Thursday, January 26, 2012

pandora's box

It's been opened, I fear. Monday Mr. T had a friend over, a nice kid who we really like. He brought his new ipod touch and the boys swapped recommendations for game downloads, songs, etc. Then the friend showed Mr. T a texting app. I had no idea that you could text using an ipod touch. I actually thought the app wouldn't work, but Mr. T downloaded it, and the boy told him, "I'll text you when I get home." Since Monday night, Mr. T has entered a whole new society.

Cut to last night: I sat playing mahjong on his toy while the boys finished watching a TV show. Twice I got a little message on the screen--two texts from a girl. I ignored them and when the boys' show was over, I called Mr. T over to hand back the ipod. "By the way," I said, "you got 2 messages from someone named Ava."

Silence.

"Who is she?"

"Nobody."

"I'm just curious--do you know her from school?"

"Yeah."

"Your class?"

"Yeah."

"Hm."

"She spends 24/7 at her computer, Mom. I swear, she has no life."

"What does she text you about?"

Then he showed me--I skimmed the texts that he'd exchanged (I had no idea!) since Monday--mostly about school assignments, a few photos of people's dogs, nothing of great importance.

My mind processed this new situation.

On one hand, my slightly antisocial kid has a new way to interact with more people. Good. This might help inspire better spelling (I noticed one girl pointed out his errors in spelling "stoopid"). Good. I have no qualm about him interacting with kids his age about dogs and school assignments.

On the other hand, I'm well aware of the danger (Danger, Will Robinson!) associated with kids and technology. (It doesn't help at all that at tonight's Bumble Book Club meeting we're discussing This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman.)

I don't want to eavesdrop, read every text, hover and smother my son.

But I'm smart. Our laptop is in a public zone in our house--the boys do not have their own computers, game systems or televisions in their rooms. Mr. T bought his own ipod touch and I control the password so I can control what he downloads--he doesn't mind and so far it's not been a hassle. Mr. T borrows my cell phone as needed, none of them play online games (except for Lego Universe which will disappear at the end of this week), none of them are on Facebook, I'm aware of the sites they visit online and the media they ingest.

I want Mr. T to have independent relationships and evidently if he owns an ipod touch, he has access to texting.

How does a parent monitor this silent, private world of communication? It's so different than the days of passing notes (written on looseleaf paper folded into clever triangular shapes and covered with letters like "BFF" and "SWAK") between desks at school or talking on a telephone (connected by a twirly cord to the kitchen wall) where your entire family walked past as you chatted about boys and parties and who said what where, when and how.

We talked about this New-Fangled Texting Stuff and I told him that I trust him. He's a good kid with good judgment for his age. But I'm the parent, so as long as he's under my roof, I need to have a baseline knowledge of what's going on in his world. I told him I would occasionally check his texts--just skim through them from time to time to make sure the tone and topics are appropriate. "I won't tease you," I promised, "and I won't ask you tons of questions unless I think it's important. I don't care that Mary likes Nick or any of that stuff. I respect your privacy, but I need to make sure you're safe and stuff. Because I'm your mom and I love you."

Spill it, reader. I'm feeling my way through the dark, here (as often happens with your firstborn child). How do you handle kids and texting? Do you have rules? Boundaries? Checkpoints?

27 comments:

  1. Texting is a tough one, especially as your kids get older. I blocked the feature on the kids' phones where they can get pictures texted to them and access the internet. But texting seems to be the preferred method of communication nowadays. My youngest has been knonwn to have as many as 6,000 texts a month, which is why we have unlimited texting. But she manages to get good grades in school, hold down a job and have a real social life as well.

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  2. You have to trust.. you have to educate...I wouldn't take the texting away because texting in this social media society isn't going away. I believe we, as parents, need to teach our children how to live within those parameters. Kids need to know what is acceptable and what isn't--same with the oral language-- same with Facebook - my kids are on--but they know I go on each morning and night and monitor what they are saying/doing.

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  3. Well, I remember when it was a big deal to get AIM and I held out on that for so long and my kids were the last squares who FINALLY got to IM! I don't know how you decide what to do, really. Much of parenting is flying by the seat of your pants and trying to stay on top of what's going on. If you have hard and fast rules, it doesn't seem to work (in my experience). And most communication is done by text now--even facebook messaging is passe and left to the old folks. That's why I had to get a phone with a querty keyboard....I couldn't figure out the T9 texting and I needed to talk to my kids. No advice here...except be flexible and keep your eyes open.

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  4. Yikes. My son is now 27 and didn't have a cell phone until after high school.

    No help here, I'm sorry to say! (And so glad that I don't have to deal with it...)

    Pearl

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  5. This all makes me nervous. When I did juvenile probation, I attended quite a few trainings on cyber stalkers that chilled me to the bone. It's always in the back of my mind, and I'm dreading trying to figure out the balance once my boys reach that age. It sounds like you're being very level-headed about the whole thing :-)

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  6. sounds like good rules, not too intrusive, not too laid back.
    all my kids are grown and gone, but the grandkids are starting. I have a qwerty keyboard phone to keep in touch with my youngest son. he hate to talk on the phone but will text.
    good luck as they get older. I do not envy parents now. I thought I had it tough, but it is worse now.

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  7. yep! texting on the itouch caught me by surprise too!! YIkes!!!!

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  8. that is such a fine line and i'm without any better advice that what you've already been given and what you're doing.

    my step-daughter's girls got into some tricky situations with texting and they "knew" better but did it anyway. good luck with it all.

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  9. Oh, oh, I'm so excited!! I had no idea you could do this, and I'd LOVE to be able to text with my daughter without having to get her a phone.

    I think that in many ways how far you can trust your child has a lot to do with how you've been raising them all along. And our rules for E's ipod touch have been very similar to yours: her account is really my account, and she doesn't know the password. That way she can't get any apps that cost money unless I'm aware of it, and I can go in and check on things. She has a FB account too, although she doesn't use it much because not many of her friends are on it yet. But the deal is the same: I have access, and she's okay with that.

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  10. I think you're handling it really well, Mama. :)

    And I will keep *mostly* silent as I do not have kids of my own! BUT being a somewhat-conniving teenager, I do want to remind you, he can delete texts after receiving and sending. I'm sure there's nothing to delete. But there is that option...

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  11. *HAVING BEEN a somewhat conniving teenager... that is

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  12. We definitely have boundaries, and everyone here is clear that technology should not be used to bring shame to the family name. We do random spot checks of their various devices, and use Covenant Eyes to keep track of internet use in addition to many of the same precautions in place in your household.
    We also have conversations about how information that is conveyed electronically can still exist after the delete key has done its work. They need to consider the reality that their words and images can be forwarded, copied, and potentially stored in a database somewhere even after they think such things are long gone. Youthful indiscretions have gained longevity.

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  13. I think you're doing well...one hand gives some independence, one holds the reins.
    And it was very good of you to say you trust him - and I'm sure you do and that he deserves it.
    You'll do fine.

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  14. We're not there yet, but my son keeps telling me about friends who have iPods and phones they text on. He doesn't have his own iPod or phone yet, but he's asking for them and saving his money.

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  15. We started this when our girls got their own email accounts. Copies of all their message go into my inbox too and I keep an eye on things. There haven't been any problems, although I did have to tell my younger girl not to forward mass emails/spams/chain letters.

    Both of my girls have Facebook and, again, their notifications pop into my inbox too. Plus, they're friends with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins on Fb, so in this case it's the family village keeping an eye on them.

    As for texting, both of my girls got iPod Touches for Christmas, but neither one has started using the texting app. Still, we've talked about appropriate and inappropriate texts and they were highly disgusted by the idea of sexting. I'll keep an eye on things once they do get started and they'll be forewarned that I'll occasionally do spot checks of their messages to make sure things are cool.

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  16. "Danger, Will Robinson!" - only you Melissa. :)

    I shall stay totally out of this one since my son is now 38 and doesn't let me monitor his world any longer. I really don't know what I would do nowadays. Good luck?

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  17. It's a wild, wild world out there. I had the big talk about putting something in print that can come back to bite you. This was solidified by sharing the reports that came on the news about the consequences of such actions. It seems as though the lesson stuck. The few times I voiced conern about situations he was texting about he voluntarily let me read the conversation and he was doing okay. Keep your finger on the pulse, stay present and buckle in for the ride!

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  18. I'm old as dirt, so texting didn't even exist when my kids were in high school. Neither did facebook or mySpace. The computer was on the desk in the living room. I think it was easier back then.

    For Mr T's age, I think your rules are reasonable.

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  19. Oh, gosh. This sounds terrifying. But it also sounds like you have a good attitude about it and have set some very healthy ground rules. Godspeed.

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  20. Been there, done that and all I can say is "Being a Parent is the hardest job you'll ever love" and when you look back, you'll see the mistakes you've made easier than seeing the solutions/ways to avoid the problems before you go through them.

    Keeping the computer in a public place is the best idea. Temptation is a sneaky, sneaky thing.

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  21. It's a tricky area. Honestly, with four kids, each with his or her own phone, monitoring their texts would be like monitoring each raindrop as it fell from the sky.

    So educate, educate, educate. We keep our computer in a public place like you do, but my fifteen year old has had some problems with being bullied on facebook--publicly called a slut, obliquely threatened. There are some nasty kids out there.

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  22. Checking back here...I think Sally had a good point about remembering what's in print (and public) can't be taken back!

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  23. Wow. That's a tuffy. But it sounds like you're doing a good job discussing it and setting boundaries.

    As for me, no kids. No snow either. ;)

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  24. I think you have reasonable rules. Keep the lines of communication open know that if your son starts to change you might need to do some snooping.

    My 18-year old son got into some trouble over Twitter at the end of his senior year and it was a valuable lesson for him.

    I read This Beautiful Life last year and I thought it was interesting, but a little unrealistic--though I feel that way about anything written in the hothouse of Manhattan life.

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  25. At some point, it's up to them, isn't it? Talking to them and giving them a sense that you're watching (inasmuch as you can) is the best thing you can do. It's a tough one.

    Hey, so when Lego Universe disappears? My Paco and his pals are all way into Minecraft online (http://www.minecraft.net/). I think there's a minimal amount of freeplay allowed, and then it's like a $25 purchase...but all these 9-12 year old boys in the area LUFF it.

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  26. I got rid of the internet on my boys' phones, but now Chas (aged 14) has an iPod too. Eeek! He's 14. He's smart. He loves to talk to me. I am going to leave him alone.

    Middle boy is a different kind of boy, I am not ready to let him have unlimited anything. No iPod for him yet! I don't know, it is sure scary.

    I suppose he has internet on his iPod? Unsecure, unlimited, unrestricted? I worry more about that than texting. In one nearby school here, the boys spend their lunch times watching porn.

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Spill it, reader.