I’ve been accused of being a mean mom. I’ve been accused of being a strict mom. I have been accused of treating my teen like a baby. All of these accusations have come from my teen, and mostly in response to house rules about technology or screen time. He will say that all of his friends get to do “x, y, and z” and my response always starts the same way: “Your friends’ moms don’t love them as much as I love you.” He hates that response, but always gives a defeated smile because he knows that the conversation that follows is about the reason why there are restrictions. And while I don’t actually believe that I love my child more than another mother loves her child, it’s a cue to my kids about me having their best interests at heart, even if they don’t agree. Take my teen’s cell phone: He received it in 6th grade, which may be early or late depending on your beliefs/community/needs, but he was going out of state with a friend’s family and I wanted him to be able to contact me (and me him) at any time. We added him to our family plan and the phone he received cost us one dollar. But, once he had the phone, it was no longer just a way for me to reach out to him; the connections with friends flourished and the requests for social media apps began. It was time to set some rules.
The first condition of him having this phone was that we would be on the same account so that every app he downloaded would be stored on my account. In addition, and most importantly I think, only I know the password to the account. This means that every time he wants to download an app, even if it’s free, he has to come to me so I can put in my password. This has led to many discussions about different apps that he has wanted, what they are used for, and how they can potentially be abused and used for cyber bullying or sexting (he cringes every time I use that word). Sometimes I say no to an app, but if I say yes, it comes with a condition: I get the same app on my phone and he has to let me “friend” him, “follow” him, or whatever the term is to see his activity. I, in turn, promise not to comment on posts or even “like” a picture in cyberspace. But, if I see misuse by him or one of his friends, he will lose the app and his friend’s parents will get a call or an email. I have taken a screen shot of activity and emailed it to a parent before; I have a zero tolerance policy on teasing, bullying, foul language, racist/anti-Semitic/anti-gay slurs, and inappropriate pictures and I hope other parents would do the same for me. Loophole alert: Once the password is put in and the app is downloading, the password is active for 15 minutes. I learned that the hard way when my son heard of the loophole from a friend and tried it out. He immediately came clean (either out of guilt or fear) and told me of the loophole. The sneaky app was deleted immediately, and now, the phone stays with me for the 15 minutes.
Another phone rule in my house is that at 9:30pm, my son’s phone and all devices that can reach cyberspace are docked in the kitchen until the morning. This gives him a chance to be without his “friends” while he winds down and gets ready for bed. If he wants to listen to music, he has a clock radio and an mp3 player with music. This also goes for sleepovers: When I have a group of boys sleeping in my basement, the house rule is that they dock their phones upstairs. One, they should be connecting with each other while they are together – that’s how you make childhood memories. We have knee hockey, board games, and an over-the-door basketball hoop in the basement; plenty for them to do together. Also, while I have a group of teen boys in the basement, I don’t want girls down there – even virtually. The combination of hormone-filled boys and all of the apps for video chatting and taking and sending photos leaves me just plain uncomfortable with what they could be seeing/saying/doing while in a group “chatting” with a bunch of hormone-filled girls in someone else’s basement. Call me old fashioned but I think if a boy is interested in a girl, or vice versa, then they should talk in person or on the phone, and without a crowd of friends involved. Peer pressure can be a dangerous catalyst for inappropriate behavior and many apps make that behavior very easy.
Then there are the cell phone rules that go for all of us: No phones at the dinner table, not even on vibrate. Dinner is a rare time when we can all (or most of us, depending on the night) sit together and talk about our day or about future family plans. For my husband, his rule is that he cannot look at his phone for the first 15 minutes that he gets into the house after his commute home. That time is reserved for hellos, bedtime kisses, and of course a welcome home daddy belly rub for the dog. In an age when work and social interaction is a 24/7 business, it’s imperative to have some time carved out each day that is devoid of technology, besides when we are asleep.
While I don’t love being called a mean mom, I know that my actions are not coming from a malicious place. Quite the opposite. I love my children so much and I cannot keep up with all of the new apps and programs that come on the market that could potentially cause them harm, so I need to have rules about what they see and what they use. In honor, and unfortunately in memory of, those children who have suffered from cyber bullying, I will wear my mean mom tag with pride so that my children and their peers will not suffer the same torture that others have so sadly experienced. Mean mom rules are not a panacea for bullying, but being involved in your children’s virtual world, and teaching them not to do onto others as they would not want done onto them is a start. Let all the mean moms and dads rise up and take action! Let’s set rules! Let’s set consequences and stick to them! My hope is that if we as a village of parents set an example, set restrictions, and set boundaries when it comes to cyber space and cell phones, we can raise our children in a kinder, safer cyber world. Join me, won’t you?