Cell phones. Internet. Facebook. Email. It’s been interesting watching the progression of technology over the years and the different ways each has individually impacted our 4 boys. There is a big age gap so the differences were very apparent. The ages at which they requested these privileges varied. We learned very quickly that there was no “magic age” where it would be appropriate for each child to have a cell phone, access to the Internet, email, or a Facebook account.
The oldest of our three boys each had their time when they were ready for each of the electronics. Believe it or not, none of these boys have given us any reasons to be concerned about what was going on by the usage of any of these items. We set rules regarding how long they could use the Internet or how many minutes or texts they could use on the phone. For Facebook they had to friend us so we could at least keep an eye on it.
There was one incident that my oldest son will NEVER let me forget. I checked his Facebook one night and saw the following post: “Work from 11-5 then off to Azeroth until unknown hours of the night :)” Naturally I assumed that meant he would not be home for dinner so we went out. When we came home he asked where we were, I explained that I thought he had other plans. He looked at me quizzically. I told him I read it on Facebook. He almost fell on the floor laughing hysterically. (For those of you who are not getting this, as I did not, Azeroth is a fictional world in the Warcraft video game series.)
When our youngest first got an email account we found out that he was emailing all of his teachers constantly. We had to start monitoring and watching over his shoulder every time he got on the computer because he would change all the settings, delete programs, and send emails to school staff. He just does not seem to understand boundaries. Recently he submitted a paper to a teacher by email and added the comment, “Please give me a good grade. I worked very hard on this.” First of all, you do not ask a teacher for a good grade and second of all, he worked maybe an hour on this research paper — and his main source was Wikepedia. He knew this, knew he did not put any effort into it, but was trying to be friendly and manipulate the teacher.
Recently he turned 13; he’d been begging for a Facebook account for a long time, and we finally relented. Most of the kids at school have had pages for years. They use fake names. Their profiles say they went to Harvard or work at Abercrombie & Fitch. We really agonized over this decision, but decided it was time.
We made sure that not only his dad and I were his friends, but his mom as well. We have been very apprehensive about our decision. Shortly after he began using his account, a situation came up. A girl in school told another girl that he had posted something nasty on her Facebook page. It was very confusing because it was not on the girl’s page, it was supposedly in her private messages.
Since our boy had used his brother’s cell phone once to text his brother’s girlfriend assuming his brother’s identity, he thought his brother was getting revenge on him and hacked his Facebook account, and then sent this girl a message. We did a thorough search and saw no evidence that anything had been posted from his account. The girl also uses a fake name so there was no way anyone else would know who she really was to send this message. We had him direct the girl to copy and paste the messages with his name and time stamp on it so we could see the entire thread of nasty messages. She did type some message for him to see, and it was not a nice message, full of name-calling, but not the actual message. She claimed not to understand how to copy and paste the actual message. Suddenly when she realized it was possible to do so, she claimed that this message mysteriously disappeared.
We do not know what kind of game these girls were playing, but he was more worried that they would not like him, rather than getting angry at the fact that the whole story was made up. He had only been on Facebook for a few weeks and already got into trouble, through no fault of his own, just by having an account!
This is a rather mild example of what goes on out there in the cyber world. Our youngest is missing some maturity that his brothers had at each developmental stage, which makes it harder to know how to handle his adolescence as parents. Sending this child out to navigate the middle school world — and the social media world — has been a whole new experience for us!