A common question parents have – and an ongoing debate within the comments section on many of my articles – is whether or not to monitor their kids’ internet and phone activity.
Here are a few of the headlines I’ve come across just in the last few days.
4 boys charged in middle school sexting scandal
“Four Chester County middle school students have been charged in connection with a sexting and cyberbullying scandal.
According to the DA, the victim was coerced by her then-boyfriend to share naked or partially naked photos with him. He promised only he would see them and that he would delete them immediately, Hogan said.
After they broke up, she started dating another boy. The scorned ex-boyfriend, now mad, allegedly shared the nude photos with others.”
Sexting scandal: Colorado high school faces felony investigation
“Students at a Colorado high school exchanged hundreds of naked photos of themselves, prompting a felony investigation by police…..Students used a photo vault app that hides the nude photos by appearing to be a calculator or media player…”
“This was so common that a lot of students said that it almost felt normal and they didn’t realize there were legal ramifications
In New York:
Some Parents Say Kids Were Unfairly Suspended Kings Park School Sexting Case
“Two 14-year-old students have been arrested and as many as 20 more suspended at schools in Kings Park, Long Island after a sexually-explicit video was spread around through cell phones.
But some parents say their children were unfairly dragged into the scandal and have been punished with suspensions — without doing anything wrong.”
And even at the White House:
Secret Service employee arrested in teen sexting scandal
“A Secret Service employee has been arrested for allegedly sending lewd photos to a police officer posing as a teenage girl and propositioning her for sex.
According to the criminal complaint, Moore admitted taking a photo “depicting exposed, erect penis” and sending it to the cop thinking he was a girl. Moore also allegedly admitted that he used “Meet24,” a hookup app, to communicate with people he thought were teenage girls.”
What can we do about sexting? Will monitoring help?
While some media coverage leads to backlash articles saying “sexting is the new normal – it’s like first base now” and “parents should just calm down”, there is research that suggests otherwise, such as this 2012 study published in the Archive of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
“Twenty-eight percent of the sample reported having sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail (sext), and 31% reported having asked someone for a sext. More than half (57%) had been asked to send a sext, with most being bothered by having been asked.”
“Our findings also make it clear that the commonness of a behavior does not condone its occurrence. On the contrary, we found that teens are generally bothered by being asked to send a naked picture. In fact, nearly all girls were bothered by having been asked.”
“Moreover, teen girls who engaged in sexting behaviors also had a higher prevalence of risky sex behaviors, including multiple partners and using drugs or alcohol before sex.”
I think parents of tweens and teens right now are at a bit of a disadvantage. We are having to find solutions to problems after the fact. The principal at the Colorado High School had never heard of “vault apps”, which were used by students to hide the photos on their phones. Keeping up with new apps and technologies can feel like a full-time job for parents and educators.
Is there any good news here? Well if 28% percent of teens have reported sending a naked pic, then nearly 75% of teens have NOT. That’s, great, but, more than half had been asked to send a sext. Will your child be strong enough to NOT respond when that happens?
It’s clear that parents must have conversations with their children about this topic, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. Parents need to know what is happening in their children’s lives, and much of their lives are lived online. The recent CNN Being13 study reported “parents that tried to keep a close eye on their child’s social media accounts had a profound effect on their child’s psychological well-being.” No, we don’t have to know every last detail, and yes privacy should be a consideration. The key is finding that middle ground.
So yes, I think monitoring a child’s online activity is completely appropriate, in combination with ongoing conversations. Monitoring might be accomplished by physically checking the phone and reviewing, or by using parental control software of some type. Here is a comment left on my site recently, from a mom on why she chooses to use a monitoring tool and what she’s learned:
Twice now, I’ve found girls trying to text him nudes and/or trying to sext (he didn’t encourage it and shut them down), and one of his group texts included bullying another, which he also shut down. Yes, times are different, but the issues are not; the platforms have just changed. I use this app to help prevent things from getting to the extreme; yes, we learn from mistakes, but we can also learn from others and their experiences.
If you don’t know where to start, I recently added a comprehensive list of parental control tools, along with a listing of products that monitor and manage every device in your home. Please take a look. Some will let you see everything that your child sends or receives in texts; some will alert you only when possible issues are detected on social media. Some are free, some cost money. Concerned about “vault” apps, or apps with disappearing messages like Snapchat? Those can’t be monitored, but you can learn of their existence on your child’s phone and talk to them about it.
Think your kids are too young for sexting? It’s never too early to put protections in place so that you’ll be better prepared to handle the discussion, if and when that day comes. And you might well have prevented a situation that could land your teen in the next high school sexting scandal.
Parental Control Resources:
- Parental Control options for phones, computers and tablets – a comprehensive list
- Parental control tools that cover every device in your home