Should you stalk your child online?
These days a student being given their first mobile phone is a real rite of passage. They feel so grown-up, and love the freedom and entertainment a phone can provide.
Parents tell us that managing mobile phone use with their children is one of the most challenging elements of today’s digital life. As parents, we need to consider very carefully the ramifications as well as benefits of giving our children a phone, especially a smartphone. There the obvious issues with data use, if that is part of the plan chosen, but also we need to stop and consider what they might be able to access via an unfiltered network on a smartphone. The camera and ability to post so readily to social media is another minefield.
As parents, have we been clear about our expectations, and about what they will post and the kinds of photos that are acceptable to us? As the owners of the phone, have we discussed how to respect ourselves and others, highlighting some of the pitfalls of mobile phone use rather than hoping our children will make the right choices. Have we ensured we know the password, and that our children expect us to use it if we feel we should? We know a reactive approach is less desirable in most situations we are likely to face.
An article I read in The Age over the weekend made me think some more about some of the messages parents are receiving via the media. This article highlighted the apps that are available to ‘stalk’ children and closely monitor what they are doing with their phones. It highlighted how many students seem to run two different sets of social media sites, one for parents to view and another for their actual online life. The article goes on to say that trust in the real world and online can only be established where there is good communication between the parent and child. It is suggested that teaching moments should begin as soon a child is allowed to use digital devices. The conversations about how to use the technology responsibly cannot start too young. They need to continue as the child matures and begins to use technology in different ways.
It is suggested that parents actively seek to understand what the student is doing online. Ask them to explain Instagram, how it works, and why they like it. Ask them to show you their Snapchat account and talk about what students are choosing to share. The article confirms that no amount of ‘stalking’ using monitoring apps will protect the child as much as honest conversations that reinforce the family’s values and beliefs. Being open and honest with your child about your expectations and that you expect to access the phone together is a great start to ensuring there are many teaching moments about technology, and about respect for self and others in general. Please find below some resources that could support your family in managing this new world.
A recent article circulated by Common Sense Media, an organisation we reference often at Carey, suggests parents take control from the outset. While having a family mobile phone policy seems very official, it may just make managing teenagers and mobile phones much easier. Perhaps it is fair to clearly explain expectations before the phone is issued.
Common Sense Media suggests customising a policy according to each family and to the child’s age. They also suggest the contract evolves as the student grows, recognising increased responsibility and independence. Here is a sample of a contract that you might use:
- We own the phone. We know the security password or unlock pattern. If you want to download an app, come talk to us.
- Always respond to texts/calls from us. If a friend calls, answer it. Be polite.
- The phone lives in the main room. It is turned off during the evenings. It qualifies as ‘screen time’, and its use follows our screen time rules, which is limited use on the weekends.
- Don’t record audio or video of people without their knowledge.
- We can read your texts, check your photos and videos.
- Know that sharing photos and videos, as well as anything written, can be saved and shared without your knowledge.
- If the phone is lost, damaged or destroyed, you will have to go without or save up to repair or replace it.
- Don’t give out any personally identifiable information, such as full name, date of birth, address, or phone number without our permission. Let us know if someone is asking for it.
- Do not use the technology to deceive or lie to others. It’s not a prankster’s tool. Do not text or use apps to be a bully. Assume that all parents are checking.
- Silence the phone at obvious times – the dinner table, school, movies, restaurants and especially while conversing with others.
And, of course, what we really want to say is remember to enjoy life, nature, people, books, music, as well as technology.