Parental Monitoring

I was struck by the findings of this research presented at the NetSafe Conference in New Zealand this week. According to a survey done by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), 70% of parents monitor their teens texts and 84% monitor their online usage (to what extent, I don’t know). Despite this high level of investigation (prying?), few teens were aware their parents were doing it — 70% of the teens didn’t know their phones were being monitored and only 39% knew that their internet use was being investigated by their parents.

Time for disclosure here: I am not a parent. I work with youth and young adults as a small part of my job, but that’s it. That said, here is what I think of these research findings:

The disconnect between parental “spying” and teen awareness of it, to me, is disconcerting. I remember that my parents would rifle through my backpack to get a sense of “what was going on” when I was in high school (this was B.I. — before internet). I had closed up as several teens do and I believe they were simply desperate for information. But as soon as I caught on to what they were doing, it only sent me further underground. I learned to better hide my secrets — my grades, my crushes, my hopes, fears, and desires. I felt betrayed and vowed not to tell them anything about what was going on with me and how I was feeling.

I am not saying my experience represents that of a typical youth today, but I do believe that there are some out there that are a lot like I was then. And, I admit, I needed help from a trusted adult back then. Finding out I was being spied on did not help that situation. So, I wonder: How would many of these young people react to discovering that their parents are invading their privacy without their knowledge?

I know some parents believe they have a “right” to do what they are doing, and are more often than not monitoring digital behavior out of love and concern for their children. I still don’t think it makes it right. And I do believe that for those young people for which there is something to be concerned, such actions could backfire big time. Research shows that youth who are struggling in the offline world are more likely to engage in risky online behaviors. Making the world seem less safe for them through spying seems that it could make matters even worse.

My hope is that parents and youth can somehow engage in more open dialogue. Easy to say, and an enormous challenge to actually do. Building the trust for this sort of conversation takes a lot of time and effort from all parties, but I believe it is worth it in the end. I know I would have benefited from this approach much more than I would have from backpack snooping. My relationship with my parents would have as well.

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Same news, different story

A recent presentation at the American Public Health Association Conference reported the differences in sexual behavior between youth that have smart phones versus less sophisticated ones. in a nutshell, of the teens (from LA) surveyed, those with smartphones were more likely to have sex, have sex without a condom, meet others online for sex, and be sexually solicited than teens without Internet access on their phones,

Although most press coverage consisted of the same content, the headlines varied greatly. The US News and World Report simply stated Smartphones linked to sexual activity in teens: Dull, but to the point and accurate. Kudos as well to the New York Daily News (yes, you read that right — they did good here) for having a slightly more sensational headline, but still getting the facts right:

Teens with Smartphones are more likely to be solicited for sex via the internet

Less responsible headlines included

Lead researcher Eric Rice of USC School of Social Work did a great job of representing his work accurately and was lucky enough to be quoted well in the articles at least. I continue to hope for a day when teen sexuality is NOT used to grab attention by being portrayed in a scandalous, irresponsible manner. If we want them to be mature about their sexual decision making, the least us adults could do is set a good example for them.

New Research Shows Teens Actually Like Each Other For Reals — Not Just Digitally

New research from Common Sense Media outlines some interesting numbers regarding teen media use. Sure, they use it a LOT, but do they prefer it to quality face time? Apparently not (phew!).

Here’s the cool infographic that sums up a lot of the results.

Stephen Balkam CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute writes a great editorial about it and his own observations in the Huff Po.

My favorite quote is this: “Intriguingly, teens do value face time over screen time, which seems wonderfully reassuring with good old-fashioned talking coming out on top with texting next. Teens express frustration with their friends when they pay more attention to their gadgets than themselves. As a parent, I feel your pain. And just over a third wished they could go back to a time before Facebook.”

I have a group of friends with whom I often dine. As a ritual, we stack all our phones in the middle of the table to show that we are here, now, for the present company. Would be neat to see young people do something like that too.

My own experience

So, I just witnessed firsthand a (pseudo) relationship that was driven primarily by technology. We met on an online dating site and exchanged a few rapid and flirty emails back and forth (through the security of the online site, of course). By the next day we agreed to meet. It went well, and saw each other a few more times over the next three weeks. Mostly, we communicated by text and this annoyed me somewhat, but I was willing to let it slide, especially in the beginning. Additionally, his “text speak” was grating on my nerves. But since I am not really looking for something too serious, I didn’t really put much stock into that either and ignored that as well.

Then, the texting thing got taken to a whole new level. I got a text that we needed to have a “serious conversation” and essentially in that same text was dumped due to lack of chemistry. I had to smile when I read this because it was pretty accurate, and it also confirmed my initial feelings about us. We weren’t connecting on any real level. And the fact that he had to text me the news further demonstrated the lack of connection. Here was a grown man that had begun to rely on technology too much as a communication device. He couldn’t call to tell me how he felt? Really? At least that particular message didn’t contain the text speak…

He said he wanted to stay friends, but I didn’t believe it. Yet the next day he texted a hello and wanted to know how I was doing. I bit, texted back (hm, could I be just as much of the problem here?), and let him know that I thought it was disrespectful of him to do what he did without the dignity of calling. Within minutes, my phone rang. Two hours later, he asked for a reset. I am not sure how I feel about it, but the conversation we had was telling. We actually connected. Talked about real things. Were able to explain and describe in ways that simply can’t be done in 160 words or less at a time.

I wonder how many young people rely on technology to build their relationships — or maintain them. Maybe I am old-fashioned here (and I am not a digital native), but while I do believe that technology can help with the little parts of a relationship, it can take away from real connection. At least that has been my experience so far.

Texting or stalking?

OK, after a REALLY long break, I am trying to start writing again. I still care a lot about this issue, but so many others have been grabbing my attention, that it has been difficult to get back into the swing of things. I shall do my best, but perhaps I will be expanding what I write about, as different things related to youth catch my eye…

That said, I have had this story open on my desktop for some time. This Washington Post article addresses “textual harassment,” to harass or stalk someone through text messages. Texting, frankly, makes it easier to experience abuse in a relationship. A person can constantly write messages — threatening or not — to their “significant other” to the point of where they are constantly reminded of the relationship. A person can feel controlled, followed, or lose their individuality if enough messages come through their phone on a daily basis (some of the stories featured allude to more than 100 a day).

This is one of the ways that technology has changed relationships for the worse. Before texting, it would have been nearly impossible to stay in such close touch with someone without physically being there. Now, with just a few button pushes, a person can infiltrate someone else’s life constantly.

Understandably, little has been done to more thoroughly investigate the repercussions of such behavior. But the perspective of the stalker has been examined even less. Given the young ages of these textual harassers, do they really realize what they are doing? Is it possible that their lack of perspective really doesn’t allow them to see how much is “too much?” While not wanting to defend their behavior, it would be interesting to see how the harassers themselves explain their actions.

More on Child Pornography Laws Gone Wrong

This story has been getting a lot of press: As in so many other instances mentioned in this blog and elsewhere, a teen-aged girl takes naked pictures of herself and sends them to her friends (or whomever). Then, she gets caught and prosecutors wonder what to charge her with — after all, she did send sexual pictures of a minor (that is, herself), which is a form of child pornography. The reason this particular case is getting a lot of attention is because in Ohio, if found guilty of distribution of child pornography, this girl could be required to register as a sex offender for at least 20 years. However, the judge has discretion as to whether this is the best punishment, given the accused’s age (if she were 16, however, she would automatically be subject to adult penalties — scary). Let’s hope that, if found guilty, the judge shows some semblance of reason and does not force this girl to register just to “teach her a lesson.” I think she gets the picture.

The other interesting issue coming up is how to charge the recipients of this self-created child porn. In this case, an 8th-grade boy was sent to juvenile detention on child pornography charges because a girl in his class sent him (and others) a naked picture of herself. Why this boy was targeted in particular is unclear. But, it brings up an important question: Are these children at fault if a classmate decides to send, unsolicited, an illegal photo of themselves? One day, you — a middle school kid — are at home/on a bus/waiting for class to start, and you check your text messages: Up pops a picture of someone you know, a classmate, naked. You are now in possession of felony material. You had no idea it was coming. What do you do?

This is a very real situation today and we need to talk to our kids about how to address the situation. Clearly, the worst thing these kids can do is forward the picture around or post it anywhere. That can only get them in more trouble. But, if we keep punishing those who do receive the pictures as well as take them, I believe we will decrease the likelihood that any of these young people will tell an adult about them. And that will drive the situation underground and may even increase the market for these pictures so that adults will get their hands on them more easily. And that, we can probably all agree, is something we don’t want to happen.

Breaking up is not so hard to do anymore

You’ve heard it from several places already I bet, but Britney Spears supposedly broke up with her husband Kevin Federline via a text message. And for extra technological fun, it was captured on YouTube, as poor Kevin was on a talk show when it happened. Just goes to show you that if you check your messages while in the company of others, karma is going to catch up with you.

I was disappointed in the basic story coverage by the US news affiliates. It seems as though they got lazy in their research. The Rueters news article which is the one everyone seems to be using (it’s the one I linked to via MSNBC) states that “No U.S. figures were available to track the use of text messaging to dump partners.” Although they are correct, there is some US research that is close enough to make it worth mentioning. According to a Pew Internet and American Life survey conducted in 2001, 13% of teens have used IM to break up with someone (to be fair, 17% used it to ask someone out). Given that it’s been five years since this research, one can imagine the numbers for breaking up using text messages would be similar. It’s also similar to the Swiss figure, which states that 9% of their young population has broken up with someone using a text message.

So Kevin, don’t feel so bad. You can get online and IM your friends to let them know how sad you are.