I recently spotted an article from The Spectrum called “Keeping Tabs on Kid’s Tech” and was impressed with what one family did when it came to their children and the techy gadgets they used. The Ruesch family essentially established some commonsense ground rules for their kids. The children who were old enough for cell phones and Internet use had to:
* Hand over the phone whenever Mom or Dad asked for it.
* Keep the number of text messages to an established maximum.
* Agree not to delete any texts or social media interactions.
* Give Mom and Dad all social media passwords.
If any kids violated the rules, there were immediate consequences. One of the daughters, for example, lost her phone for deleting texts to the tune of a nine-month stretch for the first infraction, and a full year for the second.
They’re not alone. Even in Hollywood, you see folks jumping on the online-limit bandwagon. Actress Jennifer Garner recently said that she and her husband (Ben Affleck) don’t allow their kids to have cell phones (for now) and have strict limits on their online activities. “I don’t let my kids on a computer without me right there,” Garner told Entertainment Tonight. “You have to be on top of it because it would take so little for them to see something that could be an image which sticks in their head that they shouldn’t see.”
In both cases, the parental choices sound pretty level-headed to me. But let’s face facts, we live in a new day and age. Not only do kids cry out over such hard-and-fast regs like those, but even parents can worry that setting those sorts of boundaries on their children might be unfair. Some even fret that making those kinds of “show me everything” demands might somehow be a violation of privacy and akin to reading their child’s diary.
I understand a parent’s desire to be fair. But I believe that worries of that sort are for naught. Keeping tabs on phone and social media use certainly isn’t like sneaking a peek at Sally’s personal memoir.
First of all, it’s called “social media,” which means that a lot of people are potentially privy to what Sally has posted. And secondly, it’s on the Web, one of the most un-private places in the world. Not only can things be copied, pasted and shared with, oh, a gazillion people, but it’s out there forever—even if your 13-year-old didn’t really mean it when she angrily called her ex-friend that terrible name.
And there’s certainly nothing wrong with imposing a few, commonsense online limits, either.
Now, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with teens chatting happily away online. When I was a teen, I remember sitting on the phone with my girlfriend (even after we’d spent the entire day together at school), and we’d talk about nothing just for the sake of being connected. It was an important ritual for the coming-of-age adolescent. Things haven’t changed all that much, really. Today’s teens simply share their pointless nothings and sighing forget-me-nots via text messages and Facebook posts rather than an actual phone call.
The difference was that back then, the phone (at least in my house) was out in the open. Our parents would see us planted in one spot for a long stretch and, eventually, the cry of “Get off the stinking phone!” would ring out through the air like a blatting air horn of impending doom. Limits were imposed as a matter of course.
These days, though, things are more undercover. Texts can fly at the rate of 60, 80, 100, 200 per day without a single person batting an eye. (Except for dad, when he gets the bill.) I saw a study from a few years ago that said the average teen was texting over 4,000 times a month. And that’s not counting Tweets, Instagrams or any other social posts.
So, I say, step on up there, parents. Don’t be shy. Boundaries are good. And when you get those sad eyes or angry frowns after laying down the rules, just remember that taking care of your kid’s digital and tech life is an important responsibility. It was given to you and you alone. In fact, you were also given an official permission slip to make some good, solid choices about what’s good for your children. It’s called a birth certificate.