***Disclaimer: The content of this post is not meant to offend parents who choose to allow their children the use of smart phones. It is merely an attempt to explore the dangers of technology in the hands of teens. This is the route we’ve chosen to take for OUR family, and we want to offer our perspective to those who would like to explore that option for theirs. Take this for what it’s worth – merely one family’s choice. You do you, Boo Boo.
Frank and I are knee deep in parenting two teenage boys, ages (almost) 17 and 14. They are truly lovely young men, and are a pleasure to parent, typical teen issues notwithstanding. We have transitioned gradually from pre-teen to teenager with both of them without much alarm. We didn’t wake up one morning and wonder, “Who is this child and what is he doing in my house???”, like so many other parents I’ve talked with on the matter. Each new discovery of the changes in body, will, and emotion was slow and steady, and without much disruption to the normal flow of life in our home. For that, I am very thankful.
What we weren’t prepared for, however, was the battle that would rage over technology. Frank and I were adolescents in the 80’s and 90’s, back when the greatest technological advancement that had our attention was Super Mario Brothers and MTV. There was no connection to the outside world outside of the nightly news. I was a senior in high school (1996) before I even learned how to access the internet. At that time, the only way to abuse that privilege was getting nasty in chat rooms, but since it took a solid 20 minutes to even dial up to one, we didn’t bother much.
Fast forward 20 years (yikes!) and we have all been bombarded with a variety of distractions that are accessible at the mere press of a button. Nothing to “dial up” anymore. On the contrary, cell phone service providers have made accessibility to the internet and various apps via smart phone fast, easy and cheap. We live in the Information Age now. Since 2007, the global Internet population has grown by 1.1 billion, reaching a total of 2.27 billion users, which is double what it was five years ago. That, in a nutshell, is what is defined as EXPLOSIVE GROWTH. Ten years ago, my cell phone looked like a small radio and weighed about 20 pounds. I paid for a certain amount of minutes per month and only used it for emergencies. Now, my entire life functions on Google Docs (very thankful for this convenience) and having my iPhone has made life so much easier. The problem I’ve found with it, however, is that I’m lost without it. I’ve had to be very intentional about the use of my smart phone because having and holding it and using it has become habitual. Thirty years of life without one proves that it’s possible to eat, schedule appointments, play, wake up, and even poop (yes, I said it) without a phone, but yet here I am attached to a device for 12 hours a day. If I’m not on it, it’s on me. If it has become problematic for me, there is certainly opportunity for it to become problematic for our teens.
To Phone or Not to Phone
About five years ago, when our oldest was coming into the pre-teen years, he started asking for a phone. At the time, a smart phone was not even a consideration, but we allowed him to have a basic “pay as you go” phone to test the waters. Mostly, he took pictures of the dog and called his grandparents.
Fast forward two years.
Younger brother was now 12, so he was also given “pay as you go” phone privileges. With two kids having phones, we had our work cut out for us making sure they were using them appropriately. When there was a minor setback, such as staying up too late talking or a bad grade at school, phone privileges were revoked. So far, so good.
When our oldest was just shy of turning 15, and had saved enough money from his summer job, we allowed him to purchase an iPhone with his own money. This included paying us a small amount for his data. Other conditions for smart phone usage included allowing us full access to the phone at any time, disclosing all passwords in a family document on our home computer, and UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES was Snapchat allowed on his phone. Another thing we demanded of them both was that they were respectful and appropriate when communicating via text message, especially when speaking to girls. We are not naive enough to think that our boys aren’t going to pursue the opposite sex whenever and however they can, but it was important for them to know that there would be ample accountability on that front. Whether they like it or not, we WILL check their phones.
After several months of mostly following the rules, temptation began to set in for both of them and we battled everything from DM group chats on Instagram to Snapchat to girls texting after midnight. We were tired of the rat race and decided that life would be better if we simply removed the source of the problem. Here’s why:
Ah, Snapchat. The app we love to hate. While offering a variety of fun filters, this particular app was specifically designed to allow users to send a photo that once viewed, would disappear forever. Obviously we all know that this is a sham, because all you have to do to preserve a snapchat photo is to take a picture of your phone with someone else’s phone. The false sense of security that this app gives to teens is far too dangerous. The risk outweighs the benefit. This was an easy decision for us to make: NO SNAPCHAT.
This is something our kids fought us on a bit, as it’s the primary method of social media communication amongst teens, but there’s a reason for that – secrecy. If I can’t check it, it’s not going on the phone. The end.
While texting is much easier to monitor, especially if everyone is an Apple user (texts can be copied to a parent on a shared cloud account), it was still quite a pain to manage. We noticed that text messages were being deleted, there was abuse of phone privileges after hours (because we can’t HEAR them texting), and the occasional inappropriate photo being sent. Nothing major, of course, but the sports bra pic is the gateway to much worse, and just NO. Ain’t nobody got time or energy for all of that nonsense.
Plain and simple, they were ALWAYS ON THEIR PHONES. Texting, calling, checking Instagram, listening to music, etc. It was non-stop. I was tired of seeing my kids constantly having a device in their hands. Tired of telling them to put it down for family dinners or gatherings. Tired of competing with an inanimate object for the attention of my children. Tired of paying the data overages. I WAS DONE.
Y’all. Research has proven that teenagers are physiologically unable to handle certain responsibilities and temptations. It’s science.
“A rapid and dramatic increase in dopaminergic activity within the socioemotional system around the time of puberty” drives the young adolescent toward increased sensation-seeking and risk-taking; “this increase in reward seeking precedes the structural maturation of the cognitive control system and it’s connections to areas of the socioemotional system. A maturational process that is gradual, unfolds over the course of adolescence, and permits more advanced self-regulation and impulse control… The temporal gap between the arousal of the socioemotional system, which is an early adolescent development, and the full maturation of the cognitive control system, which occurs later, creates a period of heightened vulnerability to risk taking during middle adolescence. (The Maturation of Incentive Processing and Cognitive Control,” Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior 93 (2009); “The Adolescent Brain and Age Related Behavioral Manifestations,” Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 24 (2000).)
These biological and psychosocial developments explain what is obvious to parents, teachers, and any adult who reflects on his or her own teenage years: Young teens lack the maturity, independence, and future orientation that adults have acquired…. [They] lack life experience and background knowledge to inform their choices; they struggle to generate options and to imagine consequences; and, perhaps for good reason, they lack the necessary self-confidence to make reasoned judgments and stick by them. (Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy p.268 )
*all italics mine
Given that adolescents often lack the ability to imagine consequences, the law regarding the use of technology and sexual offense was especially alarming to us. Under Louisiana law, you can be convicted of a sex crime for sending a lewd text message to a minor. EVEN IF YOU ARE A MINOR YOURSELF.
§81. Indecent behavior with juveniles
A. Indecent behavior with juveniles is the commission of any of the following acts with the intention of arousing or gratifying the sexual desires of either person:
(1) Any lewd or lascivious act upon the person or in the presence of any child under the age of seventeen, where there is an age difference of greater than two years between the two persons. Lack of knowledge of the child’s age shall not be a defense; or
(2) The transmission, delivery or utterance of any textual, visual, written, or oral communication depicting lewd or lascivious conduct, text, words, or images to any person reasonably believed to be under the age of seventeen and reasonably believed to be at least two years younger than the offender. It shall not be a defense that the person who actually receives the transmission is not under the age of seventeen.
We all know how teenagers in love can be. Emotions and desires take over and the ability to show restraint shrinks. Do I think the use of a smart phone is worth my child ending up on the sex offender list? HELL to the NO.
What We Did About It
Once we decided that we were ready to pull the plug on smart phones in our home, here is how we implemented a new strategy to hold our teenagers accountable in the world of technology:
- Internet Controls – We utilize a Netgear wireless router and Netgear Genie, which is their web platform for internet controls. This allows us to set a time for the internet to go off in the evening (no midnight porn or Netflix trolling), and also allows us to monitor how the internet is being used and on which device. We have also had success with the Covenant Eyes internet accountability and filtering program. There are many others out there and I highly recommend all homes with children to implement one.
- AT&T Smart Limits – AT&T’s Smart Limits allows you to manage your family’s phone usage and does NOT require the user to have a smart phone. With Smart Limits, you can block cellular data from a specific phone number. This is particularly great for preventing web searching and cutting down on the amount of shared data used. Additionally, you can set texting and purchasing limits, block numbers, and limit phone use during certain times of the day or night. We use this to ONLY allow our teens to text approved people. For us, that means family members. If they want to call and talk to a girl or a friend, they have to do it the old fashioned way – with their pie holes.
- AT&T Family Map – This amazing feature allows us to track our kids’ location using GPS. One of the most common complaints I hear from parents struggling with their teens’ cell phone usage is that they feel tied to the smart phone for GPS purposes. Not true! I can’t speak for other providers but AT&T’s Family Map plan has a very accurate response when we check on the location of the kids. We are also alerted if they are not at home after school (or in any other location that we set).
What We Love About It
Besides the obvious weight lifted from having to micromanage their phone usage, we found that our teenagers are actually out enjoying life a lot more, rather than tied to a device. They’ve been forced to actually speak to a girl on the phone instead of texting, which should be a right of passage for every teenager, if you ask me. The experience was nerve-wracking for both of them. They got sweaty palms and paced the floors before making that first phone call, but they did it! They survived! And the girl gets to hear tone and intonation, which is so important when building a relationship, in my opinion. And while neither of them were very happy with our decision at first, that only lasted a hot minute. Now, they’re relieved. I was just having a conversation with Jake the other day and he was relaying some crazy drama that went down with a large group of people on Snapchat. When the other kids were asking his opinion on the matter, his response was “Dude, I’m not on Snapchat…”. He looked at me and told me how happy he was to be free of the drama. We allow them to place the blame on their “super strict parents”, but at the end of the day, they are relieved from the pressure of smart phone drama. Life is a little more carefree since we pulled the plug on smart phones. We haven’t really made a decision on when or if we will allow it in the future, but we are in no hurry. And surprisingly, neither are they.