Moment of weakness on tween and technology by Marybeth Hicks


hicks_marybeth_2It was a moment of weakness, and it didn’t last long.

My college freshman almost had me convinced that I ought to change the house rules for her younger sister.

The logic sounded reasonable, the timing seemed right, and I could almost envision myself jumping into the minivan and driving to the cellular store to pick out an inexpensive cell phone for Amy, my 12-year-old.

Then, in a fit of common sense, I spent 20 minutes on one of those Mommy-blogger sites. Simply perusing the headlines reminded me of all the reasons why we don’t get cell phones for our children until they hit high school. Ditto for Facebook.

“There’s no 3 in texting,” one story is headlined. “A new way to monitor kids on Facebook,” is another. “How to REALLY talk to your kids about cyberbullying,” offers another.

Not to mention all the stories about teens, tweens, technology and sex, an alarming connection in today’s culture.

Now, before you get defensive and start telling me all the reasons why these things are safe and appropriate for our children, know that I’m not judging your house rules. We’re just not changing ours.

Perhaps my husband and I are subjecting our daughter to an “Amish Lockdown” (her phrase, not ours), but she’s well-adjusted enough to joke about it. And besides, we still have a land line that rings often enough to keep her busy.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “my parents are forcing me to live in the Dark Ages” and 10 being “kegger at my house this weekend,” we’re firmly at about a 4. Some days even a 5.

But when it comes to the technology that provides greater freedom from our supervision, our middle schooler really is deprived.

We’d rather she wait for an age-appropriate privilege than spend our days and nights monitoring her every move.

Supervising kids and technology is even harder during the summer months. A new crop of mom-blog posts now warns parents about idle tweens and teens spending summer vacation time sending “sext” messages, engaging in cyberbullying or broadcasting details about their whereabouts over social-networking sites.

Not enough to worry about during the workday? Perhaps while you’re plowing through the “in” box on your computer, your son or daughter is enduring the threat of “textual harassment.” (No, I didn’t make that up.) This is when someone hounds or stalks another via text messages – a particularly scary factor in tween and teen dating abuse.

Yet the market saturation of cell phones for children and teens (80 percent of U.S. children older than 12 have a phone) as well as the astronomical number of tweens with social-networking profiles (25 percent of children ages 8 to 12, according to one study) indicates that even if parents have misgivings as I do, they aren’t using those reservations to inform their house rules.

There’s no question that teens and tweens are using all this technology in destructive ways. Nearly a quarter of 11- to 14-year-olds report they’ve engaged in sexting — sending or receiving sexually explicit photos or content on their cell phones. The percentage is higher for older teens.

Ironically, one of the first reasons most parents give for arming their children with cell phones is personal safety. Given the statistics on sexting, I’d say that’s backfiring for some families.

The trends are forcing parents to spend a lot of time supervising and, if not, wading through the consequences of immaturity and bad judgment on the part of their unsupervised children.

Thankfully, when that wave of flexibility washed over me, I approached my husband and said, “I’m thinking we could relent and let Amy get a cell phone this year. Maybe for her birthday. It’s only five or six months ahead of schedule.”

He lifted an eyebrow and kept working.

And with that, I sat down and surfed some Mommy-blogger sites for a dose of reality to remind myself why we do what we do at our house.

For now, “Amish Lockdown” remains in effect. Fortunately, I’m certain she’ll survive.

Copyright 2010 Marybeth Hicks


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  1. Marybeth, just a note that “Amish Lockdown” is prevalent here on the West Coast too, with texting being blocked altogether on my fifteen year old’s phone. Thanks for reminding me to revisit these issues of technology on a regular basis, to be open minded, and to remain convicted about what’s right for our particular family.

  2. I have to applaud your ability to stand up to the pressure! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who sees the danger (not to mention rediculous nature) of kids having cell phones. I’m even having a hard time justifying it for teens who drive, although that’s really the only one that might make rational sense to me, particularly as a safety feature. My oldest is 9, and I had a hard time getting her an MP3 player for her birthday a few months ago. I love to listen to music, as does she, and I had to remember what I had at that age (cassette/radio player). MP3 players are just today’s equivalent. She has asked for a cell phone, though. There were kids in her 3rd grade last year with phones!

    My wife & I have already decided that our kids’ rooms will never have computers, TV’s, or phones. I guess I should prepare for the ‘Dark Ages’ comments!

  3. Thank you!!! So glad to see other parents with the same thinking! I have a teenage daughter and the minute we got her a cell phone, we waited until 16, the drama started! Cell phones do open the door to all sorts of ‘shady-ness’ ! Monitoring and worrying about what your teen has access to with a cell phone makes the job of being a parent 10x more challenging…and it’s already a challenge!

  4. Way to go!!! My kids have always been annoyed that I will not get a cell phone “plan” and put them on it. When it started getting hard to keep track of them all – there are six and I am a single mom – I would get them prepaid cell phones. These came with the reminder that they had better not need more time before the days run out as it was to be used as a way to communicate with ME.

    As the kids got older and went to college, four of the six got plans. One opted for a different type of prepaid “plan.” The youngest is still at home and was furious when his text allotment ran out and I would not get him more early. Oh well…just like with money, learn to budget!

  5. My daughter, going into 6th grade this fall, has been receiving Facebook requests-to-join daily from a number of her 11-yr old friends. Facebook says you need to be 13 to participate and we’re holding that as the example. I’ve had to block texts from her friends who have my phone number (I don’t have unlimited texting) thinking that it’s my daughter. It starts early and I’ve heard too many parents justify why their 8-11 yr old “needs” to have a cell phone.

  6. Those of us who are holding out need these posts to remind us we are not alone. Thanks. My homeschooled 10 year old has been asking for her own email, social networking, phone, etc for 2 years. She can’t even play the safety card. She is almost always with me or another adult we trust all equipped with phones. Cell phones come with the driver’s license for safety. No texting for a driving teen either. There are sites like webkinz and other safe-for-kids options where they can safely have a bit of a social experience online.

    Thanks again. It’s good to know there are plenty of families that won’t sacrifice their good judgement for the sake of being “normal”. (Her word, not mine)

  7. I too needed this again. My 10 YO keeps bugging me about a phone. My mantra is that when it becomes inconvenient for me for my son to not have a phone. then I will get him one. My 15 YO has one and fortunately it’s not been a problem. The 10 YO also keeps asking about a facebook profile. But he’s also been having social issues at school and frankly got yanked out of his Catholic school because I was unhappy with the response to his issues.So I am unwilling to subject him to more opportunities for bullying. I may consider a pre-paid phoine to hand him at times when having a phone would be convenient (since Hubby and both have smart phones recieving corporate email) but keep it in my possession..

  8. You go Marybeth! Moms and Dads need parents like you and your husband to lead by expample as inspiration to parental empowerment!

    In God’s Love,


  9. We don’t allow computers in the bedrooms either, and my husband and I (we have laptops) follow that rule ourselves, except during the time when I was recuperating after surgery. We figure it’s best to set the example there. Next year our daughter will have a school-issued laptop and she will have to use it, and keep it, in the public areas of the house.

    However, we do allow our teens to have cell phones and text messaging–and facebook. We joined facebook in order to monitor our kids, and we have called them on things they’ve posted that we don’t care for. There are consequences! Pay phones are not available around here anymore, and I want my kids to have the security of texting me to let me know they’ve arrived somewhere, or to request a “rescue” from a situation they need to get out of. I’ll willingly be the bad guy at that point and let my kids save their dignity. In both those cases, no one has to know they’re contacting Mom, so we use the technology to our advantage.

    It all comes down to what works in every family. We won’t get them phones with data plans, and not just because of the insane expense. And the kids have to follow the rules set for them or lose their phone privileges. As parents, we have to stay involved and find ways to get to know our kids’ friends (and the friends’ parents)–and provide safe places for the teens to socialize.

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