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.