Monday, May 18, 2015

To know the passcode or not know the passcode? That is the question.

I have been asked "What would you do differently?"  I have two answers.  1) Have stronger, explicit boundaries that were enforced and supported by consequences when broken and 2) monitor my son's cell phone.  I will address the first one in a separate post but will use this post to address #2, as this has been the discussion among my friends.

There's a public debate about whether to monitor your kids cell phone or respect their privacy and give them an opportunity to fail and develop autonomy.  I believe this debate, with bias towards the latter argument, is adequately described in this blog post here, with references to other well-known, public parent-child internet examples.

In the PTSA meeting held on 5/11/15 at our high school, the woman that teaches the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug class to suspended students did a presentation on "What to Look For" so parents can tune in to substance use and abuse.  In her presentation she told the parents "monitor cell phone activity".  I then interrupted and told the audience that this is where I failed.  I bought into the privacy and trust argument and didn't know my son's cell phone passcode and was not monitoring his internet activity.  BIG mistake.  We let him buy the device with his own money and we paid the monthly service.  To be honest, I didn't want to know what was on there, I knew it wouldn't be good and I would have to step up and do the hard thing and take on the battle.  Again, BIG mistake.  Had I stepped up, had guts, I would have that passcode, been monitoring, and maybe he wouldn't be in a long-term treatment center costing me a gazillion dollars.  Maybe he'd be home, in intensive outpatient therapy, and I'd have senior pictures, get to go to his graduation ceremony up the street at the high school my husband graduated from.

After we got his phone and presented texts to parents three of the kids went into substance abuse rehabilitation.  Parents were shocked and blindsided to see their kid was using Cocaine, drinking Vodka with Xanax.  These parents weren't monitoring their child's cell phone and internet activity either.  That Vodka and Xanax kid could be dead.

I have spoken to many of my friends on this subject over the last week to see who has the passcode and who doesn't.  It's been 50/50 and for various reasons, many which are discussed in the link provided above.

I met a couple this past weekend whose son died of a heroin OD this past December, 2014.  They too are speaking out about their son's disease and what happened to their family.  Here's what they say
“If there is one thing I would caution parents about it would be their child’s cellphone,” Jack Briggs said.  “Kevin was part of the first generation to have smartphones as a teen. Once you give them that phone, you are out of the picture and they are open to the world and everything in it. Get your child’s password and see what they are doing.”  They have worked with Apple and the cell phone provider and they cannot get into their son's phone. They can't take down drug dealers that will kill more of our children.  Learn more about this family and their tragic event here:

So what would I do differently?
1) I would know the passcode and randomly and routinely check that it works.
2) If the passcode didn't work upon check and a new one was not provided I would take the cell phone for 1 month and return it after I was provided with the correct passcode.  I would take that as a sign of suspicious activity so I would then check the texts and social media apps. Remember, there's a reason they don't want you to have it.
3) If it didn't work and a new one was provided upon discovery I would not check the texts and social media and take the cell phone for 2 weeks as a reminder to what a special privilege this is we are providing
4)  If the passcode is never given then all cell phone use is suspended and they can pay for their own damn service.  Then I would watch them like a hawk!
5)  Explain that trust = privacy.  If I trust them I will respect their privacy and not check texts and social media. But if they come home drunk, stoned and are caught lying and sneaking around, that cell phone better be open to my inspection and that passcode better work.

So weigh in.  To know the passcode or not?

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