My 14 year old daughter and some of her friends just recently got messages via Snapchat from a boy named Chaz Bono (riggghhht!). They don’t know Chaz but they believed what “he” said—that he was an eighth grader at their school. He asked them to send him nudies of themselves, which none of them did. Finally, he sent them photos of his penis. Thank goodness these girls all told their parents. We called the police but because the Snapchat messages disappeared, there was no proof so, therefore, no reason to file a report or try to locate the sender. If it ever happens again, they are to immediately take a screenshot of the message so there is proof, have no contact with the sender whatsoever, and to tell an adult. Holy hell.
A few weeks ago, my daughter got some horrible anonymous messages sent to her via AskFM, which is basically an online anonymous (and public) slam book (I HATE that site). Not one to be bullied, she took a screenshot of the message and posted it on Instagram for all to see. Many of her friends responded by defending her. My daughter said that if someone wanted to bully her, she was going to send a public message back- that she is not afraid or intimidated. It was her way of giving her bully a big Fuck You (my saucy language, not hers). Pretty brave and bold, if you ask me.
In the same school, one student took a photo of a girl changing in the locker room fully topless. She then sent it to a whole gaggle of her fellow students. But it gets better– she opened up a fake Twitter account and posted it online. The girl got caught and suspended from school. It’s a felony. Criminal charges may be coming.
A friend of mine has a daughter who met a cute boy online. They fell in love and decided to meet up a few hours away. She left a note for her dad, got in her car and started driving to Wendover, Nevada. Thank goodness they called the police and intercepted her before she got far. As it turns out, the cute boy was a middle aged man.
It was hard enough being a teen when I was growing up. But with smartphones and cyber bullying and Internet access, it is unimaginably dangerous and, as a parent, it scares the hell out of me. How am I supposed to keep my daughter safe? Take her phone away? She has done nothing wrong (that I’m aware of). In fact, I find her to be mature, trustworthy and with a good head on her shoulders. Let’s hope it stays that way. That said, she’s just a kid navigating some very perilous roads. She uses her phone for so many things—to listen to music, stay connected with friends, contact me, and even practice Spanish vocabulary—that taking it away is extreme, too.
I have determined that my goal is to teach her to make good decisions for herself and be extremely cautious. Because those traits will help her throughout her life. If I simply make all the decisions for her, what is that going to accomplish in the long run?
Dangers aside, cell phones come with other potential problems. Like many studies showing that because a child’s skull is not fully developed, radiation from cell phones can more easily penetrate and cause certain cancers. They are also a huge distraction. Some claim that smartphones in particular cause attention deficit disorder. And, of course, there’s the whole annoying thing with not learning to communicate with humans because texting and Instagramming is far more “fun.” How many times have you watched people in a restaurant completely ignore each other as they stare at their phones? (Ok, guilty!)
So what to do? Here are a few strategies I’ve implemented with my daughter:
1. There is nothing private on her phone. I have the right to pick up any time I want and look at anything on the phone—no questions or complaints. That means emails, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and texts. Anything on that phone is for Mom’s eyes, too.
2. She gets her phone for 30 minutes after she gets home from school and 30 minutes before bedtime.
3. I follow her on all the social media sites.
4. We talk often (like most every day) about stories in the news involving cyber safety. We talk about bullying, pedophiles, and other dangers that are lurking. Awareness is key.
5. I contacted our cell phone provider and her phone doesn’t work after 10 o’clock. That way, she can’t be tempted to spend hours in bed on the phone.
Cell phone dangers literally keep me up at night and give me anxiety. I have no magical answers. It’s a work in progress.