by Andi

What’s really going on inside your teenager’s smartphone?

What age do you think is appropriate for a child to have a smartphone? Notice I said smartphone, not phone, as they really are two entirely different things. Yes, the regular flip-phone still has the texting technology which can be a problem, but that’s not what this article is about.

I have five children. Two of them have smartphones. They are twenty-one and twenty-two years old.

Dear Apple, Thanks.

To each their own, and I hold no judgment against anyone. I whole-heartedly believe in the authority of the individual parent/parental unit. But I will ask you to consider the following idea: While we were busy Generation X-ing, getting introduced to the internet, email and chat rooms, getting married and starting families, technology was advancing at the speed of light, past anything we, as kids, could have ever considered. It’s possible that as parents, some of us have gotten lost in the technology dust cloud apple left when it bestowed upon the masses, the handheld, internet-connected computer, also known as the smartphone.

While the Millennial parents (i.e. Millenials who are now parents themselves) grew up in households where they and their parents were being introduced to the new technologies together, parents who were raising these kids had no idea the extent the opportunities to connect with people and unlimited information via the internet and the smartphone would end up reaching. Social media popped up around the time they were getting their first cellphones and some of the kids were even getting those smartphones despite the significant expense. Facebook became the first significant “there’s an app for that” social media platform. Next thing you know there’s Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. Kids suddenly had a million ways to get attention.

Months to a few short years later, several messaging apps (Kik, Hangouts, Tango, etc.) were being marketed to anyone who could manage to perform a download. Soon came Snapchat and that changed the game entirely. Snapchat was allowing kids to send photos in an (almost) incognito way. They could get riskier with the photos because the photo was “snapped,” sent to a friend and then only able to be seen for three seconds, supposedly. And then, to the delight of these kids, it would disappear into the unknowns never to be seen again. This opened a whole new door to kids connecting with people on the internet and was dangerous.

Fast forward to several thousand versions later and we’ve arrived at a place where your Millennial is all grown up, has experienced his/her fair share of internet disasters and still hasn’t realized that smartphones are not toys and should be monitored just like the liquor cabinet.

Here’s What I Found

So I started to do some research for this article and I was absolutely blown away at the sheer volume of apps out there that are being marketed to sneaky kids and cheating spouses. Developers are capitalizing on this exploding market which targets the human need for attention. I guess it’s not surprising that the instinct of so many people is to attempt to hide their activity, considering the instinct is to do things society frowns upon. In other words, people are instinctively drawn to exhibiting “bad behavior,” and therefore a need to cover it up.

I wanted to gather a list of actual apps that kids, and apparently cheaters, are using to keep secret photos, videos, and correspondence of all kinds, including just web browsing (private web browsing??).

But there were so many out there that there is just no way I would be able to find and list them all and still have this be an efficient and informative article. So instead, I decided to write about the importance of understanding what your kids are doing on the internet and smartphones. Because it’s really important. 

Let’s talk about why I felt this article was necessary. According to a study conducted in 2012 by Tru Research and commissioned by McAfee, 70% of teens hide their internet behavior from their parents. This number is up from 45% in 2010 and reveals what they are really doing online and includes some pretty disturbing activities. The fact that parents are mostly unaware of their children’s activities online makes it so much easier for the kids to be participating. This is one of the biggest parenting fails in decades, and so many parents are guilty.

Children and Social Media

This is probably the number reason one I will avoid having my kids use smartphones. When observing juvenile behavior on social media, it’s clear most kids are prone to getting out of control. For example, your child should not be posting a selfie a day, let alone a bunch. What’s the point? Maybe you think this is harmless. But more and more with these behaviors and outcomes in kids being studied, it’s being shown that these children are exhibiting narcissistic tendencies. Bottom line? Kids are wholeheartedly becoming addicted to the internet and the attention social media is providing. 

What happens when the need for social media attention turns your child into a self-obsessed person who is addicted to “likes” on social media? And what about the competition that comes with it. When your daughter is absolutely devastated because nobody liked her photo, because let’s be honest, kids think some pretty silly stuff is important. Not only is this something that is not important at all in life, it’s damaging to actually getting kids to focus on what is important.

I’m not going to get too deep into all of the other ridiculous ways social media is drawing kids away from what’s important in life, but I would like to mention a few key points that will hopefully have you a little more concerned with your child’s online activity. 

Photos, statuses, and videos posted to the internet can be there forever, even if they are deleted. Children are not necessarily capable of making decisions regarding permanent imprints on their digital profile even when they are 14 years old. Facebook alone has become a toilet bowl when it comes to teens and young adults making dirty-laundry announcements. Everything from passive-aggressive finger pointing to single moms posing for mirror selfies with filthy bath and bedrooms in the background. Is this how you’re teaching your child to live? And now they’re sharing it with the world? All in an effort to get some attention? YIKES.

Something has gone terribly wrong when your 14-year-old is posting videos like this, not to mention her influence on other kids. I’ll say it again: YIKES.

I will happily accept being labeled a mean mom for keeping my kids from that. But my kids do know who she is. Why? Because unfortunately, she is an example of what not to do. I don’t advocate for keeping kids in the dark. They need to know what is out there. But they don’t need to be stumbling through the internet weeds in the dark, running into ridiculous examples of teenagers who are by all accounts victims of #badparenting.

Ask Yourself: Why Does Your Teen Feel The Need To Hide Internet Activity?

And are you comfortable with that feeling? If this isn’t a classic case of the masses sticking their heads in the sand, I don’t know what is. How can parents be so trusting? Not just of their children, but of those given free, unlimited access to their children via the internet. This is either a consideration unknown or one of the biggest collective cases of denial ever in existence when it comes to parenting. Some things about the internet and your child’s access to it should not be ignored. And the fact of the matter is, the massive admissions from parents that they are “tech-stupid” has made it so most kids don’t even need to be hiding activity because parents simply cannot figure it out. 

Kids go to the internet to bully and get bullied, judge and be judged, and most of this without any supervision. As a parent, take some time to think about what purpose is served by your child occupying huge amounts of their day inside social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, etc. There are literally thousands of apps meant to encourage socialization, often times with people your kids have never even met. Kids have access to adult dating apps, as well as those meant for young adults and teens. Even though there is no way to verify who you are actually communicating with on these apps, teens do not find them to be a danger at all. What does it mean when your teen daughter competes with her friends for “likes” on selfies? You take that away, and what is her life? If there is a chance she would be devastated, time to refocus.

The Internet Is Not The Bad Guy

The internet is one of the greatest, most awe-inspiring inventions of all time. Almost anything you want to know can be found on the internet. For this reason, though, children should always be monitored.

I have three underaged kids and they are 100%, absolutely allowed on the internet. But only because I am not and will not be one of those parents pretending I know what they are doing when I don’t. Sitting at home with faces planted in phones is not allowed. I don’t do it and neither will they.

My family will not be guinea-pigs in the unofficial worldwide experiment to find out how much destruction smartphones can cause inside a family. Nor will I let my kids be subject to the damage that can be done in the stalk, judge and bully environment of it. 

Inconvenient Truths: Teens Don’t Get Privacy On Internet/Smartphones

As I’ve already mentioned, only my adult children own smartphones. This is something that I don’t anticipate changing. After all, it’s much easier to monitor smartphone problems if there isn’t any access to smartphones. One plus one. 

However. Yes, there is a however. My kids do have access to the internet, including on smart devices. They each have an ipad and we have a kindle they all have access to. And since we homeschool, we have 3 school computers, and they also each have personal laptops. WAIT A MINUTE! REALLY?

Yes, really. 

It’s not hard to supervise your kids on the internet. Smart devices have parental controls. Utilize those. Laptops also have parental controls. Utilize those. This is your responsibility as a parent allowing children access to the internet. If you don’t know how, and/or don’t care to learn how then very simply, you should not own these devices. It is irresponsible parenting to own and allow children access to something you don’t understand or know how to work. Kind of duh. It’s as dangerous as keeping a loaded gun on the kitchen counter. 

Think It’s Not Your Kid?

The study mentioned above concluded that in order to avoid revealing online behavior to parents, 53% of kids maintain a clear browsing history. 46% close or minimize browser when parents walked in. 34% hide or delete instant messages and videos. Other tactics used include lying, avoiding the use of computers parents use, using smartphones, using privacy settings on social media so parents can only see material designated by the child, creating private email addresses as well as duplicate and/or fake social media profiles. 

What are the chances your child has outsmarted you when it comes to internet/smartphone usage?

My Kids Will Not Have Access To Social Media Until They Are 18

My kids will not have access to Facebook or Twitter or any of the hundreds of other social media apps that have purposes too complex for me to figure out and which seem pretty pointless in life in general. Obviously, I am capable of understanding Facebook and Twitter, to the point of understanding it’s not for kids. That is my opinion. 

I do have both Instagram and Snapchat accounts and I’ll agree they can be fun and innocent. But kids need supervision. Sharing fun family photos, silly or funny videos with friends and family is a great way for people to stay in touch and share what’s going on in life. My minor children will never be in charge of doing it. Only approved material is allowed on these accounts. And before you wonder how in the world I monitor it, remember the parental controls. So, yeah, I monitor it. Also, I am not tech-stupid. 

Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Restriction?

No.

I’m the parent. I decide. I don’t care what everyone else’s parents are letting their kids do. And I don’t care if it makes my kid think I’m mean. I don’t care if you like it. It’s my job. And I make no excuses for doing it right. 

As always, I’ll concede to each their own and express no judgment for how you choose to raise your children. But for those of you who allow smartphone usage for by your children, I do have a few questions. Why? Is this a privilege that has been earned? Has your child shown significant maturity and understanding of the necessity of safety measures? If not, should this child be allowed access to it? And finally, have you considered any of these things?  

Have parents given up all attempts to parent? Why are parents allowing their kids to do things that are blatantly dangerous just because everyone else is doing? Is this easier than saying no and enforcing a set of rules? Has handing a child a smartphone become the new way of occupying the children of an overwhelmed parent? Is it just easier to let kids have all this damaging access than it is to be a responsible parent?

The reason for providing a child with a smartphone cannot be simply to appease them. It’s just not worth the risk. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending it isn’t a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t.

 

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