I believed I was a good parent. I thought the occasional scan of my 13-year-old’s phone was enough to have a strong understanding of what was going on in her life. I assumed that by following her social media pages (that I was aware of) that I was protecting her from bad influences while allowing her some freedom. I expected her to do the right thing in peer pressure situations. With my entire soul I believed that she had a strong sense of self worth, and would not seek the approval of others. I was naïve. I was wrong. I was flat out stupid.
Luckily for her and for me, I found out the truth before it was too late.
Late one night I received a message from her dad who lives six hours away. He had been on his other daughter’s social media app – musical.ly and found our daughter’s profile. If you don’t know already, this app is used to make your own music videos as you lip sync to your favorite tunes. Users can have a lot of fun editing and perfecting their videos before uploading them for all to see. I knew of the app as our daughter has shown me some of her videos (which were all G-rated of course) and had decided that it was a safe avenue for her to have some fun with music and friends while expressing her creativity. Ha! – WRONG! There is no restrictions on who can lip sync to which songs and guess who was singing and dancing to the worst possible lyrics on the planet?? – MY innocent 8th-grade daughter. Her father and I were appalled and even scared for what this meant.
Ok – you might be thinking “So what’s the big deal? She sang a few curse words! Lots of teenagers do that without turning into juvenile delinquents!” Well, that may be true but that unfortunately was just the beginning of our gut-wrenching journey into our daughter’s very secret life. After watching in horror as my daughter cursed through the sex-laden lyrics of songs I’ve never even heard of, that jogged my curiosity which led me to dig a little further. Something told me there was more. I pressed on, and dug deeper –going through her phone with a fine tooth comb. In the past, I had occasionally scanned her phone a few times per month thinking that was enough. What I discovered that night however, was that my daughter did not have the strong sense of self worth that I thought I had instilled in her. What I exposed was a totally different person from the one I thought I knew. This other person wanted to impress other people by proving she was the baddest of them all. She wanted everyone to think she was having sex and doing drugs even though she has had ZERO opportunities to do so. In the past year before this night she had maybe spent the night with a friend twice. In fact, she is always at one of three places – home, school, or her cheerleading gym. Certainly I am aware that kids can find a way to do anything, anywhere these days but something in me, call it wishful thinking if you will, was telling me that this could not be true. Without going into too many details, after a series of tests and doctor’s appointments, we found out the truth – my daughter is a liar who was willing to say anything to her peers for attention.
While I suppose this was the lesser of the two evil outcomes, I knew there was one common denominator – I had failed. I had enabled this behavior through inaction. By not being vigilant through the parenting of my child I created an environment that told my daughter this was acceptable. Children need to be children as long as possible but the world we live in – our culture – tells kids (especially girls) otherwise. With shorter shorts and make-up contouring tutorials, the 13-year-olds of today are like the 18-year-olds of yesterday.
Parents generally tend to feel guilty about an array of things that can sometimes be beyond their control. But this was different. I could not blame anyone for this situation but myself. I know I could have done more to teach her to respect herself. I know I could have taken more time to research my daughter’s life. I have many regrets leading up to this situation and while I can take a lot of corrective measures, the fact is – a lot of damage has already been done. She has already been exposed to so much that cannot be unseen, unspoken, or unheard. If you are reading this and have a child of any age with a smart phone or computer, please allow me to offer these few bits of advice:
- Stop giving them the tools to become worldly and mature beyond their years. Smart phones are certainly a key ingredient in that recipe. I’m not saying don’t allow your children to have a phone. I am saying have strict restrictions and always – ALWAYS – stalk them.
- Stay up-to-date with the latest of apps and remain in the know about which ones make it easier for your son or daughter to hide things from you. Apps like Snapchat and Kik provide the perfect avenue for this. Ask.fm is another one – kids can ask anonymous questions of each other without fear of anyone knowing who it came from. With raging teenage hormones, I’ll let you imagine the kinds of questions kids ask of one another.
- Talk intensively to your children about having respect for themselves and for others. Seek out any programs that are offered in your area that teach kids positive characteristics. One thing that I was most appalled by is how little respect my daughter had for herself, and how little respect boys showed for her. It was truly sickening what she allowed these boys to say to her. Even if your talks with your child end with the ever-endearing teenage eye-roll, wouldn’t you rather know that you had tried rather than assuming that your child will do the right thing behind closed doors?
I wish I knew the absolute right recipe for parenting our children in this world of evolving technology. I pray that not every parent has to endure this – or worse – with their child. I despise that we live in a culture that makes our children feel like they need to do certain things to be cool or popular or pretty or edgy. All I can offer is our very personal experience in hopes that at least one parent will be reached, and the course of at least one other child’s life will be positively affected.
Keep striving. Keep pushing. Never give up on protecting your child even if it means that they won’t like you.
Below are images of what some of the Aps may look like on your Child’s phone.