The verdict is still out whether or not the MTV effect will work on my sixth-grader. When I was his age my mom delayed letting me watch MTV long enough that by the time I had the freedom to watch it, I’d never developed the habit and lost interest. My son still doesn’t have a phone, and he reminds me pretty much every day “He’s the only one.” Think if I delay long enough he’ll lose interest? For now it’s not looking likely, but I’m still betting on the long term.
My husband and I offered our son a phone, but that’s not what he wants; he wants the “smart” part, complete with 24/7 entertainment. He has an iPod, but that loses its Internet connection as soon as we leave our house. Good for us; not so much for him.
Up until now the reasons we’ve delayed getting him a phone are many: to avoid subdivided attention (ADHD diagnoses have skyrocketed with smartphones); antisocial behavior (head down, tapping away in public places); an overall exposure to things that when I was his age were much harder to come by (porn, violence); and cost (I recently saw young girls yell, ‘Throw your phone!’ while in a laughing fit, tossing the expensive, mini computers like trash).
Yet my biggest resistance: I don’t want a smartphone to become a substitute for books and reading.
Then I received an e-mail from one of my son’s teachers last week that reminded me to stay strong. We had an interesting presentation from one of our county sheriff’s officers regarding problems and issues he sees in middle schools, it said. While we did talk about drugs, he feels that the two biggest issues that are not addressed adequately by parents or teachers are cyberbullying and sexting. He reminded us that a smartphone is a computer through which our children are able to access the entire Internet without supervision. Most kids have these phones with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He told us that 100 percent of cyberbullying and sexting occurs through these smartphones. He reminded us that as parents, these phones belong to us, the parents, not our children. He encourages parents to check their child’s phone randomly and regularly. He also stressed that phones should not be in a child’s room at night, and that this is when most behavior that children come to regret happens.
Please know we are in no way assuming our students’ phones aren’t already being monitored by parents but thought that it was valuable information we should pass along.”
The last part got me: I’m not sure I could supervise as much as needed if my kids have access to this much information.
The next day several friends e-mailed the article, “7 Dangerous Apps that Parents Need to Know About.” “It’s downright scary,” writes the author. “Technology can be very deceptive. Your kids may be downloading apps that you think are innocent and just a simple way for them to keep in contact with their buddies, but unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.”
She went on to call out Yik Yak, SnapChat, Poof, Kik, Omega, Whisper and Down. Most of these apps have features that delete content after its posted so prying adults will never know. So how can we supervise their phones if we don’t even know what’s on them?
In the comment section, posters named at least a dozen more apps that the writer could add to her list.
So now I have even more reasons why my son still doesn’t have a phone.
I may be an island, some might even say overprotective, but when the day comes there’s a great big world with both good and bad in it that’ll still be there, waiting patiently with open arms. My kids will either run quickly toward it or hold back just a bit, a tad wiser, to take a closer look.
Julie Samrick is an El Dorado Hills resident and mother of four children.