Look, I get it; keeping up with the Jones’ isn’t easy. The influences of friends and their parents can make it nearly impossible to stick to your guns at times when making decisions about what’s appropriate for our own kids. Case in point: cell phones. As the father of three pre-teens I can honestly say that the discussion about when they could have a phone was a long and arduous one. Eventually we saw that the positives outweighed the negatives and honestly, phones are a valuable tool on many levels when it comes to kids. That said, I also believe that they should be treated with the respect you’d give any tool whether that tool be a wrench, saw, or blow torch. While there are indeed many positives to your child having a phone, keep in mind that just as you wouldn’t hand your kid a cookie sheet and an oven mitt without lessons and safety measures squarely in place, I don’t think you should just hand your kid a phone and say, “Have fun sweetheart!”
The problem is that we assume that our kids are well versed in communicating with their peers and that their use of texting is going to be harmless. The reality is that a pre-teen really has no idea how to communicate. They don’t understand how words bite. They have no clue how to control the power of their verbal exchanges and through texting feel no restraint in trying to one up each other. They’re also not equipped to understand that they may be reading something the wrong way and shouldn’t take everything personally. Let’s face it, we as adults have issues with that fact and we’ve been here a lot longer. They also tend to change friends every two weeks. They may be “besties” today and not worried about it, but that text they send about someone will most likely come back to haunt them in a month or two.
Enter you the parent. Remember, you’re in charge. You set the parameters. So first, do not let them put a password on their phone that you don’t know. If they do. Take it away from therm. I also think it’s your responsibility to occasionally go through their texts and monitor their communications. This is not snooping or going through their journal. This is about teaching them the proper way to electronically communicate. The only bummer part is you can’t really give them a warning because they’ll just delete texts they don’t want you to see. But keep in mind, you don’t have to be mean about it. Just set the tone and the ground rules. Set the boundaries. As you read things, take notes as you see potential issues, concerns and then “calmly” discuss these things with them. Not in a judgmental way, but in an educational way. This will NOT be easy. You will likely want to react to some of the things you read immediately. Don’t. Stop, take it in. Relax and then sit down with them and explain why some of the things they’re saying may be construed as hurtful, dangerous, rude, etc. Remind them that everything they’re doing at this point of their life, from the clothes they wear, to the way they communicate, is basically developing their brand and how the world perceives them. Let them know that you’re there to teach them and help them.
Listen, twelve-year-olds are going to do and say stupid things. It’s what they do. It’s up to you to guide them and teach them the proper way to discuss things with their friends. Most important, in my opinion, is to teach them how to avoid being sucked into the drama that is their world. To just walk away from negative discussions, name calling, finger pointing, and rumors. Popularity at their age is such a big deal. It’s so easy for them to lose focus and perspective and get pulled into the BS. As parents I believe it’s up to us to monitor their progress and guide them properly, putting time limits on usage and monitoring their use as well. Because leaving them to their own accord can have costly ramifications.
It’s so easy to just let em’ go and say, “Oh isn’t that cute how social they are.” Well, it’s not cute. The drama that is the twelve-year-old is epic and the last thing you want is for your kid to get wrapped up in it. The things you find will shock you from time to time. But just remember. This is why you need to be there to monitor this kind of thing. Left on their own they WILL dig very deep holes and honestly, they need you there to help them. Again, not to judge, but to educate. At the same time you’ll gain valuable insight into their world and what they’re up against, which I’ll tell you, is scary. But what’s scary is turning a blind eye to it and adopting the “ignorance is bliss” approach. I’ll quickly add that teaching them to put limits on their usage now may very well save their life later. I’m convinced that part of the reason texting and driving is such a huge problem now is that texting becomes a habit. We grow accustomed to immediate gratification and simply find it difficult to go five minutes without checking our messages. Teaching them to put it down now will help them appreciate the value of putting it down later.
My point here, is that they’re still young. They don’t know. And there’s a LOT going on that you likely have no clue about. So, help them find a clue and perhaps discover a few yourself. Let them know you’re watching and that you care enough to help them learn how to present themselves and treat themselves with respect. Their going to make mistakes no matter what you do. The least we can do is help them minimize the risk.