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.)


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…)



20 thoughts on “Tweens and Texting

  1. Oh, this makes my heart hurt for many reasons. I have no answers, not being quite there yet myself, but I’ll be checking back religiously for sage words of wisdom from others.

  2. So, my stepdaughter is 16 and I thiiiink she got her first cell phone when she was… 13? Maybe 12. I can’t remember. Like you, I really enjoyed the practical benefits – texting and calls for pickups from us and knowing she could always reach us HOWEVER.

    One month we got our cell phone bill and saw that she had sent *5000* text messages. Now, she was not allowed to have her phone on at school, she went to bed around 10:30 every night and wasn’t allowed to have it at the table during dinner etc so basically my mind was blown when I did the math on how many texts that was. it was crazy.

    ANYWAY. You’re asking about content, not quantity. I really like your enforcing the idea that “texts are public content” – I think that is a great lesson, especially for kids growing up with so much social media in their lives, understanding that it’s all public is a very very good lesson, and one best not learned the hard way.

    As far as how teenagers talk to each other .. ugh, it’s just so hard. I *want* my s/daughter to not have to put up with that type of bitchiness and bs, but on the other hand: be it a text or a note passed in school (like when I was there), that is going to happen. I found myself constantly reminding myself of the conversations I had and things I did in 5th and 6th (and on) grades and how they would have sounded to my parents at that time. And then I do my very best not to fling myself off a cliff while suffering middle school based PTSD, and only only try to focus on: what is MY KID saying. Kids are going to be super bitchy via text or in person, so I just tried to monitor “ok, have we hit the point when this is beyond “teenage girl” and into “abusive behavior”. (I’ve never hit that point. She’s had hard days with girls being mean, but I’ve never seen it escalate to DANGER DANGER status of bullying, no matter how much I want to throttle the other kids).

    Ok, sorry, I’m rambling. I guess my only lessons learned from having a teen who texts are: 1) get the unlimited data plan, 2) Set boundaries for what is appropriate (when they can text, who they can text – we go over the phone bill of the numbers she texts and ask her to identify each number and who it is, etc.), 3) make sure they understand privacy stuff (like you’re doing) 4) step away.

    I can’t control the content of other kids. I really really can’t. That type of behavior and content will come at her (and your kids) regardless of the medium, so at this point we don’t even monitor it. (She’s 16, not 10, so it’s a little easier for me to let her manage her own stuff.) I don’t know. It’s hard. There’s no right answer. But this type of device and technology is not going anywhere, and neither is the hormone crush of teenage girls. I think you’re doing great so far.

    • The way you handle your sdaughter is pretty much exactly my style. I want to guide them as much as possible, but I don’t want to step over that line into micromanaging them, or trying to have all the control, or become so overbearing that they won’t come to me and/or they start sneaking around and rebelling even more. And like you say, this isn’t in the realm of DANGER DANGER, but just being mean (and it bears repeating that my daughters were pretty unaffected by this all, so I can project MY past hurts on them (the clothes stuff hits especially close to home), or I can try to gage THIS situation for what it is.) I also want to be careful to not label this girl (or any kid) as a complete brat, as it’s far more complex than that. GOOD KIDS can seem bitchy at times, etc.

  3. Ugh, this is SUCH hard stuff. My 10 yr old daughter also recently got a device with wifi and we’ve slowly been allowing her to send/receive emails and texts. So far, ONLY with family and one school friend (and I am good friends with that child’s mother, so we are mutually keeping track of how it is going). So far my rule is that until I see her making good social decisions consistently IRL, she won’t be permitted to socialize electronically beyond the current limits. (Ie, I haven’t seen her be *mean*, but I have seen her try to “help” in social triangles by volunteering to be what she considers a mediator and I’d consider a “she-said-this, she-said-that” sort of go between that ends up exacerbating things rather than helping mend friendships. We’ve talked a little about what you have – privacy, how things can go wrong or be misused or misunderstood, but like you said at this age there is a lack of frontal lobe and she just doesn’t GET the intricacies or nuance of stuff. She is so naive, and I LOVE that, and don’t want it used against her. Yet like you also said, this technology is here to stay and I want her to develop fluency and smarts around it. I guess, for my own comfort, we’re taking it really slow. I think you and your husband are handling it extremely well – it’s an ongoing process & discussion and you’re being very frank and fair with your girls.

    • YES! My daughters are still pretty naive too. The other girl involved has an older sister, so she just KNOW more, ya know? I’m sure my younger two will be less naive because of living with their older sisters too. But for now, my twins are pretty innocent to the evils of the world, and it sucks to see them discover it.

  4. This is big and complex and I have no experience or frame of reference. And it makes my head and heart hurt.

    I think that at maybe you can frame the dicey text conversation as an in-person conversation. Such as “Honey, if you were at school and Jane was saying those things and you were asking her to stop and she didn’t wouldn’t you just walk away? What if she brought Bobby into the conversation in the lunch room?” Walk through it that way and maybe she’ll see that logging off (walking away) is ok. And yes, I do think that talking to the other girl’s parents is fine. Again, if you witnessed this in person would you say something? I think you would, especially if your daughter is begging the other girl to drop the subject.

    The clothes chart – ooof! That just breaks my heart. FOURTH GRADE seems way to young for those kind of mean-girl antics.

    • They DO do this kind of thing to her at school too, and she still feels that it’s “rude” to walk away. And it actually DOES make the girls mad, and then they tell her “we’re JOKING. Can’t you take a JOKE?” We’ve talked some about how to handle that (say “that wasn’t a joke. jokes are funny and what you said or did was mean, not funny. I don’t like it.” etc) It’s going to be a learning process, I think. One benefit of it happening at this age is that the stakes are still low (there’s not anything ALL that personal that a friend could reveal yet, etc), so they can learn some skills now that will be useful later. I HOPE.

  5. Ack Ack Ack. I am nervous. For you and for all of us! Time to make laps on the rosary beads, my mother would say. 😉 I too will be checking back for more advice from your wise readers (and I think you’re doing it just right so far).

  6. Uggggh. I can’t believe all of this is happening so young! I’m dreading dealing with all sorts of stuff that wasn’t around when I was younger, since I’ll have no frame of reference for what it’s like for kids that age.

  7. Oh, this is just too much. I can’t even begin to imagine what YOU must be feeling since I got teary-eyed reading about how the girl KEEPS TRACK of what another 10-year-old wears. Or that brand names are a thing at this age. I can’t even…You seem to be handling it rather well. I’m impressed!

  8. Reading the conversation you found made me feel queasy and upset. I’m so glad it didn’t strike your girls the same way.

    My eldest is just now at 14 getting into social stuff (I hear it tends to be later for boys), and it makes me sooo nervous. I look on his Facebook (by arrangement—that is, he knows I’ll occasionally/randomly look) and I see so many kids saying SUCH stupid things.

    • My girls knew I would occasionally/randomly read their texts too, which is the only way to go at this age, I think. I’m not sure what age I would consider giving them complete privacy in these formats. And I have ONE friend with a son in my daughters’ grade, and I think you’re right… the boys don’t seem quite there yet like the girls are.

  9. Thank you thank you for posting about this. I feel like you do where I don’t really have friends with kids who are older for me to watch handle these things first (except you! You’re my friend with older kids! My oldest is 3rd grade) I think you are doing a really good job of teaching them about the fact that private texts are not private, hopefully before they are at an age where they would reveal something they truly wanted to be kept private (gah! I’m just so grateful that the internet was not like it is back when I was angsty and looking for an outlet). What struck me about your discussions with your daughter(s) is encouraging the logging off and then she thought that seemed rude or didn’t consider that she could end the conversation. That struck a chord with me because if we can teach our kids how to have some control of the situation than they are (hopefully) able to steer the conversation back to something appropriate or end it.

    • We spend so much of their younger years teaching them good manners, to share, to be KIND to each other, to not storm off from playing when something doesn’t go their way, that I can see why this kind of thing is hard for kids this age. It DOES seem rude to just log off, or walk away, when viewed through their lens of “being nice.” Also, it often DOES piss the other kid off, which causes more problems in the end. I like the idea of telling them that they can always say “my mom says I have to go now, BYE” and logging off, but I’m not sure of an equally blame-free and graceful exit for in-person stuff (which happens just as much- or more. The playground is FULL of this kind of stuff, unfortch.)

  10. Ack! This is such a scary area of parenting you’re entering. Sounds like you have good balance in thought when it comes to letting your girls experiment and learn while under your guidance, while also protecting them from harm. I love that you let them know you will be snooping because that’s exactly what I would do and it’s good for them to know you care.

    My husband and I were discussing something similar the other weekend when his 18-year old cousin came to us for drinking advice re: her upcoming Spring Break. Part of us remembers what it’s like to be in her shoes because it wasn’t that long ago for us, and the other part of us where screaming inside because we have a little girl who’ll probably be going to her older cousin for “cool” advice in 18 years or less. How do you be the parents your kids feel comfortable sharing with, while also letting them make guided mistakes? It’s hard.

  11. I had to read your post again today, just because it’s so well written and you make so many good points about privacy or lack there of. It’ll be one to remember in a decade when I have a 10 yo girl (however, what will have changed in a decade?! I don’t even want to think about it.).

    I’ll put here what I mentioned on Twitter to you yesterday. My mom always told me to make her the bad guy if I wanted to save face. I think this is a good example of how that could work 20 years later. If she’s uncomfortable but needs an excuse to log off, she could say, “Sorry, my mom just came in and told me to get off my Kindle.” Or one day when she’s at a party and doesn’t want to be there, take a fake phone call and say, “Ugh, gosh, my mom is making me come home.” My mom was always willing to be the bad guy and I will now too!

  12. This post makes me feel sick and nervous, but it is so smart and interesting and I am going to bookmark it to read again later, you know, when I can do so without hyperventilating about my own girls and the future…

  13. I’m late to the comments, but we are closing in on this stage fairly quickly in our house. My questions are purely technical. Right now my daughter uses MY phone to text her friends to THEIR parent’s phone. Makes it really easy to monitor, but a bit of a pain when I want to use my phone. I’ve been considering letting her text on her iPod Touch. What app/program do they use with no phone #? Do they have to have an email address? What email program do you go through for a kids’ email?

    And I have no words of wisdom. My gut instinct with issues like this is always to move to a deserted island. I’ll will be following the saga. Make sure you keep us updated.

    • If she wants to text online there are a few apps (probably lots) that assign you a phone number but you text through the Internet not a phone plan. We’ve used Text Now and Kik Messenger. Most of my girls friends are on Kik. They also used to use my phone to text but I don’t like that either.

      My girls also have gmail accounts. I think technically they are supposed to be older. We set them up when one of their bffs moved away a few years ago. All this time they’ve texted him, my mom, and their friend in Germany with zero issues. YET.

      Also my instinct is ALSO to move to a deserted island with a boxes set of Little House books and spend out days building fairy houses. Sigh.

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