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.