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Amanda Lamb: The secret life of tweens

Posted September 23, 2012

If you aren't monitoring your tweens' online communications, you should be. I'm not an alarmist, not by an means, but I got lax.

In the beginning, when my daughter first got a phone, I was vigilant about checking texts on my middle schooler's phone and Instagram posts on her iPod, but I fell off the wagon. After a several month recess, I am BACK, hovering over her online communications once again.

Our new rules include no erasing texts, and all electronics go off at 8 p.m. The phone and iPod are placed on my dresser for the night. I do not snoop. I make it clear to my daughter that I will be looking at her texts and posts.

Do I trust my daughter? Unequivocally, yes. Do I trust her to always make good word choices and proper choices about what photos are appropriate to post? No. At 12, it is impossible for a child to understand the possible long-term ramifications of their online communications. It is up to us as parents to guide them in the right direction and point out when they make mistakes.

And it's not just my own daughter's posts and texts that I am looking at. I also look at those made by her friends. I have learned a great deal about the people she associates with from what they say online.

My general rule is that I do not intervene unless the communication is dangerous (physically or emotionally), damages her reputation or hurts another person. It is hard not to intervene when something simply strikes me the wrong way, but I'm learning to pick my battles and focus only on what is most important. As a parent, holding back is probably the hardest thing we ever have to do.

Some disturbing trends I am seeing overall: Kids using acronyms for expressions which include curse words, kids posting photos with provocative titles, and lots of rants about everything from parents to homework. Most of it is harmless, testing the waters, trying to figure out where the limits are, trying to be cool. But my concern is that with their ability to have a secret online life, tweens are setting themselves up for disaster without proper oversight from their parents.

In the 70s when I grew up (yes I'm that old), it was much harder to hide things from our parents. If they were concerned about us, they went through our drawers, read our diaries and even listened in on our phone conversations. And they didn't apologize for invading our privacy. They did it because they loved us and wanted to keep us safe-the same reason we do it today.

Call me a hover-parent. I'll take it. I'd rather hover now than regret not doing it later. While their methods of communication have changed, kids today really aren't that different than we were. And that's what really scares me...

Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.

16 Comments

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  • lisa15 Sep 25, 11:31 p.m.

    She is dead-on because her rules of use with the technology provided to her children is the right thing to do. Apologies, as you are correct about the "buddy" comment. That was meant more as a general statement that many parents who don't think that certain standards are necessary are focused more on being their child's friend than a parent. That was not intended to be a personal affront to you so that was unfair. However, I totally agree that if you provide these privileges to your children that you have the right (and responsibility) to monitor how they are used.

  • snowl Sep 25, 5:04 p.m.

    lisa15, why are Amanda's rules dead-on correct? I never even explained my approach, and I was certainly not anyone's buddy. Like I said: there is no one way to raise a child. Do what you think is best from your own upbringing.

  • lisa15 Sep 25, 8:57 a.m.

    snowl - My oldest is 22 and youngest is 9. Times have changed and with the technology available to our children, it is a much different situation today. We monitored "IM" with the 22yr old as a teenager. She used our computer. Therefore, she was subject to rules and standards. She KNEW we would monitor her on-line conversations and we also monitored the sites she visited. Amanda is dead-on correct with her rules. We must be parents - not "buddies".

  • snowl Sep 24, 8:08 p.m.

    I do not agree with this approach, but every family is different and each child is also. Do the very best that you know how each and every day...that goes for all of us! There is no one way to raise a child. (p.s. my youngest is 21 years old today!!)

  • rwalker029 Sep 24, 4:21 p.m.

    How do you know if they have deleted a text?

  • americaneel Sep 24, 2:47 p.m.

    hover-parent

  • angelienna Sep 24, 1:17 p.m.

    This isn't just for tweens. I have a 16 year old son and still have both his email and his facebook passwords. We have a GREAT relationship and while I trust him it is an easy way for me to know what his friends are up to as well. I will even change his status update, just so he knows that I was there. Luckily he doesnt' care and his friends even know I do it...
    Just an fyi.. for parents who think looking at your childs facebook page is enough, there is a way for them to set up private 'family' pages and you do NOT even know they exist unless you are logged in as a member.

  • thinkb4speak Sep 24, 11:16 a.m.

    I totally agree with you. The new online world is presenting all kinds of issues for parents. My daughter is 12 also. She doesn't have an ipod because I have seen her with mine and she would not be able to control herself. She is only allowed to use mine when homework and chores are done. She just doesn't understand that you can't trust strangers on-line just because they have a cute screen name. We have started recording episodes of Law and Order SVU where children are meeting strangers on line. I told her that just like I lock the doors and windows to keep the bad guys out, I also will do whatever is necessary to keep the bad guys from coming in via the internet. She is also learning that people say things that they wouldn't say to someones face because of the annonimity of the internet. The cyberbullying that I have seen is unbelieveable! A responsible parent snoops - it's in their best intrests and a basic safety requirement!

  • msnfnp Sep 24, 10:33 a.m.

    My child is aware that I will randomly read her posts. I also have a rule that I have access to her Facebook page as well as the password to it. Being able to change the password as a punishment is my prerogative as a parent.

  • nativeNCgrl Sep 24, 9:55 a.m.

    Thank you for this post. My child is a toddler, but I have had anxiety about how to handle his presence in the social media world as he gets older. I see children of friends and nieces and nephews on facebook posting very inappropriate comments and pictures. I know that there has to be balance between giving your child freedom to make mistakes but not allowing them to create lasting damage.

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