Would you want to know if a predator had contacted your child? Would you want to know if your child is being cyberbullied? Would you want to know if your child is bullying someone? Would you want to know if your child is sending or receiving inappropriate pictures? Would you want to know if your child is suicidal? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then we must check our children's devices. Their life could depend on it.
One might feel that last statement is a bit alarmist. Or extreme. But let's examine each of those questions. I believe we can all agree a yes answer to any of those questions is incredibly alarming. But given todays society of teens device driven behavior, we must sit in the space of "what if". What if any of those were happening to your child....what if any of those had been happening to your child repeatedly....over and over....for the last 6 months...and you did not know? This is where we must think ahead. This is where we must allow space for alarm.
The very nature of devices allows them to infiltrate our children's lives, everyday...24/7, 365 days of the year. Bullying does not look like it did 20 years ago. 20 years ago bullying could be dealt with one on one, and usually in a short time frame. Not to negate the harmful effects of bullying from the past, but injecting social media and devices into the mix has elevated the harmful effects. Kids, when left to their own devices, low impulse control and with unrestricted limits...can be viscous. Pack mentalities form in group texts. Each kid praying on the one they have chosen to be the underdog. Each kid trying to "one up the other" with mean, hurtful comments. I see this happen daily. Pack mentality makes its way to apps, where the bullying continues through snapchat or instagram. Through a medium that never shuts off. This type of incessant behavior can prey on ones capacity to tolerate the noise. Especially if you are a teen already struggling with identity, self awareness or simply feeling uncomfortable in ones skin. Clearly the outcome, as we have been shown time and time again, can have catastrophic effects. I ask again...would you want to know?
Would you want to know if a predator has contacted your child? Predator activity is up over 120 percent since March of 2020. Covid lockdown forced us into the online space more than ever. Kids were sent home from school. To stressed, exhausted, overwhelmed parents trying to balance all that was being thrown at them. Devices became the new way to conduct school. To maintain contact with friends and family. They also became baby sitters for the parents that were trying to balance everything. This is ok. We are all doing our best. No-one prepared us for this. No-one expected to have to work from home, while simultaneously teach our kids. But the consequence of distracted parents coupled with increased unrestricted device time, is kids have access to everything. To. Everything. And they are also lonely. They were abruptly removed from friend circles. For kids and teens this is the equivalent of setting their whole world on fire. Their day to day is driven by their interpersonal relationships with their peers. So removing that left a gaping hole. Predators know this. And they used every second of it to their advantage. Preying on kids that are lonely and isolated. Grooming them into online relationships in hopes of offline meet ups. Sex trafficking is at an all time high. Numbers increased dramatically over lock down. I ask you again...would you want to know?
This is why we answer yes to these questions. As parents we want to know. We protect our kids. It is what we do. The question becomes as well meaning parents are we hurting our children in the online space? By not checking in because we want to "allow them their privacy". By not looking at pictures because "my kid would never do that". By not setting age restrictions, or time limits because "it is too hard and confusing". By not checking text messages because "it is too uncomfortable". By allowing apps with adult content because "everyone else does it so I'm sure it is ok." The reality is digging in is hard. It is met with resistance. It changes everyday so it can be frustrating. Most of all we want to believe "not my kid. I have a good kid." You do have a good kid! But you have a KID. And they ALL lack impulse control on some level. They all struggle with the pressure of being a teen. The pressure may feel unique to each child, but the reality stays the same. When allowed an unrestricted device to release some of that pressure...what are the choices that are going to be made?
Teens need our guidance in this space. And if you answered yes to any of those questions, I can tell you the fastest way to know if any of those things are happening. Check their devices. Have open conversations with your kids. Frequently. Almost annoyingly. Some conversations will be harder than others. But everyone of them will be worth it. You will never know everything they do. That is ok. But if we are going to give them an adult device, we have to be willing to sit in the hard space of parenting and be a part of the process of protecting them. As we answered yes to all of the questions, let's also be able to say yes when asked "Do you know what your kid does online?"