This is very important information regarding the safety and well-being of your Middle Schooler. I am a mom of a 6th grader who attends Bayonet Point Middle School. My daughter has always received good grades, and has been considered a “good girl.” Regardless, as a concerned parent, I, of course, always warned her about “stranger danger” and online safety. I told her to never chat with strangers or ever give out her address online. I told her to not go to inappropriate websites and casually observed her internet usage. I even occasionally logged into her Facebook and read her messages. We are pretty close and I always ask about her friends, school stuff, boys, etc.
I have a feeling this is what most parents are doing…THIS IS NOT ENOUGH .
My daughter was caught using her phone and the internet irresponsibly, using her phone when she wasn’t supposed to, and participating in online activities she knew she should not have been. She was obviously not acting alone. Needless to say, she was grounded and things have changed around here. The hormones, internet access, naivety, and immaturity can be a combination for trouble. I gave her too much freedom and was naive myself.
My purpose is to open some parents’ eyes–or, if they are open–open them even wider. Obviously, times have changed since we were tweens and teens. Remember your first real crush and gossiping about your peers? Remember the National Geographic magazine in Social Studies with the naked African women? Remember all the questions you had about sex that you would never ask your parents? Remember how much you tried to keep from your parents; the temptation to use foul language, or do things you knew you shouldn’t be doing? We were so slick and so cool!! Now… imagine having the internet and a smart phone to help. Oh, it’s scary, I know.
Middle schoolers are very, very clever- and do not underestimate how much they know and how sneaky they can be. I have learned a lot and feel I need to share this information with other parents. Here’s the bottom line, and this is coming from first-hand experience: you MUST really pay attention and supervise your child’s online and cell phone usage very carefully.
I am talking full-on spying here. Sounds wrong and invasive to their privacy, but it really is for their own good. Don’t tell them if it makes it easier. Start with the cell phone. Make sure you know, or at the very least have heard of all the contacts listed. Know your child’s password/codes to access their phone and it’s settings. It’s not a good sign if they fight you on that info. Look at the apps they have installed. Read the texts, look at the pictures, and view the videos as well.
Do this regularly and randomly. I have a feeling this will make many of your kids feel uncomfortable and a little annoyed– but YOU are the parent, and YOU pay for the phone. The phone and the internet is a privilege. It is your job to protect them and guide them in the right direction. Ask them questions- be invasive.
I will admit, this intensive spying and questioning was difficult for me as I have always been the “nice” mom. I didn’t want her to feel like I didn’t trust her or was accusing her of anything. I actually felt bad snooping and making her feel uncomfortable–but realized that I love her more.
It is a really good idea, and I strongly suggest you install a tracking or parent surveillance program on their phone. It’s easy, trust me. It literally took 5 minutes to set up. One I highly recommend and now use myself is “My Mobile Watch Dog.” You can check it out at http://www.mymobilewatchdog.com/ . It was recommended on many news channels, Oprah, Dr. Phil, etc.
A program like this will allow YOU to control when the phone goes on–and when the phone shuts off. You can set up emergency only numbers that they can call during blocked times. I have 911, home, my husband and I–and grandma, of course. You can block certain contacts, numbers, and apps. You can read every single text that comes and goes. You can get real time GPS location– and set up alerts to your own cell and/or email. (Like say, if they decided to leave school during lunch, hmmm?) It is such an amazing tool. Now, I have to warn you- your child will try to find ways around it. But see, we are clever too. Make sure you block their settings (password required from you)- so they cannot change the time/time zone in their phone to get more or different hours of usage! Yes, my daughter did that. I told you they were clever! Also, there are apps that allow them to chat via online and not directly via the cell phone carrier and those could be harder to track. One my daughter was using with some friends is “Kik.” I suggest you block those types of apps as well. Most of our kids have unlimited texts- no reason to hide and use other chat methods, right?
Please know your kid’s Facebook password at all times and get in there regularly. I also wanted to warn you about websites such as “Omegle: Talk to strangers!” at www.omegle.com/ . It’s as scary as it sounds, and I know for a fact my daughter is not the only one at BPMS going to this website. “OoVoo” is an app our kids are using to video chat on their cell without using their talk time. I have no problem with this, as long as she’s not in her room with the door locked.
Monitor their YouTube video watching and searches. Check history. There are programs for parents that help with this and there are parental blocks you can set on the pc’s as well. One’s that can even log all keystrokes for the really sneaky kids who try to hide or delete history and messages.
Please remind your kids that what they post online or send through their phone can be saved forever, printed, shared, misconstrued, and possibly read by other parents. Please remind them that cyber-bullying is so hurtful and damaging. I tell my daughter that if you have to hide it- it’s probably wrong– and if you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t post it online. Please also be careful with what pictures/videos your kids are posting and sending to each other. It sounds like common sense, but trust me- there are inappropriate images being shared. They are are still children.
Some signs looking back are increased isolation from the rest of the family and a feeling she was hiding things from me. Don’t ignore it–be involved. Please. As of right now, my daughter is still grounded (no phone, computer, or tv), and although she was pretty angry at first, she understands that I am only protecting her. The technology break has been a good thing. It’s nice to see her playing outside with her siblings, drawing, and finishing all her homework–instead of hiding somewhere with her head buried in her phone up to no good. She actually seems happier now as well.
Thank you for reading and good luck all
-Mom of a Middle Schooler