Anyone parenting teens will testify that it is far more challenging parenting teens than it is toddlers. The mental and emotional toll is just phenomenal. As a mother of two teenagers, I often walk the path of least resistance. So, when I got the first request for digital devices I resisted feebly (Pro-tip: with teens you have to ‘appear’ to give in, but not too easily). We waited till it was time for their birthdays and the phones they got were gift wrapped and given to them with a ‘strong’ underlining of the fact that this was a special coming-of-age present. And that, I believe, was my parenting masterstroke! In one full swoop I had given them the gift of digital freedom with the caveat that this was now something they would need to take responsibility for. For kids who can’t still be counted on to make their beds properly, this was huge, but they asked for it, begged for it, and so now we played by my rules. From the minute my children received their phones the rules of engagement were fairly clear. Because I had bought the devices, and they would be using my high-speed internet – the right to monitor their phones was mine.
Related: To Be or Not to Be – a Parent
Monitoring digital devices – the unpopular but necessary step
In the ‘woke’ world we live in, my old-school parenting stand may qualify as overbearing and breaching personal spaces and freedoms. While I am sympathetic to the concept of children having their own personal space, I am a weary of giving them complete and free access digitally. My logic is simple, the digital world is a gateway to many things – good and bad. If as a parent I am monitoring my kids physically all the time to make sure that they are safe and protected, then it would be irresponsible if I didn’t do that digitally as well. Cyber bullying, pornography, online predators – they’re all there waiting for the kids. Sounds scary, right? It is. In our hyper-connected world, where information and opinions are shared continuously and relentlessly, it is important to sift through the noise. Most adults get easily swayed by it; imagine the effects it can have on children. Monitoring the online behavior of your child is not just about snooping around, it is in fact an insight into the kind of content and people your kid is interacting with and to take appropriate steps if you feel it is going towards the extreme.
Cyber bullying – the threat is real
Cyber bullying means using technology to threaten, harass, embarrass, and target another person. For children it can have a deep and lasting impact on their psyche, confidence, and mental health. They may share their trauma with the parents or teachers, but sadly most of the times they don’t. According to a study conducted by CRY, “One in three adolescents reported going through negative experiences on the Internet. Around 10 percent of the respondents disclosed being subjected to cyber-bullying. Only one in two adolescents reported the cyber-bullying incident.”
Today the internet is the preferred means for communication for kids. Apps such as Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Discord, and even messaging services in-gaming are one of the many tools used by kids to connect with their friends and peers. Monitoring these conversations is critical to ensuring that your child is neither the victim nor the perpetrator of cyber bullying. Every time I am guilted into thinking that by checking phones, I am breaching my kids’ privacy, I look back at the instances of cyber bullying we have seen in our own circles. One such incident involved a friend’s daughter who was targeted by kids at school for her looks. There was an entire Instagram account dedicated to pictures of her followed by comments that would break the spirit of even the most high-achieving beauty queen. This child was sent screenshots of this page and comments routinely. What we saw then was the withering away of a bright young girl into a recluse. She did not want to go to school, her grades were falling, and she started developing an eating disorder. All these symptoms can be passed off as ‘moody’ teenager behaviour but for her vigilant mother who checked her daughters’ digital interactions and realized that there was an online lynching in progress. The matter was taken up by the school also and all the children were cautioned, but the damage had already been done.
It is incidents like these that reinforce my old school parenting in the new normal. However, I also realize that paranoia alone cannot accomplish much.
Related:Teen Body Image and Social Media
Setting boundaries with your children
Kids need to understand and accept why it is important to have this monitoring. Having a digital device is their first tryst with freedom – almost akin to getting their first car. So, if getting a car means applying for a license, going through driving lessons etc., the same applies to their digital devices – they will be monitored till they are adults and can handle them as adults. Children need to be told that:
- A digital device (phone, tablet, laptop etc.) is a privilege that needs to be enjoyed with caution and responsibility.
- Screentime cannot be the only interaction they have with the world, there must be reasonable amount of no-screen time also.
- Chatting up strangers, and sharing personal information online is dangerous and can have chilling consequences.
- Cyber bullying, trolling, sharing fake news etc. are all potentially criminal behaviors and there are laws in place that can even send people to jail.
- Digital devices are ultimately the property of the parents (us! Yay!) and as such we have full right to check what’s on them.
Your digital dilemma is justified
We live in a world where right and wrong are being redefined daily. As parents it is frightening because we are raising individuals who are far more vulnerable mentally and physically because of their hyper-connected world. The rules have changed, in fact the rules will keep evolving because the threats keep evolving. We need to make sure that basic checks and balances are always in place for kids to fall back on. The push back on letting you go through their devices will be heavy, you will be guilted into believing that you are not respecting personal space, and you may feel like you are violating trust. But that’s okay, that’s all part of parenting where your primary responsibility is to make sure that your child and the people, he/she interacts with are safe and kind.
Do you monitor your child’s phone? Is it helpful?