If you like being the kind of parent who keeps their head in the sand because the truth would require you to do something, then by all means do not read any further. However, you clicked on this post so I bet you have a pre-teen or teenager that you actually want to protect and keep safe. Way to go!

In May of this year, ABC News did a report about a teenage girl named Brooke who had fallen into a very dark world of harmful behavior online using her social media accounts and smart phone.  It was a heartbreaking story, one that is becoming all-too familiar to this generation of parents.  However, there was a moment in the story where she mentioned something that I believe may have been missed by many viewers, something that I have heard from a variety of teens that I talk with. She said , “I was constantly making different accounts. I had like six accounts on Instagram. I had multiple Snapchats. I changed the usernames, the passwords. I would block [my parents]. I’d have other friends give me their old phones, iPods, anything, and I always had a backup ready to go,” said Brooke. “  (Watch the full story here http://abcnews.go.com/US/teen-fell-world-secret-sexting-alcohol-drugs/story?id=47425450 )

Did you catch it? I’d have other friends give me their old phones, iPods, anything, and I always had a backup ready to go.

I have been talking to teens and researching the secret lives of teens online for about 5 years now. I have spoken to groups and individuals about my findings on this topic. One thing that I have heard consistently from many teens is that parental controls and taking the phone away as punishment does not work.  The kids actually laugh about it, because there is a secret that they are keeping from you. If your teen isn’t doing it, I would guess they know someone who is and are probably encouraged to do it by their peers.

Here, in a nutshell, is what you need to know:

  • Many teens have access to a back-up device. They have an old ipod (which has wifi, by the way!), they have kept their previous cracked phone, they bought or were given an old phone from a friend.   The scenario is this – on their back-up device they have all the social media accounts, pictures and texts they don’t want you to know about. One teen I am aware of had several devices hidden in her bedroom and bathroom and would do all of her “forbidden” activities on those.
  • Many teens have a tracking app (like Life360) so that the parents know their whereabouts at all times. Foolproof? Far from it! One girl with strict parents explained how she would leave her main phone at her friend’s house, then they would sneak out to parties and with her back-up phone she would be out all night drinking and messing around with guys and posting pics on her secret, private twitter, instagram and snapchat accounts.  Her parents had no idea. They would check on her and see her “location” was “safe and sound” at the friend’s house.  They would check her phone and found nothing of concern.  She was in grave danger many times and they had no clue. This girl was 14 years old, from a good family at a good school. No one is immune.
  • One boy mentioned that he has his old iPhone hidden in his room for all the social media accounts he actually uses and his sexting and porn. He said he has to remember to bring it with him when he goes on school trips and camps because he is “pretty sure his parents search his room” while he is away. Then he hides the back up phone from the adults on the trip.
  • I have personally had my kids report to me that they have been offered old cell phones from their friends, “so you can do the stuff you aren’t allowed to do.” This happened as early as 7th grade, by the way.
  • I have also seen texts from other kids asking “Does anyone have an old phone I can have or buy because my parents took mine away.”

Overwhelmed yet? This back-up device secret is just the tip of the iceberg….trust me. If you have heard me speak on this topic you know there is so much more.  So here is the bottom line.  If there is a will, there is a way.  If your kids are really bent on doing something they shouldn’t do online, they WILL find a way. Their friends (yes, even those sweet Christian friends you have known since they were little) will be in cahoots and are keeping things from the parents.  Grounding kids from their phones for a week or so, having them turn them in at night and having parental controls simply are not enough.

So what do you do?

  • You train their hearts.  The biggest and best defense against this behavior comes from their own personal convictions and decisions.
  • You have to talk openly about what you know and the dangers that are out there. You have to teach them right from wrong, moral and immoral behavior, and the consequences that certain behaviors will bring about.
  • Ask lots of questions. The more aware your child realizes you are, and the more open dialogue you have, the better.
  • You have to be part of the solution, not the problem. Do not give freedom to a child that is not morally, physically, spiritually or mentally ready to handle it. You take baby steps. You be involved and educated.  Do not assume anything.
  • Finally, do not be pressured to give your child access to something that is harmful just so they can “fit in” and be included.  Ask parents who gave too much freedom too soon, their kids “fit in” alright…fit in to crowds they never would have expected and it has been a long, hard road back from a dark place they never in a million years thought they would go with their child.
  • Weigh the risks vs. the benefits. The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK just did a study and found  Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter all demonstrated negative affects overall on young people’s mental health. The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.  This is ludicrous to me. We know it is harmful to their health, their safety, their moral development…so let’s give it to them at ten?? Why a smartphone? If a ten-year old has a legitimate need for a phone, get them a flip-phone!

Your kids need and deserve a childhood. They need home to be a place where they can escape, be loved and be creative. Do not rob them of this by letting them fall into a secret social media world they can’t handle and can’t get away from.

Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Let’s be the gatekeepers our children need, so they can become their own guards when they are ready.

By the way, my older two children had smart phones with Covenant Eyes on them at 14. We have seen and heard it all over the years. Our youngest is about to turn 15 and does not have one. The other day he said, “ I am so glad I am not on social media and on group texts at school…OH MY GOSH!!  You have no idea how much drama and problems I have avoided because I simply am not a part of it!”

 

Good to know. 😉