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Can Teens Be Trusted Online?

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While technological advancements have their benefits, I'm beginning to wonder if it's doing my kids more harm than good.

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Bruce Sallan: Sexting, texting, e-mail, Twitter, MySpace, Netflix, Facebook, formspring (not a mattress company), "smart" phones, iPads, iPods, laptops, etc. That's the world our kids live in. And it's moving faster every day!

For me, it was a library card and a book, on roller skates, which my friends and I would use to go down the hill where we lived. Oh, we also played a made-up game we called "Mongoose," in which we hit a ping-pong ball back and forth with two books, the object being to do it as long as possible. We had a phone, but its use was limited. TV was only on weekends, and there were just three networks and not much else.

That just ain't the world no more! With the recent spate of texting-related violent incidents, I'm beginning to question what boundaries we parents should consider for our kids, especially our teens, with these social-media devices. My 16-year-old got into a mess of peer trouble with an impolitic Facebook post. It was stupid, but not that big a deal. At my urging, he even publicly apologized (and in a well-written, not too self-deprecating fashion -- I was impressed).

Yet the "controversy" continued and almost threatened his truly terrific relationship with his girlfriend of seven months (a lifetime for sophomores in high school), as every one of their friends got involved and it escalated to silly levels. He's a big boy, confident, and there's been nothing more to it for now, but the whole incident, along with the more tragic stories we've been hearing recently, makes me question our parental responsibility in allowing our kids unlimited access to social media.

I trust my boys. But the older one is 16 -- can any 16-year-old really be trusted? Even my 13-year-old is attached to his cell phone. Giving them cell phones makes my life easier, but is that reason enough? I'm beginning to question all of this and wonder if we should pull back. But heck, what do I know? I'm just a guy.

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44 comments so far | Post a comment now
tennmom April 12, 2010, 6:22 AM

I’ll be able to trust mine. At 10 & 12, they know the measures my I.T. director husband has taken.
There are some sites their desktops & laptops will not go. If they want UTube, they have to use my laptop. They can delete their history all they want, but I can still access it. I can get on my laptop and see what they are doing that very second & can see what they were doing 6 months ago.
They also know that if there is ever a time I can’t access one of their accounts b/c they have changed a password without telling me, they will go a year only being able to use their computers if they are sitting beside me.

Denise April 12, 2010, 7:45 AM

My kids are younger but they already are clamoring for cell-phones and more time on our one computer. It’s scary. Thanks for the caution and reminder that our kids really do need so much more supervision than at other times!

Jeff April 12, 2010, 9:13 AM

Bruce, like Denise, my kids are just a bit younger than yours and aren’t facing the onslaught of social media that I’m reading about and that you just wrote about. For that matter, I’ve resisted it myself. I’m truly not sure how good all of this is for our kids. I think parents need to be so much more involved than ever before.

Kathi Browne April 12, 2010, 10:56 AM

You can try to limit all you want, but kids find a way to get access without your permission. Kids use computers (and accounts) at friend’s houses all the time, and their toys are always evolving to give them more freedom. Did you know an itouch can surf the web? Did you know there is a free application to bypass security settings on an itouch? Did you know xbox allows any two kids to talk to each other? Did you know your child can limit you from seeing only certain things on facebook so you’re not realy locked out? Did you know a child can have multiple facebook/myspace accounts if they have another email address? Did you know teachers frequently leave a computer logged into the internet where children can use them? Did you know that if a child doesn’t have access to a computer at home they will be disadvantaged?

My point is that parents have no choice but to put our focus on equiping our children to be responsible and smart with the freedom because the freedom has already been granted without our consent.

Bruce Sallan April 12, 2010, 12:19 PM

Thanks for the additional comments Kathi - smart - and thanks for cheering me up! AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

Hannah April 12, 2010, 2:38 PM

We were never bought cellphones even though all our friends had them. We also had a computer only in the family room where the computer was facing out and everyone can see what you are doing. We weren’t allowed to go to any site without permission from either our parents or the older children. They put the pages we were allowed to go to in favorites and we could only use the favorites menu to “surf the web.” When we were teenagers we didn’t have our own cellphone or computer. When I got a job I bought myself a laptop but before I did I asked my parents if it was okay. My parents had my password to everything on my computer (in fact they still have my computer password but not because I have to just because they use my laptop alot and I dont want to have to type it in every time). I never felt like they didn’t love me or were overbearing. I knew they were just trying to protect me and I’m going to do the same thing with my kids. And cellphones? They tick me off. I HATE seeing some 10-15 (sometimes even younger!)year old child sitting/standing next to their parent and texting/talking to their friend on the phone. It’s like your a CHILD you couldn’t POSSIBLY need to keep in contact with your friends that much. None of my kids will have cellphones. No how no way.

David April 12, 2010, 5:52 PM

I don’t know how the genie can get put back in the bottle.

Jane April 12, 2010, 10:57 PM

Respectfully, I disagree with your post, Kathi. And I do not believe the genie has been let out of the bottle, nor do I believe that technological freedom has been granted without my permission.

A child is not disadvantaged if they don’t have access to computer at home. They are also not disadvantaged, if they don’t have a social networking site, texting, tweet, or anything else that technology has brought to us in the last few years.

They can have cell phones that do not have access to the internet and texting.

Parenting is not easy. And it has become increasingly more difficult in the last three years alone. There have always been things available in other kids homes to get into, but that does not mean that my kids have to have it or have access to it in our lives or home. And I am not living in the dark ages, and I have four kids, and I am a single parent. I set the tone for the quality of life, and character, and I have control over it, as long as they are living in my home.

There are all kinds of answers out there to this question. In my home, I like age appropriate responses, and technology keeps them too much in their heads, and that to me, with teens is dangerous.

Bob Greig April 18, 2010, 12:26 PM

A great article Bruce. It seems to me that we are now raising the first generation of children that has almost unlimited access to social media.

Was chatting with another single Dad today on this very subject!

we both thought there ought to be far more guidance for parents (and children) in this whole area.

Keep up the good work Bruce!

LizzieB April 18, 2010, 1:21 PM

Bruce, I’m still several years away from dealing with the issues you and your boys are dealing with but boy, I don’t look forward to it. I think the challenge is that our children our “digital natives” and we aren’t. I think there are so many wonderful and helpful tools that technology has given us but as parents it’s our responsibility to draw the line as to what is acceptable and reasonable. Good luck with your boys and keep on communicating!

Annie Fox April 19, 2010, 8:52 PM

I agree with everyone who spoke up for the need for parental guidance when it comes to social media. Why assume that because teens are super-users of all this stuff that makes them savvy to the consequences of hitting SEND. They may have it over us in tech-smarts but we’ve got the life smarts and without our spelling out our clear rules and expectations they are left mucking about with their equally clueless peers. Their ignorance isn’t their fault.

Cindy Springsteen April 21, 2010, 12:11 PM

Excellent article. The world of teen life has definately changed over the years and the technology that they have seems to create lately in the news more harm than good.

Suzette May 1, 2010, 8:05 PM

We’re between a rock and a hard place as parents. With or without cell phones, laptops, iPods or iPads in their possession, kids today are headed in the same nebulous direction we are as 21st century parents: Unknown. Each household has to find their comfort level with tech toys and adapt accordingly - whether little by little or by purchasing the very latest gadget after standing in line for hours - because the machines are here to stay. I agree with everyone here that each one of us has our own way of dealing with our technology-driven kids. We are doing one thing right in my view, and its sharing our concerns here and with other parents. We can learn from our experiences, Bruce, so thanks for sharing yours!

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Jeena Peena February 6, 2011, 2:43 PM

My 16-year-old got into a mess of peer trouble with an impolitic Facebook post. It was stupid, but not that big a deal. At my urging, he even publicly apologized (and in a well-written, not too self-deprecating fashion — I was impressed).
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