were allowed to have cell phones when they entered high school – texting/messaging was disabled until they graduated. Phone calls only, no internet access at all. Both boys used the family computer in the dining room in plain sight for all to see.

    • Don May 13, 2017 at 12:32 am #

      All of these replies are on point and excellent. But don’t limit the discussion to just your son’s phones. The amount of change in the social behavior of girls is amazing and in many ways should alarm us much more than what we are seeing in young men. In years past (way back in the 50’s 60’s and even 70’s) we parents could always look to our daughters to put the “brakes” on when necessary and let the young men know that there were strict boundaries regarding proper behavior, sex, and language. If the brakes are not being applied, disaster is sure to follow.

      • louise May 14, 2017 at 7:59 pm #

        Women have fought hard to be equal in society and one of the great results, is that our girls have been raised to believe they are equal to boys. the responsibility to be respectful to others and to have appropriate boundaries lies with both both boys and girls equally!! So teach your sons respectful limits and boundaries and do not leave this responsibillity up to young women to do!!

    • Im always coaching July 1, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

      Too many parents dont want to know what there kids are up to using the phones that we parents finance & permit our kids to use We dont let our kids drive without discussing most if not all the dangers associated with driving a several thousand pound w 4 wheels lethal weapon.

      Encourage your child to “lead” & be the one to go against whats “cool” or popular because your child sets the STANDARD

  4. Ellen Griffin Harris May 13, 2017 at 10:17 pm #

    I think a parent has the right to check cell phones, etc. as long as the child lives in your home and you are paying the bills. And maybe even in college when YOU are paying the bills. They should be taught to appreciate YOU for providing them with college and other opportunities. It a matter of respect for the hard work parents do. The kids should HONOR their parents with good choices and good behavior. It’s the right thing to do. As long as they live in your house you have duty to know what’s in their room and what is going on with them everyday. As a parent you don’t want to live with the statement…”if I had only…..” , when something bad happens. It’s better to be safe than sorry. And it is a great reward to see your child grow up and parent the same way you did. Then you know you did it the right way. Tough love is the hardest kind. .

  5. Fotini May 15, 2017 at 7:53 pm #

    This is what I would call very good (and sadly, too rare) parenting practice. As a parent (not a friend) to our children, we have the responsibility and the right to know what they are up to. Kids have a very tough path these days. Very different than growing up without all the invasive technology. Let them know early and often that we as parents set the rules and perameters. Don’t be naive, or wishy- washy about it. Set appropriate boundaries, set rules and make them earn trust and privileges. And make them responsible for consequences when they fail to follow the rules.They may not be happy about all of it now, but at some point, the fact that you cared enough to be the bad guy will most likely reap good rewards. Force dialogues when things take a wrong turn. I really like the no-cell phones at night rule. It is ridiculous for a 13 or 14 year old to be up all night with a cell phone dictating his or her life!

  6. Jenny Round Alfaro May 21, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    Love this. As a bus driver, and a mother of three boys myself, I am glad to see this parenting style. I wish more people would take more active style of parenting and acknowledge that there kids will be kids and can be naughty and make mistakes and teach them the right way to do things and when they do something wrong own up to it and actually parent them.

  7. Tracey Eyster June 6, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

    excellent article … all true and valid, walked through these issues with my two who are now in their 20’s I also substitute taught in a private Christian school and YES it happens, it’s real and parents have a hard time believing that. thank you for the post…I have been sharing …hope lots of parents read and heed.

  8. Cherie June 7, 2017 at 10:25 pm #

    Bravo for being a parent that cares!!! So many parents out in the world just let the kids have too much freedom and don’t care. We have similar rules when it comes to grades and keeping the phone in the kitchen at night. The pediatrician actually said that is what needs to happen bc noises from the phone can distract their sleep. Teens need more sleep now than they do when they get older 2nd they are growing.
    When I caught a friend of my son’s using foul language, I texted back and said it was inappropriate.
    Kids know how to delete too. Just be a concerned parent and let your child know the importance of having good character.

  9. Amy Bolin June 8, 2017 at 8:30 am #

    Do you think homeschooling makes my of these issues less of a problem?

    • Sam July 1, 2017 at 10:35 am #

      Yes, I do think it makes a difference. When I homeschooled my kids, they didn’t need a phone, as they were always with me. They never even really asked about getting them when we homeschooled. Now that they are back in school this coming year, it changes things. My 8th grader will have a phone but not my sixth grader. However, the rule for most social media sites is that you have to be 13 (my boys are 13 and 11) but we aren’t in any hurry to let the 13 year old have it yet and it’s out of the question for our 11 year old, who wants a phone and social media.

  10. Janet June 8, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    Why do 13 and 14-year-olds even have phones, let alone phones they can participate in social media on? Ridiculous.

    • Lisa June 11, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

      My son has a phone because he is taking public transit to and from school, needs to be able to contact us if there is a problem or change of plans, and there are no pay or public phones available to him.

  11. Lemaw June 11, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    Its a very different time than when I was a kid. I grew up in the 80s and 90s. Children have easy access to porn..think you have enough parental controls to stop them? Trust me , they know ways around all of them. You tube channels targeted towards kids are very vulgar (have you watched Pewdipie? Or Shane Dawson? )
    Everyone thinks “not my kid” but I can guarantee. .yes your kid.

  12. Kim June 11, 2017 at 9:52 pm #

    Terms of use for all social media (instagram, twitter, facebook, tumblr) say 13 or older. Chances are, your child has an account that he/she is not telling you about with notifications being sent to an email that you also don’t know about (gmail is a free service that is accessible to anyone with a browser). All easily set up without the use of a phone and 13/14 year olds these days are smart enough to know how to clear a browsing history. Just saying. Keep on keeping that leash on your child as tight as you want, they’re eventually going to chew through it and run off.

  13. Jayne June 12, 2017 at 11:10 am #

    I am a grandmother taking care of my grandson, he is 8 and very smart. My husband and I are raising him the best way we can. He doesn’t play on the computer at home at all. He uses the computer in his classroom under his teachers suppervistion. He has been living with us for 3 years now and has completely changed. When he came to live with us he was playing on some kind of game boy thing, we took it immediately and wouldn’t let him play with it. He use to fuss, cuss, hurt hisself, hurt others and many other things. Since we taken that device away from him he is happier, sweet and smart plus he is a active boy. That’s where it begins, game boys, play stations and then phones. No phone until he is responsible enough and I think we have a while til then. Hopefully by then something new will be out that will stop all the bad stuff online.

  14. Beth June 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm #

    My 14 year old has been without her phone for several weeks, and will not get it back until she leaves for summer camp (more so that I can be in touch with her while she’s gone). I found several apps on her phone (instagram, Snapchat and Kik) that we had expressly said NO to her about. Hence, she lost the phone, and considering it’s the main form of communication for kids that age, it’s been quite a punishment for her. They do not know how to pick up the house phone and actually CALL someone – a sad commentary in its own right. The art of conversation seems to be dying…. it’s “awkward” to actually talk.

    BTW, we’ve always had the “phones downstairs and not in bedrooms” at night rule, too – and I’ve never heard of anyone else doing that! We don’t allow TV or computers in their bedrooms either. Glad to know we’re not the only hard-nosed parents out there, as she would have us believe!

  15. Sara June 16, 2017 at 11:50 am #

    Children need boundaries and need to learn that they must be accountable for their own actions. I applaud you for your parental actions. My adult children have told me that they are happy we were “strict” parents. They’ve seen where lax parenting let some of their peers go.

  16. Sonali June 29, 2017 at 9:29 am #

    A must read article for every parent.

  17. Melissa July 2, 2017 at 11:06 am #

    I don’t think you are being too harsh. We took away our 12 yr old stepdaughters phone for sexting. She has no access to internet or social media for 6 months. She has no idea of what the consequences of her actions could lead to. Its been explained to her that she could have been thrown in jail. She regularly asks when she’s getting it back and states she doesn’t understand why we are being so mean.
    I have tried to be calm and explain it to her several times. Unfortunately her family history on her moms side and her grandfather on her fathers side all have been to jail or are in jail. She thinks nothing of this. Its commonplace for her. This blows my mind. Social media, peer pressure and let’s face it society has gone awry. Where do we as parents and step parents start to fight the overpowering forces of these things? I just don’t know. Short of homeschooling and no TV or internet which is unrealistic these days, what can we do other then be the “mean” parents.
    I never would have allowed my preteen to have social media accounts or unlimited phone access. This was allowed and encouraged by her birth mother. We have her in counselling and have had talks about self respect, saying no to peer pressure, the difference between 12 and 22 year olds. Completely mind blowing and scary what goes on behind a closed door in the bathroom, in school, on the bus, or just outside the front door.
    So, I applaud you parents out there taking a stand and teaching our children what could follow them for the rest of their lives, possibly ruining their future.
    #staystrongamerica
    #stopbullying
    #takebackourchildrensminds

  18. K July 15, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Studies show that kids are having less sex and consuming less drugs and alcohol than over previous decades according to government surveys. One researcher said “It may be that parking at Lookout Point has given way to texting from your mom’s living room couch”

    Just thought I would give some perspective for all those people convinced the world is ending due to social media and txting.

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/cdc-survey-finds-decline-risky-behaviors-teens-article-1.2667880

  19. Mom to 2 boys July 23, 2017 at 12:32 am #

    Totally on board w the limiting of technology
    It’s a new age tho when middle school assignments include expectations of a phone to make videos
    And a whole new space w snap chat etc where the photos and messages disappear and checking is next to impossible
    Raising them in a world where so much is desensitized is soooo hard!

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