The pandemic brings out the sneaky side of children: banned apps, burner phones
Amy Rivers suspected something was wrong with her 14-year-old son when he started sleeping later than usual. She assumed he was playing video games on his Nintendo Switch at night, but then noticed that one of his old iPhones was missing.
One night she walked into her room and saw him hiding something under his covers. It was his old phone, which still worked over Wi-Fi. His son had created a new Apple ID to get unlimited access to Snapchat and to download social apps that help people make new friends on Snapchat. “There were hundreds of kids communicating at 2 am and saying really inappropriate things,” she said.
She asked him why he was sneaking up. He told her he felt lonely.
Kids have always been devious when it comes to tech, but they are even more devious during the coronavirus pandemic, as they struggle with more downtime and social isolation. Parents have told me that children as young as 6 wake up in the middle of the night to watch shows or play games on their parents’ devices. A mother said she had to hide TV remotes and other electronics before going to bed.
Experts say it helps when parents join in children’s games and social experiences. You can better understand what makes them tick, and they have a harder time running behind your back.
Teens’ use of so-called “burner” telephones has been a big topic on a
page managed by the online monitoring service Bark. During quarantine, the company saw a 10% increase in alerts sent to parents about social media profiles created by children.
Ms Rivers said that before the pandemic, she sometimes caught up with her son late at night playing video games, but her full schedule of classes and sports didn’t leave her much time for fun online.
She said she never liked Snapchat because of the inappropriate content she saw on her account, even when he only used the app for 15 minutes a day. After catching him with the burner phone, she told him that he could send a snapshot to friends he wanted to communicate with and tell them that he was leaving Snapchat and that they could text him instead.
“I told him that I was not happy that he sneaked in, but that I felt for him,” said Ms. Rivers, sales manager in Virginia.
She hasn’t deleted her Snapchat account yet, but is not currently letting him use it. She said her son seems to be okay with texting friends now. Her son declined to comment.
Jenna Ritzmann, from Chesapeake, Va., Blocked YouTube from her 8-year-old daughter Katie’s Chromebook and set a 9 p.m. bedtime for the laptop through her Google Family Link account. But when her husband recently returned from a late-night shift and walked past Katie’s bedroom, he saw her asleep in her bed with the laptop still on. Katie found that if she signed in to the Chromebook as a guest, instead of using her personal ID, she could bypass parental controls. (Chromebook owners can disable browsing as a guest.)
Katie told her parents she watched late night cooking shows.
Ms Ritzmann locked the Chromebook in her home office at night, but her husband again found Katie asleep with it. “The kid figured out how to pick the lock,” she said.
As punishment, they didn’t let Katie use the laptop for anything other than school for two days. They now place the Chromebook on a high shelf in their bedroom closet at night.
Experts say it’s understandable that kids have become so devious with technology. In fact, we parents are partly to blame.
“I think the biggest problem that pre-existed the pandemic was that we took the wrong approach to children’s online time. It’s a holdover from the early days of television, when we called it the “idiot box” or the “nipple tube,” said Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital. “We have come in a direction of good and bad, good and bad. We need to be aware of what they are doing online and help them learn how to use technology effectively, not monitor, control and restrict them, which they will naturally rebel against.
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How do you help your kids navigate screen time and teach them about online safety? Join the conversation below.
How are the parents doing? Dr Rich and other experts say the key is to “co-tech” or use technology with our children. Here are some tips on how:
Be the student. Our first instinct when our kids tell us they want to play a certain game or use a specific app might be to say no and remove it if they download it without permission. Dr Rich and others say it will only drive the kids underground. Instead, parents should play the game or explore the app together, letting the kids explain how it works and why it’s important. They might not be playing that first person shooter game that you disapprove of because they love to shoot; they might just like it because that’s where their friends are.
Teach critical thinking. Once you get the hang of the game or app, you can talk about anything else that matters to you, such as inappropriate comments from other players or violence, by asking your kids how those things make them feel. Talking about what you’re going through together in a non-disparaging way can help kids develop critical thinking and build confidence, experts say. The goal: When your kids want the next game or app, they’ll come to you, rather than hiding it because they assume you’ll just say no.
Suggest alternatives. If you still don’t agree with a game or app, said Dr Rich, you can suggest a different one that offers the same benefits. If it’s teamwork and socializing that appeals to them, you can suggest an NBA game where kids can form a team. You can encourage your child to be a leader and get others to try a new game.
Give them a taste. If you leave an entire cake in a room with an unaccompanied child, that cake might just disappear and that child might get sick. Better to offer only a slice. The same principle can be applied to technology. Adrienne Principe’s 13-year-old daughter wanted TikTok so she could follow her friends when they talked about trending videos. Rather than letting her daughter download the app, Ms. Principe, executive director of digital wellness group Turning Life On, installed the app on her own phone, so mother and daughter could watch together.
“The more you fight, the more you push the kids away,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that you give up all the rules and let them do whatever they want.”
Write to Julie Jargon at [email protected]
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