Oh for an easy life!

How many parents of teenage kids can honestly say that they know exactly what their youngster is up to on the internet?

A long while ago my daughter, we’ll call her G, got her first smart phone and like all her friends had a frenzy of app downloads and account creations. Nothing special just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram etc. As advised by so many articles her Mum and I had one of the ‘serious chats’ over dinner about online safety, the importance of not releasing too much personal data, not talking to people she didn’t know etc. As with most people of her age and her being a good, sensible kid it was well received and she told us that she understood the risks and that she ‘wasn’t stupid’ so there would be no problems.

Cut to 2 months later. The first real issue we encountered was what seemed like an addiction to the phone. At the time G was doing exams so that horrible pressure that kids seem to be under nowadays was piling up. But if for one second we looked away the phone would be out. My only solution was to simply take it away, ‘you can have it after you have finished’, and boy did she get grumpy! Not difficult for a teenager I know but this was truly impressive pouting on a scale not yet seen. But given any chance the rules would be circumvented, homework at her friends house, with relatives, ‘I need to look something up’ or even using her friends phone when they came over would all lead to social media posts popping up during homework time.

After one particularly horrible episode with a practice exam being completely botched I decided to use iPhone restrictions and turn her smartphone into a dumb phone. A good solution on the face of it but cranky to setup and once done has no time flexibility without major fiddling. This was when I took a good look at her Instagram account. 489 followers. 489! She’s not Lady Gaga! My perfect princess doesn’t know 489 people. The most alarming thing of all was that a number of these followers were men, and not just her age group. ‘Men’ were looking at her and her friends’ selfies. And what’s more, it wouldn’t take raw genius to figure out where some of the pics were taken. And this was just Instagram.

Ok, so I know what some of you are thinking. To harsh. To soft. More education and more ‘serious chats’. In the following months we tried it all, really, everything. Unlocked phone but only in the living room. Locked phone anywhere. Unlocked phone only at the weekends. Some of these were ok for a while but they rely solely upon on her Mum or me being there to make the change, remembering what the latest deal is. Life is complicated enough folks without having to remember if the deal was lock the phone at 6pm or 7pm on a school Wednesday. And as with all rules any teenager will find the weakness and fully exploit it. How on Earth do parents cope if they are not tech savvy enough to do the basics as we did?

There was only one solution, I locked it, full dumb mode at all times except for school holidays. In one stroke I went from father hero to ‘you don’t care’, ‘you don’t want me to be happy’ and ‘nobody understands me’. Despite the hard-man, tough and grumpy mask I wore, she is, was and always will be my princess and it was truly heart breaking to see her upset. But to my absolute joy several months later she scored 119 correct answers out of 120 questions and somehow her Mum and I knew that we had done our jobs. The extra lessons, the time and care taken, the effort to create a solid structure paid off. So the phone was unlocked again and all in the household was calm. Then I found that she was messaging with ‘unknowns’ at 3am while we were sleeping. Gratuitous pouting commenced as I again grabbed the phone and tried to figure out how I could stop night shift activity.

For us the critical thing in managing this new world with our beautiful superstar was and is consistency. We agree a set of rules and they become the framework upon which the calm of the household is built. Teenagers are not stupid, despite the truly awful music they listen to. G’s near perfect exam result was a revelation to her and at one point she grudgingly admitted that we were right but that she had ‘still done all the work’. Bless.

Create the rule set that works for you and your kid. Write those rules in concrete and stick to them. It doesn’t matter how detailed they are, you gotta put the effort in. Their phone to us maybe just an annoyance but to them, unfortunately in today’s world, can often be the foundation of their social structure. Even if it is 6pm on Friday and you’re tired, brain dead and just want to watch Game of Thrones, unlock that phone or change the restriction settings. Never even once be lazy and break your own rules, ıf you don’t respect them your kid never will.