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