When I was growing up – in the Stone Age – we did not have email or Facebook; cell phones were few and far between. My mother did not even allow a cordless phone at home lest her children spend more time than necessary chatting idly with friends.
Fast forward twenty years from then, and teenagers today have their own cell phone with unlimited texting and web surfing. While there are some advantages to being in touch with young adults via technology, the prospects are scary.
A Pew study in 2004 revealed that 18 percent of 12-year olds have a cell phone. In 2009, the number shot up to 58 percent. The scary part is that with unlimited texts in many family plans these days, our sons and daughters can be tapping their way into trouble. What may be hard to say face-to-face is easier said via text. Being available to respond 24/7 can result in rushed responses that are not well thought-out and can be misinterpreted.
The irony is that while the price of Roti, Kapra and Makan in Pakistan is rising steadily every year, the price for SMS messages, cell phone cards and high speed internet is falling. While this is a feather in the cap for our telecommunications industry, it is also opening the door for a lot of Fitnah.
The new Bluetooth technology is even scarier. It can allow people to exchange photos, videos and text messages with complete strangers – within a range of about 15 yards. With upcoming software, a teenage boy sitting across the table at a restaurant will not even need to have your daughters phone number, he can still text her if he thinks she looks cute in her purple outfit.
A report in the New York Times revealed that 15 percent of teens between the ages of 12 and17 had received inappropriate photos on their phone. So what is a parent to do? A parent cannot blame technology or completely deprive their child from gadgets that have become the norm today – but a parent can set limits and bridge communication gaps. In 2010, a parent cannot afford to say, “I’m not good with computers.” Even if they trust their children and are genuinely not interested in Facebook or Twitter, they need to get on the bandwagon even if they can’t check them daily; at least their children know that they can.
With so many aunties and uncles on Facebook these days, I am positive teenagers have some parallel social site we will find out about soon. When it comes to technology, our children will always be a step ahead of us. Many teens have two Facebook profiles; one where they can add their parents and another where they can be themselves with their friends.
In 2020, when my children become teens, I shudder to think what is in store for us. I firmly believe that in addition to faith in the Almighty and dua to keep children in good company, parents need to make conscious decisions to limit screen time from a young age. Once children enjoy volunteering, sport, art and reading from a young age, they will hopefully continue having a variety of extracurricular screen-free activities when they are older.
Wandering aimlessly on the World Wide Web can take impressionable minds to weird places with even weirder pop-up ads and too-good-to-be-true virus-infested offers. Another key element in limiting technology usage is that parents need to practice what they preach. If a mother does not allow her daughter to use her cell excessively but is herself glued to her iPhone apps, then she should know that hypocrisy will come to haunt her.
I love Facebook too as it is a great way to keep in touch with my friends and family overseas. However, I am appalled at some teenager profiles. In the relationship category, some fourteen year olds have selected “Whatever I can get” and have pictures that are not reflective of the good families that they come from. The worst part is not posting photos but the comments that go back and forth on these teen pages. “OMG…you’re hot…”, “LOL, lmao, you are hotter.” “No, I insist that you look gr8”
Not only have spellings gone down the drain, privacy and modesty is quickly following suit. As parents, we cannot just throw our hands up in the air in despair – we can make a difference if we try.
Some ways to monitor the technology explosion in your home
1) Children should know that cell phone and Internet privileges need to be earned and can be revoked.
2) Make sure your teens do not add strangers to their Instant Messaging or Facebook profiles.
3) Sign up your children for cell phone plans with limited minutes for emergency calls and texts.
4) Sign up for free Internet activity monitoring such as www.norton.com/onlinefamily
5) Do not allow cell phones and computers in bedrooms. Cell phones should be charged next to computers in a central place in the home.
6) Teach your child never to disclose personal information like his address or school online.
7) Teenagers – and even younger children- will always be a step ahead with technology. Befriend them so you do not have to spy on them. You might not have the time to sit and go through all the texts, calls and websites your child peruses but just the fact that you can check should hopefully deter them from any misuse.
Did you know?
- 5 million new users join Facebook every week
- 10 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every hour
- The average American teenager sends and receives 2,272 texts a month; that is 80 messages DAILY!
- 90 percent of kids 12-17 said they do not report an incident of cyber bullying to parents.
Source: Journal of School Health, Nielsen and NPD group