More and more, the students I talk to in classroom discussion time are telling me of the picture requests they are getting. And no, I don’t mean of their pet Yorky or family night around the Monopoly board. Sexy pictures. Naked pictures. Some parents (like me) believe in maintaining the right to do spot checks of our children’s phones, knowing that safety is more important than our son or daughter’s perceived right to privacy. But would you know where to find “inappropriate” pictures in you child’s phone? One of my friends sent me an article about apps like calculator%, hicalculator and calculator+, that are meant to look like calculators, but are actually code-locked gateways to a stash of private photos they don’t want anyone, especially parents, to see. I’d advise a little concerned snooping…just to be sure. There is a LOT of pressure to conform and pass around, or even worse, produce, these pictures.
While previous studies have looked at correlations between high schoolers who sext (send sexually explicit photos or comments via texting) and sexual activity, a new study looks at middle school students and finds the same correlation. Middle school students who sext are more likely to be sexually active themselves. Even though the overall percentage of middle school students who are sexually active remains small compared to older teens, those who have sent or received sexual texts are more likely to be in that category. It should also be noted that the consequences for teens who start having sex in middle school tend to be greater than for those who become sexually active later in life. They tend to have more partners in a lifetime, are more likely to contract an STD, and are more likely to eventually experience a teen pregnancy.
Amplify Youth Development tries to cover sexting in our lessons, reminding teens of the risks — emotional, social and legal. But we are not a substitute for teens hearing it from their parents! Don’t rely on your child being present (and awake!) during the one moment a teacher brings up sexting. Take the initiative to discuss sexting, no matter how awkward the conversation might be.
A note from personal experience: teens are not always aware of just how inappropriate a comment or photo might be in the eyes of other people. You can believe the best in your teen’s intentions, but they may still be susceptible to sending a text that makes you, or the recipient, blush. Explaining why a text like that is inappropriate might be one of the most painfully embarrassing moments you have with your child, but if you don’t explain it, who will? Teens are not going to learn decency from late night television or sitcoms…
I was driving down a major road in our town this weekend when I pulled up next to a car in which the driver was holding her pink smartphone with the same hand as she held the steering wheel, right up at dashboard level. She was actively staring at the screen, scrolling and typing. Feeling guilty myself anytime I take a call without a hands-free headset, I was appalled at this blatant disregard for common sense, safety, and Illinois’ new ban on all texting and handheld phone use while driving. Okay, I reasoned, we’re at a stoplight. And I suppose she could be looking at a GPS map.
But no, as the light turned green, the scrolling and taping motion told me she was not looking at a map, nor did she have any intention of putting the phone down. We stayed pretty level with each other and stopped at two more lights together before she eventually sped away, and any time I glanced over, her posture and the scrolling and tapping hadn’t changed.
Yes, I admit, I am judging her. I would love to be wrong, but I have a very hard time not seeing her as a danger to myself, my children, and everyone else on the road. Because for any of us, it is only a matter of time before our distraction behind the wheel hurts someone.
Which leads me to the PSA I just saw, shared by the website Upworthy. (The PSA is from Volkswagen and was posted by MadOverAds.)
Please, parents, set the example for your children and define a standard of zero tolerance for phone use while driving. Not only is it the law in Illinois, it is unquestionably a matter of safety for your children and for others. I get the temptation — I have to discipline myself frequently to ignore the buzzes and pings coming from my phone while driving. And I have been the passenger with friends, my husband, even my father as the driver started using the phone to look up a restaurant or answer a text (at which point I grab the phone and do it for them). The point is, none of us are good enough drivers to get away with it forever. We simply cannot allow ourselves or those we love to fall to the temptation to use the phone while driving, even “just this once.”
We’ve written before about various ways to monitor, control, and spy on your teens’ internet and phone use. If you multiply all the cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc. in your home, it’s no wonder parents get overwhelmed and give up. So instead of trying to manage, one by one, each and every wi-fi connected device in the home, one product can help you do it all from one place…the router. USAtoday.com recently reported on The Skydog web app and Smart Family Router (skydog.com), which can simplify and organize content control over many devices in your home, easily! Said one parent reviewer on CNET.com, “This amazing bit of technology is actually useful, relevant and solves a number of problems that I, as a parent of a teenage son, have been trying to solve for years now. What the Skydog will do for you is create safe zones for the users and devices that connect to your network. Depending on the level of filtering you want to apply to each person, you can drop each family member and their respective devices into groups that will monitor and block inappropriate destinations based upon rules you define.”
It’s a constant battle for some of us to get our kids to go to bed at a decent hour. What is “decent” is actually not too hard to figure out due to recent research by UC Berkeley. An article discussing the research reported that “teens who went to bed later than 11:30 p.m. on school nights and 1:30 a.m. in the summer had lower GPAs than teens who got to bed earlier. They were also more susceptible to emotional problems.” This was not a short term problem, that sleeping in on weekends solves. The research showed an association with poor educational and emotional outcomes an entire 6 to 8 years later! What can we do as parents? One thing my husband and I did was put our router in our bedroom, with a timer on it so that the internet turned off at 11:00. With cell phones now offering 24/7 access to the internet, it’s important to cut off phone access at night as well. We are host parents for international students, and the private school they attend requires us to have the students park their phones outside their rooms overnight. We use a table in the hall outside our bedroom. Parents…do you have any ideas to share? We welcome your comments.
The “Ask Amy” advice column in the Chicago Tribune had a question from parents who had discovered that their 14-year-old daughter had very close online-only contact with an 18-year-old boy. Because I’ve also talked to teens who talk about the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” they’ve never met, I realized this is something parents should be alert to. The advice, from Donna Rice Hughes of internetsafety101.org, may sound strict, but it strikes me as wise and necessary. The obvious answer in my mind would be to ban any further contact. But because a determined teen has ways to circumvent such a ban, she suggests:
“… you should check her texts (unannounced) to make sure they are not sexual and follow her presence on social media.
You should also open this up to the extent that you can get to know this young man whom she cares so much about. At her age, you as parents should make every effort to meet and get to know all of her friends, real world or virtual. This is non-negotiable.
Communicate with him via Skype, phone or email, with your daughter present and with an open attitude. Verify that he is who he says he is. (And does he know that she is 14?) Also connect with his parents to let them know of this relationship. Basically, you want to demonstrate to both that you are present and involved.
Limit your daughter’s phone time to make sure she gets her homework done and participates in family life. Encourage her to get involved with at least one school activity and help her to foster friendships closer to home.
It may be that you already know about Kik, which is a smartphone messaging app, like the old AOL Instant Messenger but for phones, and with the ability to add pictures and video. I felt hopelessly behind the times when my middle school class today told me in so many words that Facebook is old school, but that Kik, Twitter and Instagram are the latest avenues of communication for teens (at least middle schoolers). When I got on the internet at home to look up “teens using kik, twitter,” in the first six links that popped up three had the word nudes in the title! Here are two articles you can look at that discuss Kik: One, a blog entry by Mcafee, discusses how to manage Kik so that it’s safer. It also shows what the icon looks like so you can see if it’s on your teen’s phone. The other article on bewebsmart.com is more skeptical about Kik Messenger, noting that it is rated 17+ in the app store (at least for Iphone, Ipad and ITunes). The article also talks about how to block the download of apps based on their rating.
My girls are now 23 and 25, and I do worry about distracted driving, but they are not under my roof anymore. Not so for you, dear reader! There are apps out there that can warn your teen when they are going too fast and that can email you an alert when a maximum speed (which you set) is reached. With rising deaths and injuries due to texting while on the road, you might consider an app that causes the ability to text to be lost when a preset speed is reached. I even read about one that many parents might find tempting…you enter in an address (such as girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s house?) and get an alert when your teen is within a 1-mile radius. If hanging out after school is off limits because no parents will be home, that might be handy if your teen tends to push the limits. If all this seems a little too intrusive (Who me? Snoop?), an article about such apps suggests openness with your teen about your intention to use such methods to monitor and protect your teen.
This isn’t new information, apparently, but it was new to me, and I thought it might be new to you. One of the dangers of a smartphone resides in its ability to track where you are at any time, AND to provide that information within pictures you you or your teen take and post. An informative news station video explains this, and cautions parents about taking pictures of their children as well…pictures that end up online and come with information about where your child lives (down to even the location of his or her bedroom) and hangs out. A website alerting people to the intrusion of privacy, “Icanstalkyou.com,” tells how to keep from geotagging photographs you take on your phone.