Like a lot of parents, my husband and I are nearing the stage where our 9-year-old wants a cell phone. She already has a tablet with internet access, but like most kids, wants a phone too.
Here’s the thing: when the time comes for us to add a line and bestow upon her the responsibility of said phone, it will be a communal one which we will be allowed to have access to at any point in time.
Per the contract (yes, she actually signed one), she relinquishes all rights to privacy and we will have every password for every account or app at all times.
I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes right now. Helicopter parenting intrudes on a child’s ability to feel free and independent, right? Well, too bad. Our kid has enough friends, she doesn’t need two more. She needs parents to guide her and keep her safe — to be sure she’s making smart choices about who she’s surrounding herself with.
Like many kids her age, she plays Roblox. Most of her gaming takes place at her mom’s house, and it wasn’t until we started hearing more about this “Roblox” (a word foreign to us) that we started pressing her for more details.
On the car ride home from school one day, I essentially asked her for her user name and password, but in a nonchalant, conversational way. “Oh, this is so exciting! Your first account! What username did you pick? Let me guess, something with a unicorn?” It was actually a bear, she said, giggling. She then went on to tell me without any prodding how her password was her name plus two spaces, “because it needed to be eight characters.” God I’ll miss these innocent days. She still has no idea I installed the app on my phone and monitor her from time to time.
She knows not to accept friend requests from strangers on Roblox, or any game, but with so many predators out there, it’s something I feel better double checking.
The cellphone will bring an entirely new set of challenges. Texting, social media, and everything else on that iPhone which will make our sweet, sheltered 9-year-old girl accessible to the world (including, most likely, her whole school). It’s frightening.
I’m a teacher, so I know a thing or two about how preteens and teens behave on their cellphones. Social media is their identity. They track each other’s whereabouts via the map on Snapchat. They communicate via group chats. They take hundreds of selfies a week. It’s cooler to be “Facebook Famous” than get good grades. They judge each other by how many likes and followers they have. They isolate. They bully.
I’m not saying every interaction between kids on their cell phones is a negative one. That would be a gross exaggeration. However, being on the front lines with teenagers 10 months out of the year in my classroom, I have a perspective many parents don’t.
I polled a class once in a blind survey and only 2 out of 28 students said they’d never been bullied online in some way. Some admitted to doing the bullying.
So, when I mentioned predators earlier, I didn’t just mean the stereotypical creepy old guy behind a computer screen who is catfishing young, naive girls into sending him pictures of themselves (or worse). I’m talking about our children preying on each other.
Kids. Are. Mean. It wasn’t until earlier this summer that my stepdaughter confided in me how she’s been called “fat” and that one girl actually stopped being friends with her because of her weight. She just finished third grade. It makes me sick with worry, knowing all too well that girls only get meaner as they approach the middle school years. Most of it (and I tell her this) is girls being uncomfortable in their own skin and making themselves feel better by belittling someone else. (She doesn’t believe me.)
Still, if a comment in the classroom or on the playground can sting that much, I can’t imagine if someone had posted it or tweeted it or texted it. That word would forever be emblazoned in her mind, knowing it was made public.
We’ll never choose her friends for her. That being said, I’ve already weeded out a few mean girls this year. The Mom radar is real. We won’t let her be friends with people who don’t respect her and treat her well. Just like we’d never accept her doing any less for them.
It’s those friends though who can be the most dangerous behind a cellphone screen.
I have such an interesting vantage point as a teacher, where I see kids start the year in one clique and end in another. Girls scribbling each others names on their notebooks with #twinsforlife and #besties in September, who by February, can’t even look at each other. It’s a crazy time for them, and as quickly as puberty hits, so do those shifts in circles.
So for me as a parent, I need to know that my stepdaughter is being nice online and being treated well in return. I need to know her “friends” are really friends.
I need to screen that. To protect her. It’s really that simple. It’s my responsibility.
This article was originally published on