My 12-year-old daughter is an average tween: slowly exploring adolescence, coming to grips with her changing body, occasionally mouthy (I will not bother to define “occasionally” here), and now describes cute boys as “hot.”
Sound normal? Probably. But when your kid suddenly regards the opposite sex as “hot” and not “ewww, he has cooties,” your inner parental alarm bell starts ringing.
So what to do? Experts say keep open lines of communication. But communication nowadays is so much more than talking. It’s texting; it’s Facebook; it’s Tumblr. And yes, you have to keep on top of it all. And that’s when I became a “tech-copter” parent. To be clear, this is completely different from being labeled the dreaded “helicopter” parent. While helicopter parents are known for their “over-bearing, over-parenting,” tech-coptering is my own definition of judiciously staying on top of your kids’ tech activity.
Yes, you can limit computer screen time, X-Box and Kinect-ing. But once you get your tween a phone, it’s a different ball game altogether. They enter the silent world of texting. All you see is thumbs flying and the odd squeal of delight when a friend request is accepted.
Add to that a Facebook account (no, you cannot keep them off of it forever) and Tumblr pages—a popular micro-blogging platform that allows for creative self-expression—and you need to develop a techno-dialogue with your tween.
Of course, there is a fine balance between tech-coptering and just plain stalking your kids’ activities. In a recent post, Amy Oztan quickly realized her constant geo-location checks of her son’s school travel route was making her more—not less—neurotic. The result? She had to quit cold turkey.
Through trial and error, here are five ways I’ve adopted to tech-copter my tweens’ cyber-activities:
Explain the toothpaste theory
A wise person once gave me this brilliant analogy: In the same way you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube, once you text or post a picture, it’s almost impossible to take it back. I often remind my daughter of this by uttering “toothpaste!” during mid-text as a reminder to be careful of the tone and words of her texts.
Perform random spot checks
I do random text spot-checks by asking my tween to show me a conversation. The chat is often amazingly banal, usually full of “lolz,” “wassup,” and “cool.” It’s also a good way to ensure your tween’s texting isn’t turning into sexting. Gawd forbid.
Gently ask to remove pictures
My tween often posts pictures to her Facebook page. As her Facebook friend, I can look through those pictures. On two occasions I gently asked her to take pictures down—and to ensure her friends don’t post them either. You would be amazed/shocked by how many tween/teen girls post bikini-clad pictures of themselves. Even though my request was met with an eye roll, it sent a signal regarding what’s appropriate/inappropriate.
Know the password
You should know your kids’ phone and computer passwords. I don’t use them for spontaneous invasions of privacy, but she needs to know there shouldn’t be anything so secretive on her computer or her phone that I couldn’t see it.
Be a creative participant
If your tween keeps Tumblr accounts, this is a great way to engage in the creative process as you can help curate pictures and posts together. Understanding what ignites their interests can spark meaningful conversation.