Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Kids and Social Media, it's just bad news

"Kids and Social Media, it's just bad news".  They were the words uttered by a child psychologist who was speaking at my son's high school a few weeks ago.  You know what, I think it's true.

Problem is, I don't know what to do about it.  I bought my 12 year old a mobile phone for his birthday this year.  It was January, he was starting high school.  His new school is 30min from home (in Sydney traffic).  If he catches the bus it means 2 buses home and he walks in the door at 4.45pm.  Mornings are the same.  It's 2 buses and he leaves home at 7.30am.

I was therefore able to justify to myself the need for a phone.  Some days I pick him up.  Some days this isn't decided until lunch time.  I need to ring or text him to let him know.  What if something happens and he misses his bus and needs to call me.  I was able to come up with a thousand reasons as to why I needed to give him that phone.

The way it worked out, hubby and I were out of contract and upgraded our phones.  Hubby therefore gave Master 12 his old iPhone.  Yes, an iPhone.  Not just a plain old Nokia for making phone calls on, but an iPhone with all the perils that come along with that.

I rang up our mobile phone provider.  "It's fine.  All the kids have them.  You can control what they spend."

I went into a mobile phone shop.   "It's fine.  All the kids have them.  You can control what they spend."

Yes, this statement is true.  I can control what he spends.  We buy a pre-paid each month and he's never once gone over his limit.  Why would he when nearly every plan now comes with unlimited downloads and social media access.

And that is where I went wrong.  I got side-tracked into worrying about the cost of the phone instead of sticking to my instincts and remembering what the phone was for.  It was so he could call his mum and dad if he needed to, and send the odd txt message to his mate.  It was not so he could be introduced to the big bad world of Social Media at the age of 12.

When he first got his phone I found this wonderful article.  It was a US site and it was a mum who had written her own mobile phone contract for her 13 year old son.  The link is at the bottom  if you want to have a read.

It was perfect.  I was the perfect mum.  Here you are son, here is your new phone, aren't I wonderful, aren't you all grown up.  Now read this.  It's very important. Don't do anything you shouldn't be doing.  Be polite, be respectful, don't ring anyone up after 7pm blah blah blah.

Well that's all well and good if you follow it up.  But I didn't.  Oh don't get me wrong.  For the first few weeks I was all, "let me check your phone" or "right, it's 7pm, give me your phone" or "hey, let me see what photos you've taken", but you see then it's February and it's back to the day to day life of a working mum with 3 boys, 1 of which is at primary school and 1 of which is starting high school.  It's making lunches, it's doing home work, it's running to cricket or footy......it's life.  

I forgot all about the phone.  Of course I knew it was there.  I rang it every day.  But that's as far as it went.  I forgot to think about in terms of it's connection between a 12 year old boy and the big bad world that's out there.

I stopped checking what he was doing on it.  I'd like to say "I trusted him completely.  I didn't need to check it".  The truth is, I got busy, I got lazy and I just stopped worrying about it.

Here we are 4 months along and he's fully immersed in the world of Instagram and Kik and who knows what else.  Last night I happened to see a photo on his phone out the corner of my eye.  I didn't particularly like what I saw.  It was nothing exceptionally bad, but I didn't like it.  It was one of those "funny pics" that often floats around the world of social media.  I think this one was of a nerdy looking girl in pigtails carrying books with a slogan across the bottom that I won't repeat here.  Needless to say, I wasn't impressed.

I told Master 12 to hand over his phone.  "what, why.  It's just a pic".  After a few arguments, he finally handed over the phone.  There were words like "unacceptable" and "delete this now" that came out of my mouth, and while I was angry and disappointed with him, I was more angry and disappointed with myself for not being a responsible parent.  Isn't that what we are supposed to be, responsible.  Why on earth did I think a 12 year old CHILD would be the responsible one with all the bright shiny objects out their in Social Media world.

I went through his Instagram account, I went through his messages.  I yelled, he lied, I yelled some more.  There were screeches of "how do you know some child molester isn't following you".  I yelled a bit more for effect, he finally admitted that yes he had typed this message, or that message etc etc.  I confiscated the phone with squeals of "that's it.  You're not old enough.  It's gone!!"

And then morning comes around and I'm left thinking what on earth do I do now.  Yes I know it's his fault.  He was told the rules.  He broke them.  But don't I as a parent have to take on some of that blame.  I as a grown adult who knows more then he does, gave him a tool that was going to open him up to a whole other world he had never been exposed to before.  

It's no different to putting a 16 year behind the wheel of a car who's never been taught to drive and saying,okay off you go, here's the keys, have fun.  See you when you get home.

So what do I do now?  How do we help our kids manage in this totally digital age where their entire lives are lived through social media in some form.  I ban him completely and he's cut off from his friends.  I don't want to do that, but I need him to understand the complexities and the pitfalls of playing around on some of these sites.  Sharing pictures they shouldn't be, forwarding messages they shouldn't be.

Maybe it's that word I used earlier, RESPONSIBLE.  I'm the adult, I need to be responsible.  I need to make it a priority to be involved in his life that takes place on his phone.  Just like I have to find time to cook dinner, and take them to school or sport or whatever it is, I need to find time to monitor what he's doing.  I need to be responsible.  It's what being a parent is all about.

How do you deal with social media and your children?  I'd love some help on this one.


Here is the link to the phone contract a US mum gave her son. http://www.janellburleyhofmann.com/gregorys-iphone-contract/

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  1. Amanda are you inside my head? We have exactly the same situation here. My Miss 12 got a phone for her birthday based on exactly the same reasoning. Only our problem is a little worse because the school also gave her an iPad. OMG. It feels nice to know that I am not alone though.

    Leaving some fairy wishes and butterfly kisses from #teamIBOT

    1. Hi Rhinanna, thank u so much - it's just impossible to navigate this world of social media with kids.
      I am definitely sharing your pain.

  2. You are right when you say we need to take the responsibility. Kids cannot be expected to know how to use this stuff if they aren't given time to practise and test it out whilst we are watching and guiding. I wrote about this last week and it has been one of my most popular posts. I think this is because parents are realising that they are unable to prevent their kids from eventuality using social networks, and nor do I think they should. I do hope that psychologist gave you some strategies to deal with the social networking rather than just tell you it is bad! I wouldnt usually leave a link on a comment but I do think it is very relevant to your post. http://themodernparent.net/why-i-let-my-kids-on-instagram-and-kik/

    1. Hi, I actually read your post last week and you are sooooo right. We have to teach them and help them understand the rules. The hardest thing is when they reach those teenage years and they don't want to feel left when all their friends are online. Why can't life be simple again :)

  3. My son is off kik after I discovered some pedo & friends appeared to be starting the grooming process (it was all innocent but find me any kid that says "That Henry gave us a shout out - there sure are some nice people on Instagram". He was also handing out his Kik address publicly to pretty much anyone who asked. Having been told not to.
    (On Kik, the pedos like it because there's no history that can be used as evidence - and thee police were at a local school here because some how a pedo who had sent clearly grooming messages to a 10 year old managed to get a gift into her school bag). If the LAC are warning parents to get their kids of Kik, then I think it's foolish not to heed the warning.
    My son was very hormonal and sullen when he started High school - I now suspect he was in bed half the night chatting online.
    We too had the tearful, angry confrontation. He is now off it, and actually no longer has a smart(ish) phone - more because he has now left 2 phones on the bus and dropped one down the toilet. He is on a cheapo dumb phone, and I keep an eye on what's going on on his ipod. He's not happy thatI check but he's also embarrassed that he lied. So I take that as a good sign.

    1. Wow, that's scarey. Actually now that I think of it, the police were at my son's primary school last year and were really negative about Kik and Instagram for those exact reasons. Freaks can pretend to be anyone they want and there is no way to track them.

  4. The other thing - you said 'he knew the rules, he broke them' - that means, regardless of the phone, he needs to be punished in the same way he would for whatever rule breaking. I do think they need to see the phone is just the means to give them some independence, but independence needs to be earned and irresponsibility means independence is restricted....
    It is tough, because whatever we work out, a newer thing is round the corner. My friends daughters all put themselves up online asking people to rate their looks???? What?

  5. I can hear the frustration in your words. This social media and kids thing is a nightmare. I often takl to my kids about it, but I can't control what they do. I think kids will keep doing it, just hide it more. If you give them knowledge and advice and someone to speak with, hopefully they will open up when they need to talk. Sometimes I think the challenges of parenting in this age are too many and too dangerous.

    1. I couldn't agree more, it just keeps getting harder and harder to keep them safe from this stuff.

  6. I hate to think what it will be like in 10 years when my boys reach your little ones age. I worry enough know, as my twins already know how to unlock my phone and swipe across to see all the different screens. In some ways I think I was lucky not to have social media around when I was back at school, it seemed so much simpler!

    1. My hubby and I were saying exactly the same thing last week. Our youngest is only 3 and I hate to think what life is going to be like when he reaches the same age. I wonder if our parents had these same fears.

  7. We need to teach kids. But also build the relationship and understanding of what is expected of them. We can't prevent things happening, we can simply teach them the best course of action. Trying to keep an open dialogue is also important. Martine is such a great source of advice on this one, I would check out her blog :) x

  8. I would say the same thing as Tahlia and talk to Martine at The Modern Parent. She has lots of great wisdom in this area.
    My daughter is ten and doesn't have a phone, but she does have an ipod with strict rules. She can't download any apps without permission and after we caught her playing it at night we changed the password so she cant use it without is. Which wouldn't really work for you, so I'm not sure why I said that.... Sorry

  9. Oh gosh this whole 'topic' is just a mine field!! My elest is only six so I havent got there yet but I know it's only a matter of time!!! I don't think you're a bad or irresponsible parent at all - normal would be a better word! I think if I were in your shoes I would probably have done the same thing - without even realising. Thanks for writing this post, it was a real eye opener and something to defiantly keep in mind for the future. It seems our kids are allowed to or have the opportunity to grow up too fast these days!! xx #IBOT

    1. Thank u so much Robyn. I just want to wrap my boys in cotton wool and keep the big bad world away. I hate how fast they are growing up and the things they are exposed to now.

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