Remember the old public service announcement from the 1970s, which asked, “It’s 10 p.m., do you know where your children are?” I believe this warning should be resurrected but updated to ask if we know where are children’s electronic devices are.
Last week, I confiscated my 12-year-old daughter’s iPhone because she was using it after bedtime, which goes against a strongly enforced rule in our house. This is nothing new (I know how tempting it is when I can’t sleep to play Words With Friends until I’m drowsy!) but what was different about this occasion was how fiercely determined she was to completely shut down her phone before handing it over to me.
Remembering back to her age and how panicky I was to get my diary under lock and key if anyone entered my bedroom, I immediately thought this was a sign my daughter was surely hiding something. Maybe she had purchased an item from Amazon that I’d already deemed frivolous? Perhaps she’d gone over her talking minutes usage and knew I would be unhappy with a larger bill. These were the only scenarios I could fathom for a child who gets straight As, always speaks respectfully, and hangs out with friends who have my approval.
After insisting she disclose her password to me, I opened up a shocking (and disgusting!) world that would make Marilyn Chambers or Linda Lovelace blush—if they had a tween daughter, that is.
Aside from text messages from her female pals describing which boy they had let “grind on them” at the last seventh grade dance, there were group texts playing “F***, Marry, Kill,” which disturbingly had names of all my daughter’s friends listed in each category by eighth grade boys who were asked to rate each girl under which potential action they would like to do to them. Each Chloe, Sydney or Alyssa subsequently gushed over being placed in the first category and offered to “hook-up” with the boy who had nominated her name there. Really? 12 years old?
Perhaps more troubling than any of this was an application my daughter had sneakily downloaded (you are supposed to be 13 years or older) called Ask.fm. This allows anyone to post anonymous comments and questions to a person’s profile and is increasingly associated with verbal abuse and bullying and has even been linked to a few cases of teen suicide. But on my daughter’s phone, its primary purpose seemed to be for making highly X-rated sexual inquiries.
“PAP of your…(fill in the blank) cleavage, favorite thong, breasts, genitals, your entire nude body, etc., were commonplace requests, although the language I’ve used here is far more acceptable than the vocabulary I actually found on this app. “PAP” stands for “Post a Picture” if you don’t know. In fact, I had to make a list of acronyms and look them up in today’s urban dictionary (for a definition) just to make sense of what I was reading!
On this same app, I also found posts from middle school boys ranking groups of seventh grade girls based on who gave the best to worst oral sex. Another reminder from me that we’re talking about 12-year-olds here. Side note: At this age, boys in my school were devising charts listing which girls had the biggest cooties.
After confronting my daughter with all the hard evidence (screenshots!) of her participation in this wrongdoing, I was dismayed to hear her say that I was overreacting to what I saw and that “all her friends are doing this kind of thing.”
The anonymity of these kinds of websites allows young people to go online while stripping them of any sense of responsibility or having a guilty conscience for their own personal involvement in some of these activities. Having zero identity associated with these posts also keeps parents from discerning if their own child is involved.
When I explained to my daughter that I would be contacting all the parents of the tweens I found who attend her school (to give them a heads-up on their child’s possible cell phone behavior), my daughter became hysterical that she would be subjected to extreme ridicule for being a snitch at best, and severe bullying in the worst case scenario. I gave it some thought and realized that perhaps the very anonymity that is so problematic with these cell phone apps could be advantageous in our circumstance.
Last night, I obtained a school directory and sent an anonymous email from a “concerned fellow parent” to everyone on the list, briefly summarizing what I had found and recommending that random checks on cell phones might be in order.
Time will tell how effective this tactic of mine will be, but I can say that if I were an unknowing and unsuspecting parent (which I was just eight short days ago) I would welcome receiving such an email, whether anonymous or not.