Written by attorney Morgan Masters from Albeit Weiker, LLP; former prosecutor, now student defense attorney, but most importantly, a mother of two.
Smartphones, tablets, and computers are awesome resources for kids. They can provide healthy entertainment, useful learning software, and effective tools for independence. Of course, we all know that these devices can open children’s eyes to material not yet appropriate for their adolescent minds, give them access to social media platforms that permit unlimited contact with peers and strangers alike, and enable them to share images and videos that will live on forever.
I’ve met so many parents who say, “we’ve talked a lot with our daughter about the dangers of sending inappropriate pictures and videos,” while they are writing me a check for legal representation, because their daughter has now been expelled from school and charged with a felony for Disseminating Material Harmful to a Minor. See more possible charges and penalties here.
Their daughter didn’t do it because she’s a bad kid, and she didn’t do it because they are bad parents. She did it because she’s a naturally curious preteen, who’s generally logical, responsible path was hijacked by hormones and living in the moment. She thought, “I can totally trust him, and Snapchat deletes this picture right away anyway.”
I’m not writing this blog to tell you that you can absolutely, without fail prevent your child from making a similar misstep. We have to do our best to try, though, even if it means being the bad guy. Your 8th grader is not ready to have her password protected smartphone without your consistent, surprise supervision. She needs you to limit her time on the phone, to follow her on every single social media platform, and to monitor the photos and videos stored on her phone.
Remember, you are the adult, it’s your home, and you make the rules. Even if your daughter bought the phone, as long she is under your roof, you are in charge. If you catch her using her phone outside the permissible times you set, take her phone away. If you catch her taking inappropriate pictures or videos, take her phone away. If you catch her downloading social media apps you haven’t approved, take her phone away. You ‘da boss, and trust me, it’s better you taking it away than the po po.
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “I need him to have his phone, because he needs to be able to reach me or call for help if he needs it.” Amen! I completely agree. We are so busy these days that kids need to be able to communicate with us. If your child hasn’t proven he can be responsible, though, and use his phone within the reasonable parameters you’ve set, give him a flip phone instead. “Say what? Those still exist?” You bet they do!
Alas, some parents take the path of abstinence, and prohibit devices altogether. When my nine year old asks for a phone, my husband says, “no. You’re never getting a phone.” While he’s being somewhat facetious, preventing her from having a smartphone until she is an adult is setting her up for failure. As parents, we have a duty to teach her how to have a responsible and healthy relationship with technology, because it permeates every aspect of her future.
Avoidance has never been the healthy way to guide our children. Pretending like drugs don’t exist does not prepare them to avoid drugs when the opportunity arises, and no bubble is strong enough to deny them the opportunity. Rather, conversation and programs designed to teach them about the appearance, effect, and dangers of drugs are more likely to convince children to steer clear of them.
We need to teach our children how to use devices as entertainment in moderation, so that as they grow older, they can set those parameters themselves. We need to give them consequences for breaking the smartphone rules. Let’s be honest: children and teens who’ve not suffered consequences become jerks who post jerky stuff on jerky networking sites. Then those jerks have problems with authority and act like jerks at work, and then they lose their job, and move back in with you.
The moral of the story is this: you are not their friend… yet. You are their ruler: long live the Queen! (or King, whatever floats your boat). Protect them from themselves, but give them a retractable leash to prove their responsibility. They may curse you now, but they will be forever grateful later. Also, your bank account will be fatter, because you won’t have to pay me.
For information on parental control apps for your phone, I found this article useful.
Remember, be clear in your expectations and follow through – click here: CELL-PHONE-CONTRACT for a good cell phone contract to have with your child. Credit: thesoccermomblog.com.