Unless there are extenuating circumstances, making access to technology and social media a battle of wills with your child will backfire. Shoving contracts in their face can and often does create resentment and desire to sneak. But you still need to keep them healthy and safe. I get it!
Here is an alternative approach I would encourage you to consider:
1. Have the talk. But not when you are arguing. Pick a weekend day after a good night’s sleep and a relaxing morning. Before you start, ask them to listen with an open heart and mind. Then tell them your thoughts, worries, concerns, fears, wants, etc. Everything you want them to know. Show them the videos and the news articles. Share your dreams for them. Talk about relationships and living in real life instead of a device.
2. Ask them to do the same. Let then tell you why social media is important to them. Why they like to watch you tube videos of gamers for hours on end. Why they have to fall asleep to music, or why they need their phone at their side 24 hours a day.
3. Take out two blank pieces of paper and a pen. On one sheet, ask them to create the rules they (and you) should live by, and 3 reasons why they are suggesting each rule. Let them drive the bus and just listen.
4. Next, right in front of them, you discuss the rules they added and add the rules you need in place and the three reasons why for each, INCLUDING monitoring, spot checking and whatever else you feel you need to have in place to keep them safe and healthy. You get the last word on the rules here. if you are a no Snapchat house, that’s a rule. If you are a no social media until a certain age, that’s a rule. You do you. But lay it on the line here.
5. Go through it together and the only things that can be REMOVED are ones you agree on together.
6. You both sign.
7. Take the second piece of blank paper and now write the consequences for breaking the rules. Make them specific, FIRM and unpleasant. Make it hurt, and include scenarios where they lose it ALL, INCLUDING your trust.
8. You both sign.
9. And here’s the trickiest part, and it’s all on you: Be consistent in your follow up and and follow through, especially if they break the rules.
I am in charge of my house and I am responsible for my kids. They know I mean business and we have plenty of rules and expectations for them. But I have learned that in this area of life, where they can get access to it all with or without your permission (friends’ phones, burner phones, old devices in your home you have forgotten about, work arounds, VPN’s, bible apps, messages.... ugh. The list is long and grows every day...) you NEED their buy in.
You will NEVER outstmart a kid with technology - they are determined and there is always a loophole or a workaround. ALWAYS.
I promise you this process isn’t perfect, and when there are extenuating circumstances (like already surfaced defiance or determination to access at all costs or compromises with safety or laws), you have to look at that differently.
But I also promise you this process will reduce conflict, increase ownership and commitment on your child’s part and allow you to do this together.
It is also a way forward without it becoming a contest to see who can outwit the other where you will both may up losing. I have seen many parent child relationships completely destroyed over technology (gaming, porn) and / or social media. It will also be less of a stressor for you, and you will be able to encourage more and bring down the hammer less. It will be a win/win for your entire family. I promise.
Parenting in this digital age is not for the faint of heart. It is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging things I have done. Every generation of parents face issues their parents never did and most made it through, but I think for a lot of parents, dealing with the unique challenges of technology and social media and raising kids can be more than a little overwhelming.
With two teenagers in the house, this is what I have learned:
You will never outsmart a determined kid when it comes to technology. There is always a loophole or a work around. Well, maybe you will until they are about 9 or 10, but that's probably about it.
Be careful not to turn technology into a battle of wills, because you’ll both lose. Except if they have put themselves in bad situations. Then all bets are off, in my book.
Trust is critical, but if they break it in a big way, start them over at ground zero. Make them earn it back.
Every child is different and every parent is different. There isn’t a manual written for your specific family on pretty much any topic. The key is to know your kids and what they need. And what you need, too.
For some kids, rules are enough. For some kids conversations are enough. And for some awesomely great children, there aren’t enough of either of those things to keep them from being curious, pushing boundaries, taking risks and finding trouble online. Those you have to be even more vigilant with - not on lock down, per se (unless it is needed due to situations), but you do have to be on your A game for about 8 years or so when it comes to tech. Ha!
Parents can’t use the excuse of “I don’t use tech” or “I’m not techy” anymore, because the risks are too great. Take a class, read some books. Become techy. Because if you have one of those kids I mentioned above, they will totally take advantage of your lack of knowledge. Repeatedly. It’s what kids do.
70% of kids hide their online life from their parents. Again, some kids are doing just fine and spreading their wings and some are literally trying to start the world on fire through their phones. Know which one each of your kids is and parent accordingly. Then make no excuses to anyone for it.
Watch for signs. If your kid is holed up in their room for 4 hours a day or more “watching games” they are also watching a lot of other stuff. GUARANTEED. Nothing good comes from this. If they start getting nasty when they can’t be gaming or be online it’s time to start reteaching some basic life lessons. The average teen spends over 8 hours a day online (excluding school and homework). Ask them (and yourself while you're at it) how much of that time spent is making them a better person or helping them reach their goals. And then be prepared to hear that your child is planning on becoming the next You Tube star. You know, like Ninja.
Phones are a privilege and not a right, and from a legal perspective if nothing else, never let a minor be sole owner of their phone. As a parent, you need to be able to access it to make sure they aren’t again, doing things that can harm themselves in huge ways or that will get them or you into serious trouble. Also, you need to be able to get into their phone in case of an emergency. Full stop.
Some parents say phones in rooms at night are ok. Some say never. I say no, because I learned this lesson the hard way. But again, know your kids. One of mine could care less and uses it as an alarm and the other can’t resist it if it’s there and will wake up if they hear it and have to check. How do I know this? My phone is not by my bed at night for the same dang reason! ;)
In my experience, kids who are good self regulators when it comes to life in general typically handle tech well. If you have a kid who feeds off mental stimulation to the point it makes transitioning back to real life difficult, if they become so obsessed with things that they love they sort of forget everything else, tech will be a challenge. I have one kid who loves sports and being active. Gets bored with TV, doesn’t like online drama and has never once done anything online I didn’t want her to except listen to explicit music. The other, if we left him to his own devices (which we did and it was horribly traumatic), I half joke that if we left him at home for the weekend with an Xbox and a fridge full of food, we’d come home and he’d be wearing the same clothes, sitting in the same spot, eyes glazed over and he would have forgotten to eat. The rules in place are strong with that one, and he’s in a great place - but I think he will always struggle with this - in part because of who he is - we try to channel that love of tech to other areas (coding, etc).
I have had to become more interested in things I don’t really like in order to meet him half way. Ugh. It’s called parenting. No, I don’t really care that you built your 1,000th castle in Minecraft. But yes, of course I’d love for you to show it to me. Please, tell me more! Technology is amazing and can be so much fun. Keep focusing your family and kids in that direction on a regular basis, and you'll all be amazed at how positively it can impact your life and experiences, too!
Know that there is a HUGE difference between technology and social media. Both have risks and both have rewards, but don't treat them the same. Parenting in this area is easier when you remember the difference.
Your kids will make mistakes online. Some more than once. Help them learn how to clean those messes up and love them through it all.
Give yourself some grace, too. You’ll make mistakes. Forgive yourself for those and keep moving forward.
So, I met with a family this week with a simply stunning 15 year old daughter. I’m not exaggerating when I say that by our society’s standards she is really very beautiful. When people see her they automatically stop and look. She is also so very sweet.
The story that came along with her, though? I died a little just hearing it. I know being physically attractive can bring on the haters, but flat out torment and abuse by other kids? Apparently so.
She was a freshman this past year in a new school, and for the first couple of months everything was great. New and old friends, new classes, new activities, and high school was off to a great start.
Until the unsolicited di^# pics started. At one point it was so bad her mom said she’d get 5-7 a day, from boys at her school or boys who would be given her info from someone else. From boys who were supposed to be her friends. Boys who mostly didn’t even send them anonymously. The harassment by 14-16 year old boys who felt entitled to her and girls who were jealous or angry over the attention boys wanted to give her has been absolutely unreal. The unwanted gross comments by boys her age and older in her high school on her social media pages make my heart hurt. I’ve seen them. The pictures kids would take of her at school without her permission, post on their social media pages and then make rude and nasty sexual comments on. Kids spreading rumors like she was hooking up with five guys at a time after school when her parents actually picked her up every day. Boys saying to her “If you do that, then why won’t you do me?” Girls calling her every horrible name you can possibly imagine and then some. In public online pages, which then led to it in person.
It didn’t end when her parents shut down all of her social media accounts, because kids created new ones with which to torment her. It didn’t end when her parents pulled her from school after she was assaulted in the girls’ bathroom twice by boys who thought they had the right to her because they liked what they saw, and believed they could torment her with threats on social media. One boy grabbed her and said “Suck my d#%^ or I will tell everyone you sent me nudes.” To a then 14 year old girl. I honestly can’t even repeat the rest. The school had footage of one of her stalkers following her to the bathroom and a security officer intervened, thank goodness. That boy was expelled from the school, and still did not leave her alone online.
She has been enrolled in online school since leaving after the first semester. The torment hasn’t stopped. Her parents just cannot believe how far some of these kids will go to stalk, torment, and to be just plain mean.
Her mom cried when she talked about how upsetting it was to know that parents and families she admired were unaware of how many photos their sons send of their private parts with rude comments, especially when not asked to do so, and when, in fact, were asked repeatedly to stop. She talked about how disheartening it was when bringing these issues to those same parents didn’t resolve things, but more often than not made things worse and isolated their family socially. She talked about how hurtful it was that these kids who were doing this were leaders in their classes, sports and activities. You know, the “good kids”. She talked about how some of these kids her daughter grew up with, and those relationships, at least from their perspective, are ruined. She doesn’t even think these boys understand that. They think it is normal behavior.
Not much shocks me anymore, but hearing this story and seeing the proof of it absolutely did. It’s heartbreaking - for her, for her parents, for her siblings, and you know what? It’s even heartbreaking for these boys who for whatever reason, are growing up thinking that girls want to be treated this way, that the hurt they are causing isn’t as important as their own gratification. It’s heartbreaking for these girls to not realize or not care that the pain they are inflicting on others is life altering, in the worst ways possible. And it’s heartbreaking that their parents either don’t know what their kids are doing, or who believe “not my kid”.
“Not my kid” no longer applies. Good kids are learning very destructive things, and making very bad choices. When they are learning about sex and relationships from unfettered access to porn when they are in 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grade, they don’t have the context to understand that some things they see may be unrealistic, some may be a fetish, and some things may actually be a crime against women. Their view of what is normal and healthy is becoming wildly distorted, and our children - all of them - are paying the price.
This is what spending less time being engaged in the real world and more time isolated and alone hiding with a device behind a bedroom door does. The average teen spends 8 hours a day online outside of school or homework - how much of that time can truly be spent making them a better person? They work less, participate in fewer activities, they date less, they drive less, they spend less time with friends and family because they think they are getting everything they need from a device. They aren't learning how to grow into relationships, how to treat others, or how to resolve conflict, or how to know they've gone too far.
This beautiful girl (inside and out) has been completely traumatized, and her teenage experience thus far is one nightmares are made of. She has never been on a date, and while she has never even been kissed (willingly), has been assaulted repeatedly: physically, emotionally, socially and mentally by her own peers. With social media being the primary weapon.
When will we wake up?
PS. Her mother has given me permission to anonymously share her experience. Please recognize and honor that before responding. Also, please know that law enforcement has been involved, and I have seen enough proof for myself to write this.
Some of you know the journey our family has been on over the past six months, so I won’t ramble on about all of that here, except to say our son said something stupid on SC, it caused a ton of trouble (suspension, police interviews, ridicule when going back to school, etc) and even now when the topic of the “group chat” comes up we all show signs of stress and anxiety. My heart rate is increasing just typing this now. Anyway, it gave us the opportunity to really dig into what was happening in his online life, and let me just say... I’m so grateful we did.
(You can, however, watch a really honest conversation with him back in April that all parents and teens should watch together).
We are now six months post incident, and yes he’s still the proud owner of a flip phone. He turned 16 last week and we discussed a smart phone (was he ready, could we trust him, could we trust his peers, would we head down a similar path of maybe not bad choices but just so much time sucked away?).
We asked him about it and you know what? He asked for a new fire pit for our patio instead. He chose that, something we can do as a family, or that he can have friends over for, instead of a new phone.
So last night around the fire, after his dad and sister had gone to bed, I was telling him how proud of him I am, and that I wish I would have resisted the temptation of a smart phone and social media at 13 for him, that I wish I would have held out longer, to make sure we were both ready for it.
He sat there for a while and then just said in a peaceful but knowing way, “Me, too, mom.” We then laughed about what a hard time he gave us about wanting Xbox, etc, and then social media after his phone. Ironically, he never asked a lot for a phone. It was more gaming, but once he had the phone, that was it.
We then talked for a really long time, and it’s so different to talk to your kids when there isn’t a stressor in the middle. I highly encourage it. 🙂
I am in shock of all the things he shared that he was exposed to, how many strangers approached, or asked for photos, who pretended they were someone who they weren’t, and how many times he was sucked into gory content, sexual content, even though we talked all the time. He acted in ways we would never want him to, girls and boys that I have thought we’re good friends haven’t been, and girls who were completely obnoxious about inappropriate content online.... kids’ online lives can be like a hornets nest with no end.
I say this all the time in here... I WORK IN SOCIAL MEDIA. I am educated, engaged, and know what things social media and gaming can invite into a child’s world, but he told me what I wanted to hear, I felt proud that he was listening, and the signs of trouble were right in front of my face and I didn’t see them until the you know what hit the fan.
I continue to talk about this here not because I want to be in the spotlight, but to tell you that it can happen to any of our kids, and even though we think we’re on top of things, so so so many kids have a secret life online that their parents know nothing or little about. Regardless of what they tell you. That’s the nature of being a teen! But the consequences in this digital world are so different than when “we” were kids.
So my advice? Talk to your kids (of course), but know that if you monitor and they know that - if they are determined they can find ways around it and sometimes become more sneaky. And if they don’t know, that trust can be broken the other way - by you. And on the other hand, if you are just trusting they will do the right thing, remember they are kids, trying to fit in and sometimes want to defy you to achieve independence, and amazing, wonderful kids can make some horrible decisions. Dig, don’t take things at face value just because it’s easier or you want to believe them. I’m all for trust, but again, the consequences in this digital world are often more severe than in real life.
It’s tricky, and that’s why no one approach works for everyone here, so as a group we will never agree. What works for one kid may not even work for their sibling. Some need really bold boundaries and restrictions, and some need guidance and suggestions.
But please be watchful and as a parent coming out on the other side, I do encourage other parents of younger kids to wait to jump into the pool of online life and social media until they are older. Social media wasn’t designed for kids, and yet we give them the keys to the proverbial liquor cabinet and then can’t understand when they can’t handle it well. It’s typically because it was never meant for them to begin with.
If one child and parent can learn from our mistakes, then it was worth typing. Thanks for listening.