Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Teenagers + technology vs. parents

A mom is fed up with how communications technology affects her teens and their friends. Excerpt:

All this communication gadgetry is causing obsessive-compulsive behaviors, giving people control over another’s whereabouts that astonishes me. More frightening is puberty–especially for girls. One of Robert’s friends asked 20 different girls “out” just to have their phone number so he can text-message them in the middle of the night. “WARE R U?” Worse, he tries outlandish stuff for shock value-sending photos of dirty socks-which can only lead to, you know: “her formation.”
I’m sorry, but 11-year-olds are socially inept and are not able to process simple concepts of hello and goodbye, let alone how to regulate the amount of calls.
When we were kids, jeez, we rang the doorbell and shyly asked for whomever to play. Now, kids seem to feel if they have a cell phone number, they have inalienable rights to other kids’ souls because they’ve cut the out the middleman–parents. We’ve lost control and have no idea what they’re doing.
You might as well give them keys to drive a car. They know as much about responsible driving as they do about boundaries and social etiquette–and it IS that dangerous. The false power they wield seems to give them a license to disregard parental authority in anyone’s house.
They have all the coolest tools to communicate, but have no clue what they are doing. The compulsive repetition of instant access hypnotizes kids into a false autonomy over others that, to me, is harassment.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 1:19 am

I know reports like this are sometimes a little exaggerated, but all the same, some days it still makes me wonder why I would even want to bring kids into a world like this. It seems like the only option is to completely shelter them from the world, but that option usually doesn’t work out too well either, at least in the long run. I’m sure nature has made the teenage years hard since the paleolithic era, but it seems like our current society’s efforts are designed to aggravate these challenges, not mitigate them.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 1:59 am

On a somewhat related note, my state actually has had to put laws on the books outlawing texting while driving, and since that has about as much effect as most traffic laws on what people actually do, we also get this:
I expect that when my children are old enough we will have to spring for a cell phone. But not at age 11– 15 or 16 I can see, especially if they are driving at that point, but not at 11.
I hope it helps that I’m not on mine that often– I have a pay-as-you-go and I rarely spend more than twenty or twenty-five bucks every two months or so. The whole point is that my wife and my work supervisor can get a hold of me if necessary, and that I have access to emergency services. Other than that, I rarely use it. My goal then is that my children learn that it is a tool, not a toy, well before they ever have their own.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 2:24 am

I haven’t read a good synopsis of the situation for a while. You are right on the money with this one.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 7:49 am

Yeah, but kids who want to disregard parental authority (and most do and have done so in some areas) find ways to do it whether they have cellphones or not. Young boys are gonna do lame stuff with or without techno tools. It’s not as if dirty socks only became funny to them once cellphones appeared on the scene. Sure, technology gives them instant access to peers but what they do with it isn’t that different from passing jokey notes in class or bantering in hallways.
I’m not sold on the idea that technology degrades people or is a source of corrosion in the hands of the young. And it’s not as if we adults have it all under control, anyway. Look at how adults use or misuse technology. Why do some people engage in reasonable give and take in comboxes and others so misuse the privilege of posting comments here that Rod has to ban them? People differ, so do kids. Its impossible for mje to say “it’s all bad” or “it’s harmless” about technology tools.
And let’s face it, the workplace has been changing in terms of communications from the one that past generations experienced. When kids who now are young teens enter the workforce in a few years, social media, wikis, other collaborative tools are going to be there, in their offices, for them to use, 24/7. They’ll be using them in an environment where anyone on their team or reporting chain can reach them at any time of day wherever they are.
The idea of office face time 9-5 M-F defining work is disapearing. In some jobs, people work in up and down cycles of their own choosing. They put in 8 hours or more teleworking from home, where they can stop and take a kid to a doctor’s appointment and then pick up with their work assignments afterwards. Texting on cellphones lays the foundation for that connected as needed mindsest. In some cases it veers off into negatives, but it also can be quite benign.

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Bruce G

posted April 30, 2010 at 8:05 am

I know reports like this are sometimes a little exaggerated, but all the same, some days it still makes me wonder why I would even want to bring kids into a world like this.
Because you don’t have to concede your kids to the world. You can fight it and you can teach your kids to fight it.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 8:19 am

One of my young teenage relatives apparently texted a nude photo of herself to “boyfriends” or at least boys she’d hooked up with. I loathe how incredibly rude even adults are with cell phones, when I have to overhear incredibly intimate conversations in the check-out aisle at the grocery store or when someone I’m with will stop a conversation in mid-sentence to answer a cell phone with an obnoxious ring tone. I hate conducting interviewes with people who are driving while on their cell phones because I feel like I’m contributing to a road hazard. I feel like the old lady shaking her first at the sky and talking about “kids these days” but I think reasonable limits and rules of civility should not be out of order.
If there isn’t some code of correct behavior with these things, it’s up to parents to make one up and teach them. I’d start with no texting or cell phone use after a certain hour and certainly not when you’re driving, at the dinner table or during school hours. The person you’re with takes priority over the person who has just texted you or called you on your cell phone. In those circumstances, you can always call that person back. No “sexting” under any circumstances. No excessive texts or calls or excessive cell phone charges. Kids will use correct English at all times in papers and formal written communication and will never be allowed to use “u” for “you.” Any breaking of the rules will result in the cell phone being taken away for a few weeks and the kid being instructed to use the land line or, better yet, read a book.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 8:34 am

My older kids are 13 and 12, and within the last year we got them each a pay-as-you go phone – it only makes calls, nothing else. They have recently gotten to the age where they’re walking to and from karate, and the library, after school clubs, etc, and we wanted a way for them to be able to check in with us. When I was a kid (I’m in my mid 30s) my mother required me to check in by pay phone if I went anywhere by bus/walking after school, but there’s no more pay phones around! I resisted the cell phone idea for quite a while, but it was that lack of phones around now that made me finally agree to get one. I want my kids to be independent, and learn to navigate the world on their own without me or my husband chauffering them around everywhere like most of their friends are, but part of that is being able to check in so that we know we’re where they’re supposed to be. That’s what the cellphone achieves for us and our kids. We keep the phones, and if they’re going somewhere that day, we hand them over to the kids, and we check the calls, contacts, etc regularly so that we know who they’ve called and who calls them.
So far they’ve been very responsible with them (except for the times that my daughter called my son’s phone to pull the old “Is your refrigerator running?” crank call gag. Which I think is pretty tame, considering all the other possibilites ;). Maybe I’m lucky though, both of them tend to be nerdy, bookish, responsible types who mostly like showing off how independent and responsible they’re able to be (and it also helps that their very small circle of friends is also made up of similar kids). Of course, that could change any time as we get further into the teen years… We’ll see! :)
Captcha: “tax around”. It must know I’m a liberal :)

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posted April 30, 2010 at 8:37 am

Andrea, some of your rules never will fly. Look at Twitter, which is used by more and more people of different ages. And increasingly by all sorts of organizations. And whose public database will be acquired by the Library of Congress. Why not? It’s a communications tool, a means of reaching people. Twitter has a 140 character limit for messaging. No point in typing you when u will do, u r jst wastg char. Most people who tweet can toggle very nicely between formal professional writing and textspeak.
Most of us adults switch gears in how we communicate, we do it all the time. It’s no different from learning to use jargon (read any organization’s internal issuances on human resources or other administrative matters and you’ll see a lot of earnest, often stilted language that we never, ever use in discussing the same issues over lunch). Think of how we mentor newbies in the office. We don’t use formal jargon of the type HR puts out. We use accessible language, geared towards opening doors to two way communications. Dialogue. Kids can do so, too.
As for the person you’re with always, always taking precedence over who is on the phone, that won’t work. If an elderly relative who depends on me calls me suddenly while I’m having drinks with a bud, you know I’m gonna pick up. Or if I get a text message that a colleague has left an urgent VM on my office phone while I’m taking a day off and meeting a friend for lunch, you know I’m gonna call in to the office see if it is something I need to take care of right away. A call from a casual acquaintance while I’m lunching with a friend? Roll to voice mail. We learn to prioritize our obligations.

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Lord Karth

posted April 30, 2010 at 9:19 am

Where’s a high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (EMP) when you need one ?
Your servant,
Lord Karth

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posted April 30, 2010 at 9:56 am

Along with the suicide story coming from Western Mass, we know a 6th grade girl, going to a Christian school in Jersey, who has been mercilessly abused by her female classmates. Their favorite form of abuse: through email and texting.
Two things have been forgotten: parents are supposed to be the adults and kids and their half-formed brains are not capable of handling all this technology well. Our teens do not have texting. There’s no need for it. They can make a call if they need to. We have gotten software for our computer at home so that they are limited to the amount of time they use per week. It has greatly helped in the excessive, unnecessary socializing they do instead of homework.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 10:19 am

I would say this unfettered access kids have to eachother’s eyes and ears through technology is balanced by the much tighter controls on their whole bodies, through the dramatic increase in adult supervision and fear of abduction or injury. In the scenario of having to ask for a friend at the front door, the parental filter was there … until the kid came out and the two of you head off into the woods. That’s when things could get just as weird as they do in text messages today, and with potentially more damaging consequences.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 10:48 am

Yeah, weird and bad stuff happened all the time before all this social networking and communications technology became the norm, but the immediate intimacy and 24/7 accessibility of the technology add new layers to the insidious creepiness of the darker side of it all.
That kid in the story is obviously a stalker-in-training.
However, you can put the brakes on the old fashioned way — the parents of the girl(s) being stalked (and it is stalking — which, btw, means you can get a number change without a service fee from your service provider) have to show up at the door of the boy in question. Face to face, embarrassing confrontation is usually pretty effective. His parents probably have no idea what he’s up to and, as defensive as they may be about it at first, you’re really doing them a favor.

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David J. White

posted April 30, 2010 at 10:55 am

Twitter has a 140 character limit for messaging. No point in typing you when u will do, u r jst wastg char. Most people who tweet can toggle very nicely between formal professional writing and textspeak.
Indy, I don’t think you read Andrea’s post carefully. She wrote:
Kids will use correct English at all times in papers and formal written communication and will never be allowed to use “u” for “you.”
I think that makes it pretty clear that she isn’t expecting her kids to forego abbreviations in tweets and text messages (though, for the record, I text a great deal and always try to use full spellings unless I’m deliberately trying to be facetious. It *can* be done. Yes, it takes a little more time and trouble, but most worthwhile things do).
Or if I get a text message that a colleague has left an urgent VM on my office phone while I’m taking a day off and meeting a friend for lunch, you know I’m gonna call in to the office see if it is something I need to take care of right away.
Why are you checking text messages while meeting a friend for lunch? Sorry, but if I were your friend I would find that rude, unless you have the kind of job where you can expect to be on call, and your friend knows that. Otherwise, my day off is my day off. Check your text messages after lunch.
If you’re so important that you have to check your text messages while having lunch with me, well, then I guess you’re just too important to have lunch with me. Far be it from me to take up your valuable time.
If an elderly relative who depends on me calls me suddenly while I’m having drinks with a bud, you know I’m gonna pick up.
That’s certainly understandable; but in that scenario, I hope you let your friends know in advance that you might have to interrupt the conversation to take an emergency call. Because if you keep checking your phone for calls and texts, the message you are conveying to your lunch and drink partners, whether or not you intend to, is: “You are worthwhile only to fill my down time until the really important business of my life calls me away. The second something better or more important comes along, I’m out of here.”
In the scenario of having to ask for a friend at the front door, the parental filter was there … until the kid came out and the two of you head off into the woods. That’s when things could get just as weird as they do in text messages today, and with potentially more damaging consequences.
I don’t know; I’m of the generation that felt free to play in the woods without parental supervision; I could head outdoors and just tell my mother I was going “out”, and that was fine. Or my mother would just drop me off somewhere, at a park or something, and tell me she’s be back in an hour, which I could spend in the park unsupervised. And nothing scary or bad ever happened to me. Then again, I was also an altar boy for many years and no priest ever tried to molest me, or even looked cross-eyed at me. I was in Catholic elementary school for 8 years and was ever beaten by a nun. Did I just have an abnormally charmed childhood or something? Or have we gotten very good at scaring the pants off ourselves for no good reason, and projecting these fears onto our kids?
Captcha: have nicklaus
And I’m not even a golfer! 😉

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posted April 30, 2010 at 11:16 am

David, a lot of companies now have used the new communications technology to allow what my husband’s company calls “work from home” days, so often one can be at, say, the Giants game, and have to check the iPhone for emails, and so on.
That’s the double-edged sword of the technology — you can work from home, or the ballgame, or Tahoe, or whatever, which means the company has a right to expect you to respond, but sometimes the company doesn’t know where to draw the line between working from home and officially taking a vacation day and you end up with a steady stream of calls, texts and emails during official vacation time.
There’s good and bad in everything, but most people sort it out pretty well. And it’s not like rudeness didn’t exist before the inception of the iPhone.
We live in iCult land, so we’re pretty used to the younger adults fidgeting with their iPhones all the time. Hey, it’s the kids’ world — we just live in it. And pay the bills.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Hey, even as an adult, I know to whom I can entrust my cell phone number and to whom I cannot. And I don’t give it to silly people who want to call me umpteen times per day because they’re hyper or bored and don’t really have much to say while they’re wasting my minutes.
We have to teach kids the same thing. The pre-pay/no contract phones are great for that. Give them a do-able but limited number of minutes and features and they catch on quickly that they’d better budget those minutes wisely. That’s what I did with my son when he was a teen and it lifted my heart to hear him tell someone, “Do you really need to talk to me? I don’t want to waste my minutes.”

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posted April 30, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Wireless Devices and Health Concerns: FCC
Consumer Facts
There is growing evidence in unpublished trials of cancer risk related to cell phone radiation use. Many of the published trials were sponsored by the cell phone industry, which should make any reasonable person question a postitive outcome in such a trial. It is especially important that children, whose cells are more sensitive to such radiation, avoid the use of cell phones. If you go to this site, you will see that the FCC is recommending things to do to reduce risk of exposure to radiation.(scroll down) As much as the government is in the pocket of Big Business, I think it is pretty significant of a government agency like the FCC to issue “precautions”.
Furthermore, the state of Maine has decided to pursue consumer protection in advance of conclusive trials in accord with other countries that have done the same. Here is the link to that information:
And here is the important quote:
“The Health and Human Services Committee held a hearing on a bill that would make Maine the first state to carry warnings that they can cause brain cancer, especially among children”
And there is more:
“the 2009 special EMF issue of the Journal of Pathophysiology contains over a dozen different studies on the health effects of electromagnetic fields and wireless technology”
Here’s the link to those “dozens of studies” if you like to read the evidence for yourself.
Personally, I think cell phone use will be deemed the cigarettes of our generation and people will marvel at our insanity in thinking we can hold a devise to our head that emits low frequency radiation and magnetic fields and expect there won’t be consequences.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

I have seen a different side to the texting revolution. My 16-year-old nephew has his first girlfriend and much of their conversation has been by text/IM. In a recent conversation, she got upset at something he said. Since my nephew and his mom are close, he showed his mom the messages and asked what he did wrong and what to say.
While part of me thinks he should figure this out for himself, it shows that with proper parenting these tools can be used for good.

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The Sicilian Woman

posted April 30, 2010 at 2:18 pm

If there’s one area where I am a staunch conservative (some might say I’m archaic), it’s electronic communication. It’s fostered a fake need for immediacy, with a helping of OCD, in being able to talk/text anyone, anywhere, anytime. Adults are bad enough, using their cell phones for unnecessary conversations (in my opinion, 99 out of a 100 are those that could wait until one is in the privacy of his home), but kids these days are growing up with that mentality.
I don’t Twitter. (Does anyone care that I just ate a piece of cake? If so, they need to get a life)
I don’t Facebook/MySpace, etc. (Same comment as above.)
My cell phone is rarely on. It’s used for long-distance calls, or for calls if I am running late meeting someone, or for those times when I am out-of-state.
The Culture of Immediacy (I call ownership of the term!) and social media have some advantages, but far from enough to make me jump in, and far from enough that if I had children, they wouldn’t have cell phones – heavily monitored cell phones – until their teens, and no Facebook, Twitter or other social networking accounts (computer usage highly monitored) until they were 18.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 9:25 pm

@David J. White, I’m thinking of the fact that many organizations now tweet. It’s a way to reach more people. They do use abbreviations. Maybe it wouldn’t be considered “formal communications” but it is a part of corporate communications strategy. By all means, ensure that kids write properly when required. But once they enter the workplace, they will be toggling back and forth depending on the format they are using for business communications.
As for checking texts while at lunch, here’s the deal. Any friend with whom I have lunch on a day off is bound to be a good friend. (Casual acquaintenances I meet for lunch on workdays. The standard one hour lunch and then back to the office, which usually is only a 15 minute hop away.) So, yeah, they know me well enough to know who are my dependents and whose calls among elderly relatives I may want to take.
As for texts alerting me that I have a VM on my office telephone, those buzz simultaneously — but differently — on my personal cellphone and on employer issued BB. So I immediately know its a VM. The text tells me who called and what their number is. Most VMs I can check later, or even the next day when I’m back in the office. There are some people who leave VMs for whom I immediately call in on because the people are at such a level that I don’t want to leave them in the lurch. They deal with real power players and such. To help them out right away is to give THEM one less thing to worry about. I’m paid well and I like my employer so it’s worth relieving others’ stress. So it’s not about me being “important,” it’s knowing who is dependent on me and who needs or would benefit from my help even when I’m out. Where I work, we don’t all think of our workplaces in terms of how we rank but rather how we fit in on a larger team which is working towards certain goals and outcomes.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 9:35 pm

PS Meant to add that the very good friends with whom I lunch on days off know the deal with my employer, know I’m well paid, know people depend on me and how and why, and aren’t affronted on the few occasions I have had to call back in on a VM. It’s not that it happens that often. But when it does, they under5stand why I prioritize the way I do.

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posted October 7, 2011 at 2:01 am

f*ck all of you over controlling dictators. children aren’t accessories to have complete control over. they are people too. socialization or texting for teenagers is for one thing is to escape your monarchist rule. infact the person above who puts a timer on a computer and only makes their kids do homework, should be publicly executed by a firing squad. I am surprised your children have not overthrown or escaped (ran away) your oppression. i myself am 18 and made sure any unnecessary control over me when i was a teen was successfully sabotaged or eliminated. ANARCHY!

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