Today I had a revelation.
As the parent of a 13 and 15 yo, I am just beginning my journey through these years of raising teens. And so, I am coming to these revelations slowly, with much more to learn. In a way, raising teens is like starting all over again as a parent. The rules change and the stakes get higher. The pressure mounts as you know there is no time to waste-- that tomorrow (the thing you have a lot of with little ones) is slipping out of reach at a rapid pace.
And so, back to my revelation. I talked to a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) this morning. She vented to me for a bit about discovering some of the uncouth texts boys have left on both her daughters' cell phone. And what she did about this discovery. She and her daughters had a pretty tough conversation with dad present. Some boundaries were laid out that before had not existed because she thought that she could trust her daughters' judgment. She wanted to believe her daughters had more self respect than to let a boy talk to them the way these boys did. And yet, because of peer pressure or what they perceive as "normal," they let it go. And reduced their standards in the process.
I thought about this conversation a lot after we hung up. My friend reminded me that "random text checks" are a good idea, even with a kid who appears to be living a nice, obedient life. Just saying to the kid, "Hey, let me see your phone" on the spot, and then scrolling through their last texts is a good idea. You might be surprised what you learn about their secret lives.
Just a few minutes ago, our house phone rang. It was a friend of my son's-- a kid named Ryan who I don't know at all. But he clearly knew my son and wanted to find him. As I hung up I thought about how odd it was for my son to have friends I don't know-- and how dangerous it is. Because that is why God gave teens parents-- to help them make moral decisions, to offer wise counsel and to instill boundaries in their lives. And yet, cell phones make it entirely possible to have a child who has a whole network of friends and plans we are not privy to. This bothered me.
My son is currently without a cell phone due to some disrespectful behavior he has been having. (For an example of how pleasant he can be to live with, check out his face in the photo of all the kids before church on my husband's blog.) We took it away and told him we would no longer be paying for this service that is, quite frankly, a luxury. We told him that we would buy him a prepaid cell phone with the first couple of minutes and he would be buying the rest after that.
And I know the argument that cell phones are for safety and it's nice to be able to get kids on the phone wherever they are, etc. But I have to say they are also dangerous. Because a cell phone gives a teenager the opportunity to live a life that is wholly separate from their parents. Maybe I sound old when I say this, but when I was growing up, all my calls came though my home. My mom, then, was privy to who was calling, what plans were being made, and what I was up to-- whether I liked it or not. She was in my business, and I needed her to be. I wasn't ready for the complete and total freedom to give my number out to just anyone. I had to really think about it-- because I knew that she would ask me, "Who was that? How do you know him? Why is he calling?" and all those other mom-type questions.
But cell phones cut out all that pesky parenting stuff. They make it possible for illicit texts to pass between them-- alluding to things that they have no business dabbling in. They make it possible for plans to get made away from a parent's earshot. They take parents out of the equation-- which is exactly what teens think they want. They foster that illusion of having their own life-- complete with their own phone number.
And why have we as the majority of parents allowed this? I will raise my hand and be the first one to admit that it was not because I was concerned about their safety or because I needed to get ahold of them when they are out-- there are a million other kids with cell phones they can use. Or (gasp! horrors!) they can use the phone of the place they are at. I let mine have cell phones because they bugged me like crazy until I gave in under the pressure. They used everything from whining to begging to bargaining. They used guilt: "How would you feel if something happened and I couldn't call you?" They used manipulation: "All the other kids have them and you are making me look bad to my friends." And in the end, I caved. Not because I really put a lot of thought into it. But because, plain and simple, I am a sheep. And sheep do whatever the rest of the flock is doing. If the rest of the flock walks over the side of a cliff, the sheep will get in line and march right over the side with them. That is why the sheep need a shepherd. And my Shepherd has been whispering to me today to stop the madness. To stop blindly following and be set apart-- and to raise kids who are set apart in the process.
Parenting teens today is hard. And this is just one of the reasons why. Today I realized that our position on cell phones is "weird" by our kids and the rest of the world's standards. But that is okay. If it means helping our kids emerge from the teen years holy and healthy, I am willing to be weird. May God give us the strength to remain steadfast in the many years we have ahead of us. Because being weird isn't just weird-- it's exhausting. It's easier to just pretend we don't see and hope for the best. Tragically, that's what too many parents are doing. If it weren't for God getting my attention on some issues, I would most definitely be one of them.