By Will Wooton
When I was 13 years old I got my first pager. At the time, I’m sure my parents viewed it as a harmless device that would, if nothing else, enable a form of communication with me when I was out with friends. The reality was far from this as that little pager became a source for hearing about all kinds of illegal activity.
I don’t recall receiving any actual callback numbers, but day and night I would get paged codes. These codes were a series of numbers our group had worked out ahead of time which represented different information known only to us. Something as harmless as sets of numbers actually represented cross streets, times, what drug and how much. For any school official, parent or police, it was just numerical garbage; for us, that system allowed us to know what drugs were out there at any point in time. This was the early ‘90s with a basic numeric pager. Imagine what a teenager can do now!
Most teens I see have the latest phones available. Social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter are all ways to connect with your friends. The question is “what types of other things can a teen do on their phones?” How many downloadable applications can a teen use to hide things from their parents? How many parents feel a false sense of control because they believe they can monitor the phone calls or even texts a child can make? Time and time again parents tell me they didn’t realize how much their teen could still do even when their phone has been shut off. With wireless networks everywhere, your teen’s cell phone can do everything a computer can do and sometimes much easier.
When I searched the word “safe,” it resulted in 1,642 applications of which all are designed to protect data and pictures. Special folders are created to hide things from anyone who looks at a phone. Special passwords protect these hidden secret images, videos and files. Teenagers sending highly inappropriate sexual pictures to one another is a very common practice now. Being able to hide the pictures in a separate, safe place helps this continue.
Tablets and iPods have the same abilities to give unsupervised access to the Internet. Just because you have a password on your home’s wireless network, don’t assume your neighbors do. I often hear “I let my child have their phone/iPod and I can’t figure out how they were texting their friends from home.” There are specific apps to allow texting over the Internet in an untraceable way. Just because you can monitor through your phone carrier who they text, don’t assume they haven’t set up free accounts to communicate behind your back. Kids know far more about this than adults do. I have had kids use their parent’s phones to do some of these things — all with permission from mom and dad.
As the age of the Internet took off, we all remember talking about the importance of monitoring kids’ activities. Teenagers still need protection from sexual predators or from leaking sensitive family business to others over the Web. The same is true for cell phones, iPods, eReaders, and tablets. Don’t look at them as advanced technology that you can’t learn everything about. Educate yourself about what you give your child. Understand what they can do and, even more importantly, what they can do when they are inactive.
Wooton is director of Pacific Treatment Services and co-author of “Bring Your Teen Back From The Brink.” PTS is a substance abuse company. Website: www.PacificTreatmentServices.com.