Last Friday, we were at the pizza party the night before the oratorical competition and Susan had saved us seats...at a round table...where every other seat save one was occupied by another teenaged competitor. yay.
Talk about people watching. Listening to these teens was exasperating, mind-numbing, and yet weirdly illuminating. One or two of the girls were Totally Vapid. "OMG, I want a tattoo but I don't know what I would get. I mean I guess I would have to get my two cats because they are the most important things in my life right now."
But underneath all of the chit chat, there were some eye-opening realizations.
We were sitting with a higher class of nerd.
When Mason asked everyone, "What do you play?" Every teen at the table named at least THREE instruments, and/or mathlete, competitive dance, voice, glee club, or competitive speech.
When it was Susan's turn, she was dumbstruck. I mean she had just asked her neighbor, "What IS a bassoon?" and it was her turn.
Seeing her slack-jawed state, I blurted out with a big (scary) smile, "She plays volleyball!"
Everyone oohed and ahhed. These kids were NOT athletic = Understatement.
Another epiphany was when Rebecca told Zoe, "I just got a Facebook account like a month ago, and I have only been on there like twice. I don't even have Twitter." Zoe replied with an eyeroll, "I don't have Facebook or Twitter."
Then when Sanji said, "Do you want to see my phone?" Rebecca (of the future cat tattoos) said, "OMG, if you EVEN pull out the new Samsung Galaxy 4, I will DIE!" Sanji pulled out a flip phone circa 2000 and grinned. "It doesn't even get texts!" he said proudly.
We were also treated to a litany of Mason's weekend and after-school activities. That kid is so (over) scheduled, I doubt he has time to text or be on Facebook, much less play Fruit Ninja or do Snapchat.
I had been given the impression that my three high-schoolers were rare in that they might very well be the only teenagers in the 'verse who don't have smartphones, iPads, laptops, or ANY access to WiFi or the web without going through a parental portal, but apparently I was wrong.
It didn't start out this way.
It started out with limited texting.
Then one Kindle Fire.
Next came two iPod Touches.
And somewhere in there, texting became unlimited because the fees for going over their limits are more than the fees for unlimited.
Then it all got taken away, when we discovered a lot of ugly truths in a very short time period.
I knew there were apps on the Kindle, like Fruit Ninja and Temple Runner. We discovered that people were up waay past their bedtime (yes, I make my high-schoolers go to bed) wasting time slicing virtual fruit.
Or texting people of the opposite sex at all hours of the night.
Or using more than 10,000 texts in 2.5 weeks.
We discovered that our WiFi password was common knowledge. We periodically change our WiFi password, but here we made a critical error. We did not change our router password.
Teens KNOW EVERYTHING about technology.
There is some site where you can get your WiFi password if you have your router number (and if your router is not password protected) and the primary email, and even though I forgot what that site is, chances are your teen, or their friends know it.
With that discovery, the YouTube viewing history on the Kindle revealed several hours, like 70-100 hours of YouTube videos watched, mostly from a show that is verboten here, some from a movie that I would have let them watched had they just asked, and some silly videos that were slightly suggestive and linked to more dangerous content.
The iPod Touches that I naively thought could only be used for the music we had purchased (because the WiFi was supposedly password protected), were being used for texting (it's an app) and access to the entire internet, just like the Kindle, via the pirated WiFi password.
Everything went away. Completely. For every teen in our home.
And THEY SURVIVED!
Apps are dangerous. Did you know that there are apps out there that appear to be games but are actually hiding illicit content? I foolishly tried to search for articles about these apps, but including the terms "porn" or "illicit content" in my search got me nowhere (thank you filters!) except on some FBI predator watch-lists.
And no, my kids had no apps like that, but other kids I know have had those apps.
Kids with good parents.
Our children live in a world filled with temptations and danger beyond anything we dealt with as kids.
Starting with a clean slate, we have been able to re-instate some of the privileges that were lost, one at a time. We went on a huge learning curve, educating ourselves about things that we really don't have an aptitude or interest in, taking time and great pains to Teen-Proof our cyberspace.
EVERYTHING that can be password protected, should be. My cell phone and my laptop are password protected. Well, you need my right index fingerprint to use my laptop. The WiFi and the router are both password protected.
We still change the passwords regularly, and we use "holy" passwords, an idea that we stole from my parents. Religious things like "MaterDei128" which is Latin for Mother of God and the date of the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The more obscure the better.
We could even password protect our TV so that they can only watch programs of a certain rating, but unfortunately that prevents all live sporting events.
We blocked all offensive channels from our satellite receiver. Literate people could probably do that by reading the owner's manual, but we had to call our provider and have them walk us through it. Tedious for all involved, but worth it.
We don't do this because we think that the first second our back is turned, they are going to seek out terrible things. We do it to remove temptation, to protect their innocence, and because Patrick and I are revolted when WE have to scroll through those channels as well.
We have a WiFi filter, and though it is far from perfect, it does work. I was unable to see some of Hallie Lord's favorite websites without the password for the filter, and I am unable to search for anything that includes the letter p, o, r, and n all in a row.
This article has loads of tips for installing or activating filtering software on your devices.
Primary account holders can limit just about everything on cell phones.
The AT&T Smart Limits feature has allowed us to limit cell phone use past a certain time of day. After 10 pm, our children may only call or text our numbers.
We can limit quantities of texts, as well as what numbers can be texted and when. See above.
We can set up a time block to our wireless router so that it stops working at certain hours of the day or night.
With AT&T Smart Limits, we can see not only how many texts are being used by each cell phone user, but to what numbers and at what times. We can see who they call, and how long they are on the phone.
We check their Facebook pages and the email accounts. We have suggested that they unfriend this person or unlike this page from time to time. We have coached them on spam and phishing and helped them get unsubscribed from lists.
We helped them choose email addresses that do not reveal gender, name, or age.
My own Instagram account troubled me when I started getting "follow requests" from sleaze balls with offensive pictures. My mom told me to take my gender off my profile. It has also been suggested that "Housewifespice" isn't the best name for social media. I changed the gender to unidentified, reported the offensive photos, and I haven't had any problems since.
We have given them real examples of real life individuals who lost their college acceptance, got expelled from high school, or lost their jobs from what was posted on Facebook or Twitter. When I see articles like this one or this one, I make a point of educating them on how stupid mistakes can have huge consequences.
A Case Against Smartphones
We are adamantly opposed to smartphones for our kids.
Studies show that smartphone addiction leads to increased psychopathic behavior in teens. Personally, I believe teens have enough psychopathic tendencies without cyber addiction exacerbating them.
This article calls for BANNING HANDHELD DEVICES for all children under 12, and sites addiction as one of the reasons.
Who really needs a smartphone? If I could get a phone that was just a phone with email and Mapquest (because I forget stuff and get lost sometimes), that would be perfect. I don't need to carry the entire internet with me all the time.
Kids know we use our smartphones too much. Kids notice everything. Perhaps, we should all dumb it down a little.
|This is Greg. Don't send him a group text.|
Don't forget the higher class of nerd from last weekend. I have no doubt that (maybe with the exception of cat tattoo girl) they will be very successful adults.
My point is that not owning a smartphone has not affected them academically or socially.
Contrary to the picture my children have painted, it IS possible to be a well-adjusted, highly successful person WITHOUT a smartphone. I think more of us should try it, myself included.
I was recently asked if my kids resented the way things blew up and were removed, and they don't. Not anymore. There were some sullen and sad and shameful moments in the beginning, but they know we make the rules and pay the bills, and (hopefully) they know we did this because we love them.
Suddenly, having a phone from 7 am to 10 pm without texting seemed better than nothing at all. Now, a mere one hundred texts a month are a generous and precious commodity. Those prehistoric basic iPod minis that are only good for playing music have been located and charged again.
Sometimes, late at night the home phone rings and I get to hear, "Hello Mrs. Thornton! Is Peter there?"
I like it like that.