When my kids were younger, the thought of providing them with cell phones terrified me. It seemed that all the world’s evils were wrapped up in one pretty iPhone case. Sexters, cyberbullies and online predators could attack my babies with just the click of a button.
Eighty-five percent of kids ages ten to seventeen either own or have access to a smart phone and nearly 25 percent say the are “cell-mostly” Internet users. My oldest two are approaching eleven years old, and while I am not in a rush to furnish them with their own phones, many of their friends already possess one. I want — I need — to be sure they understand the risks that come with unfettered access to texting and the wild, wild Web.
To quash my fears, I became educated about Internet safety, and developed a plan for monitoring their online behavior and use. And although I do not have any delusions of grandeur that I can keep pace with the constantly evolving methods people are using cell phones and social media to prey on our children, I hope to keep the bad guys out of our wireless world.
I’ve talked a lot with my kids about the responsibilities that come with owning a cell phone or access to the Internet when I’m not there to monitor. Stranger danger applies both in the real world and the online one. I showed them how an innocent personal photo could end up on a dangerous web site. I demonstrated how “privacy” settings don’t really make things private.
But lately I have noticed that there are a new set of dangers that come when a child walks around with his own phone. The problems may not be physical or unlawful, but I do believe they can have a lasting effect on their social well-being.
Here’s what I want my kids to know about cell phones:
iPhones are not for validation. Life is not measured in how many likes you have on Instagram or followers on Twitter. And all the “friends” you have on SnapChat will never fill the void in your soul. Make sure that the “self” in selfies does not impact your self-worth. Always remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so build your brain and grow your heart, and the rest will fall into place.
Don’t disconnect. I am the first to admit that I often whip out my cell phone when I am waiting to pick up my kids or in a room full of people I don’t know. Unfortunately, tweens and teens are now doing the same thing, except at every opportunity. Instead of bonding with teammates, boys are texting on their phones during water breaks. Instead of chatting with their girlfriends before a movie starts, the group is checking Facebook. Cell phones are for connecting with people, not for using it to avoid conversation.
Every text is an opportunity to be mis-interpreted. The average teen girl receives around five calls on her cell phone per day and 100 texts. That is 3,000 per month! Although most are innocuous messages and chatter, many kids use texting because it is easier, faster and makes them feel less uncomfortable. That is code for lacking the courage or fortitude to have a difficult conversation.
When young people type instead of speak, they lose the opportunity to develop important interpersonal skills, such as reasoning, problem-solving and yes, even compassion. Those on the receiving end of a text, often teens experiencing insecurity or trying to fit into a social clique, often misinterpret a message without any visual or audio cues in which to guide the intent.
The net-net is people often use text messages to avoid a mess, but learning how to fix a mess is a lesson we want all young people to learn. The pain and discomfort that comes with learning how to communicate — really communicate —with others is what leads to better relationships. So use the phone, not your fingers, to get your point across to the people who matter in your life.
Privacy means different things to everyone. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that manages impulse control is not fully formed until our twenties. That means even your BFF can have poor judgment or make the mistake of forwarding a private text or photo merely by hitting the wrong button. My mantra is if you would not walk into the lunchroom and shout it out, don’t ever text or share it on social media. Your “friends” list will not adhere to the same standards of discretion about your life as you expect, particularly when hitting the forward key is so simple.
Cell phones are for personal use, not to shame others. In today’s iEverything age, a person can snap a photo in a millisecond without the target even knowing. It’s a picture posted on Facebook of an overweight girl’s butt crack sitting on the bleacher in front of you or recording a schoolyard brawl only to post it on YouTube for entertainment.
But here’s the thing, and there is no way getting around it. Those pictures and videos live forever and regardless of your privacy settings they can be shared and spread like wildfire. And they are humiliating to the — wait for it — victim. Because that’s what a person is who unwillingly gets subjected to ridicule because you couldn’t keep your cell phone in your pant’s pocket.
Don’t be so busy taking a photo of a stranger to not notice when someone is in need of help.
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