Tweens and Texting

Our 10 year olds each got a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and it’s been a really good gift (cue foreboding music). It’s basically an iPad, but waaaay less $$$ and also they can read on it (um, OBVIOUSLY). Since we share an Amazon account, I can see what they are up to, what apps they are adding etc. They are pretty busy girls with all their activities (dance, gymnastics, piano, science fair, guitar, and until recently, basketball), so we didn’t really feel the need to restrict their screen time just yet. Our one rule was they are not allowed to play games after 8pm as that is designated as reading time (usually with me, on my bed).

They figured out they could text even without a phone or a phone plan via some online services via the wifi on the Kindle. (Got that?)  So they downloaded a texting app. They texted us, my mom, their friend that lives in Germany and a couple of friends from school. I always told them that ANYTHING they write or text via their Kindle should be considered PUBLIC. I’ve told them that I reserved the right to read or snoop around any of their online activities. I wanted to instill in them, at this young age, that what you say or text via a device is NOT private, and you shouldn’t share personal or private info that way. (Sure, *I* do sometimes text private or personal information, but as an adult, I obviously have way better judgement than they do.)

One nice thing about the texting is that we do not have a landline any longer, so on the brief occasions that I leave them home alone, they can text me if they have a question or a problem. I like this solution better than getting them their own phone. It’s also a great way for them to keep in contact with my parents etc. Occasionally I’ve perused their texts and found it all to be sweet conversations.

We WERE beginning to suspect that the girls were staying up late playing games on their Kindles, as they were SO CRABBY all of a sudden. When confronted, they promised that they were just using them to listen to music to fall asleep (a habit they’ve done in various ways over the years, so it made sense). David and I talked about enforcing a “Kindles charge in our bedroom overnight” rule, but we hadn’t acted on it yet. I think part of me wanted to let the whole scenario play out.

Last Monday while I was at work, David busted the girls using their Kindles waaaay past bedtime. He instantly took them, and when I came home he told me how their texting history shows they had regularly been texting a friend from school until 10:30-11pm. (Their bedtime is 9pm.) He was upset about the lying and sneaking. I was much more upset about the content of the texts.

In one conversation, the friend from school was giving my daughter fashion advice, telling her not to wear her favorite clothes for awhile because they had a chart at school and were keeping track of how often she wore them. She said things like “take pictures of your shirts and email me and I will pick your clothes for you” and “do you know what TJ Maxx is? Go there and buy some Justice clothes and then tell everyone you shopped at Justice.” (I winced when reading that for so many reasons.)

In another conversation, this girl was trying to get my daughter to admit something (it wasn’t clear what). For several pages, she kept demanding that my daughter “admit it” and my daughter kept begging her to stop, denying it, etc. THEN the other girl brought the boy who my daughter likes into the conversation (so it became a 3 way convo) and confronted her again. She denied it again, and the other girl POSTED A SCREEN SHOT of an earlier– private– conversation between the two of them for the boy to see. It still wasn’t clear to me what exactly she wanted my daughter to admit, but it WAS clear that she was doing it against my daughter’s wishes, against all of the begging her to stop. (When asked about it, my daughter seemed pretty unaffected and just slightly annoyed, so THIS TIME it seems it wasn’t a big deal, whatever it was that was “revealed” by the screen shot. BUT THAT WON’T ALWAYS BE THE CASE… and these kids don’t even GET that.)

So.

We’re here now, I guess.

I had no idea we’d arrived to this place already.

The thing is, before you go thinking that this little girl is a total BEOTCH (which was admittedly my first thought), you have to understand that she is also a 10 year old little girl, so (as my psychologist friend says) she basically has no frontal lobe. She THOUGHT she was helping by giving the “fashion” advice, I’m pretty sure, even though it was misguided and a little mean. And while the screen shot conversation was very mean, yes, I don’t think she understands the assholery of posting a screen shot of a private conversation. They just don’t GET the implications of it all, ya know? I’ve known this little girl for a long time and have never had a bad opinion of her.

I read through all of the conversations on their Kindles and thankfully didn’t find any where my daughters were doing this kind of thing to other kids– which was a huge relief– but I don’t think they are above it. They just don’t understand the complexities involved with this kind of communication. Thank goodness they don’t have any kind of social media yet.

The Kindles have been sitting in my room, uncharged, for the past week. They KNOW they are in trouble for lying and sneaking. I’ve talked to them a little about what I read and how that friend was not being nice. I’ve restated how anything you write can be forwarded or made public. How you never know how many kids are sitting there reading over the shoulder of the friend you are talking to. I ordered them a bunch of “dealing with difficult friend situations” books. They meekly asked when they get their Kindles back, and I’ve told them “when school is out.” I have no intention of keeping them that long, but I just needed some time to THINK. (This way, getting them back sooner will be a pleasant surprise.)

I ALSO played the “You know, Daddy is very, VERY smart with computers and he can figure out how to read anything, even if you’ve deleted it” card, which is *mostly* true… I’ve reiterated that I have the right to read anything they write, and I WILL. I WANT them to feel very WATCHED when they are online or texting. I want them to be very, very, VERY careful about what they write. I’m not sure what advice to give them for being the victim of this kind of thing. I told my daughter that next time someone brings a third person into the conversation and tries to confront her, to log off. She seemed confused by that because she felt it would be rude, it would upset her friend, and basically complicate things further. THESE THINGS ARE HARD TO GUIDE, YOU GUYS. (Remember, she didn’t really understand how mean this could have been, even though she was begging her friend to stop.)

I’m not sure what kind of new rules will be in place when they get their Kindles back. David already made a firewall that shuts off their wifi at 8pm (bwah ha ha), so the late night texting will not be possible. I’m thinking of making a rule that they can no longer text friends from school; grandparents and parents are fine (and remember, I sort of need to be able to text them sometimes), their friend in Germany is fine… but this seems like a hard rule to reinforce. What about email? Right now they don’t email much, but maybe they will if they can’t text. Should I take that away too? (Also a consideration: I have no evidence that THEY’VE behaved poorly through texting, only that they’ve been on the receiving end of it. So any action needs to be more of a protection than a punishment. Then sneaking and lying is waaaay easier to handle, in my opinion.)

On the one hand, I could argue that they are too young and just forbid ALL of it. On the other hand, this technology is here to stay. How can they learn to use it appropriately if they are banned from using it? The fact is, their peers ARE using it, too young or not. If I take it away, but their friends continue to use it, when we give it back in a few years, they will be at a disadvantage due to lack of experience. Isn’t part of parenting letting them make mistakes while they are still under our roof, so we can guide them? Is it better to let them use the technology NOW, while I still have a really good handle on where they go and who they go with and can instill a few “street smarts: technology version” into them, instead of waiting until I have less control? I’m guessing a fourth grader is easier to imprint proper device etiquette than an older child since they don’t yet think I’m COMPLETELY dumb and worthless.

The hardest part is, I can take away the texting, but I can’t stop this kind of thing from happening at school. I can’t stop those girls from making a chart of what my daughter wears every day, for Christ’s sake. (My daughter LOVED what she wore. She has lots of clothes that she likes and feels comfortable in. I can’t believe she already has to worry about what her peers think of her clothing!) I KNOW girls can be very mean to each other, I’ve been prepping myself for this for YEARS, but I don’t think I was prepared for this so young. These are fourth graders! I honestly thought this would be more of a seventh grade concern, ya know?

Another problem is most of my friends (online and off)  have kids that are younger, so they haven’t dealt with this yet, or they have kids that are enough older that this wasn’t an issue in fourth grade for them. I’m charting new (for me) territory, and I don’t even have anyone else in my boat! I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this, especially if you’ve dealt with something similar. (I didn’t really know what to do about the other child’s parents. That too is very complicated as I don’t want to make enemies so early on in the game, don’t want to further complicate things for my girls, and don’t know what exactly to say. I thought about letting the other mom know simply about the late-night texting– it was clear from the texts that her daughter was sneaking too– but waited too long making my decision. So this time I did nothing…)