Monday, December 19, 2011

The Text that Almost Made My Heart Stop, and Not In A Good Way

One of the parental responsibilities I don't particularly enjoy is monitoring my sons' cell phone use. I'm not super turbo about it but I do check in once in a while. This mostly involves looking over text conversations and Facebook activities and a little bit of email. To encourage responsible use I have one of my sons "park" his phone in my room at night where it charges and gets the rest it needs. Just the other day, I was a little surprised when I saw a late-night text come in, lighting up my bathroom with a blue glow. Mildly curious, I got up to see what it was. It was from a girl I don't know. And it contained the phrase "blow job."

WWHHHHAAAAAATTTTTTT?

After a complete freak-out which involved my husband and I throwing the phone to each other and yelling in whispers, we determined an immediate conference with the owner of the phone was in order. And I mean NOW. After a frank conversation (oh wow no pun intended) with our son, in which I was forced to utter the words "blow job" to him more than once, the situation came into focus. We determined that my son's cell phone had gotten in the wrong hands. Hands that sent wildly inappropriate texts to some of his contacts. And, it turns out, some of his contacts aren't all that appropriate in their responses either.

It's quite obvious that the thirteen year old girl that responded to texts from my son's phone doesn't have a parent paying any kind of attention to her phone. And thank god. I would have gotten one irate phone call and rightfully so. But that parent would also have seen the provocative response she sent to my son. Which I deleted. And the photo that followed the next day. Which I also deleted. 

I'm pretty sure this is the expression I had while reading the texts on my son's phone.
Teenage cell phones are a contradiction of private and public conversations. They often confuse what is, or should be private, and what is public. Despite the fact that I was able to verify that my son did not send the texts in question, I feel he is still responsible for what is sent from his phone. He needs to protect his phone and not let others use his phone or learn his password. Since he almost always has his phone with him, my son's friends sometimes "borrow" it from his baseball bag or locker, and then have access to his text messaging and contact list. He claims he can't control what other people do on his phone but I don't understand how other kids think his phone and the information on it is to be shared. As an adult, I would never grab a friend's cell phone from her purse and start looking through it and texting her friends. Yet some kids, both boys and girls, seem to think it's perfectly reasonable, or funny to do this. I view this as a real lack of respect and good judgement. Which, now that I think about it, is exactly how I would describe some teenage behavior.

At the same time, teens feel like their email, texts and Facebook posts are fairly private, limited to a recipient or group of friends. Here they are wrong again, because lots of people have access to that information, including parents, friends of friends of friends (which could be anyone really), and institutions. Figuring out limits and boundaries is something they are learning. In fact, it is something we are all learning, which is why the constantly changing privacy settings on Facebook are so maddening.
This is the funky phone I used as a teenager. It was the only one in the house and located on the kitchen wall. My sisters and I had to take turns. Yes it was rotary dial and no we didn't have to put money in it.

When I was a teenager, the only privacy issues I had involved the security of the lock on my diary and trying to whisper into the family phone in the kitchen so my little sister wouldn't overhear me. These were not so complex as the issues raised today with smart phones. They are wonderful and useful devices that seem to make the job of parenting a lot more complicated. Removing a phone from use is such a nice thing to do once in a while, it's like giving yourself a break. And I definitely need a break from reading text messages to my son from a young girl mentioning blow jobs and proclaiming I'm single! Call me!

I learned years later that my sister could easily pick the lock.
Have you looked at your teenager's phone lately?

It might give you a heart attack but you should check it out once in a while.

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