Using Technology as a Family Friend

Before my daughter was married, we took one last vacation as a family. While at dinner one evening, the restaurant's background music featured classic tunes from the 1960s and '70s. I challenged my family to a game of "Name That Artist." It wasn't a fair competition since the music was mostly unfamiliar to my children, and my wife never did care much for the hits of our generation. One tune stumped me, however. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't come up with the band's name. That's when my son pulled out his cell phone and a few clicks later proudly announced the artist. How? His mobile phone has an application that can discern songs and their artists. Go figure!

Products released to rave reviews just a few years ago now gather dust on the shelves of secondhand stores. Yes, technology is moving at a breakneck pace. And evaluating the implications of new devices and technology is a full-time job. The good news is we don't have to become tech geeks. We just need to know what our own children are into . . . and become familiar with the benefits, the pitfalls, and the safeguards. Because no matter where you are on the gizmo-knowledge curve, I believe strongly that protecting our daughters from the negative aspects of technology requires active parental involvement.

Consider seventeen-year-old Mikaela Espinoza: "Whenever I'd hear my phone ring, I would wake up and answer it. I think a whole bunch of kids text all night long."7

Mikaela's doctor determined that her migraines were caused by too little sleep due to excessive texting. "Before technology, we went to sleep when the sun went down," says Dr. Myrza Perez, a specialist in sleep disorders. "Now, with all these distractions, teenagers alone in their rooms stay up to extremely late hours on their cell phones and computers. Their parents have no idea."8

Dr. Perez's conclusion that parents can be clueless must serve as a reminder. What would you do if Mikaela were your daughter? That is a good question. I would start by asking questions and becoming familiar with the devices and systems our girls choose to obtain information, to network with friends, and to consume entertainment. Mikaela's parents could have headed off those migraines by simply taking a closer look each month at the family's mobile phone bill. But isn't that being a snoop? I don't believe so! In this technological age, that's called wise parenting.

I told my children that e-mails, IMs, and Internet history were open to all of us in our family. They could read mine. I could read theirs. I could check what sites they visited, and they were welcome to see where I'd been. When my children lived under my roof, I regularly visited their social networking sites. I not only checked to see how my kids expressed themselves, but I also clicked on their friends' sites as well, checking out the photos they posted, the polls they answered, and the questionnaires they filled out. Some parents might be reluctant to monitor these activities, believing it to be an invasion of privacy.

But consider this: In 2008, 22 percent of managers checked job applicants' social networking profiles before hiring. A year later, that figure jumped to 45 percent.9 If potential employers have the need to snoop, how much more do parents need to know what is going on? Never before has there been such a constant invasion of harmful stuff coming at our daughters. To fail to monitor these sites is, I believe, unwise.

According to Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, adolescents live in "an institutionalized culture of interruption, where our time and attention is being fragmented by a never-ending stream of phone calls, e-mails, instant messages, text messages and tweets."10 Teens need to learn how to manage that barrage of information, and to know they will be held accountable for their online choices.

So, do you know what songs your daughter currently listens to on her iPod? Or does she prefer a build-your-own radio station online? Do you know what Internet sites she frequents? The security firm Symantec Corporation, with help from OnlineFamily.Norton, identified the top one hundred Internet searches conducted by children. Number one is YouTube. Fourth on the list is sex. Porn is number six.11

Not everything served up to your children is problematic, of course. There are educational videos available, and some of these are very funny. What's more, Christians are increasingly using online video for Kingdom purposes. There's nothing inherently wrong with the technology that allows people to see and hear video offerings. But trust me on this: despite many popular online sites claiming they don't allow pornography or violent content, wretched stuff exists on YouTube and similar sites. Soft-core pornography is routine.

Occasionally, hard-core porn slips through the nearly twenty hours of video that are uploaded to YouTube every minute.12 Without parental guidance, YouTube can quickly move from family friend to major enemy—especially when we realize that even children ages two to eleven spend an average of eleven hours on the Internet every week, a 63 percent increase in the past five years.13

While the cell phone can be a wonderful tool, it can also introduce a world of hurt. For instance, one out of every five teens admits to having sent risqué photos of himself or herself via cell phone or e-mail, 11 percent of whom have sent such photos to complete strangers.14 "Sexting" can also be a means of harassment and bullying, especially when not-so-friendly peers use their cell phone cameras in locker rooms and health clubs. In July 2008, a compromising picture forwarded to others resulted in more than just humiliation. Jessica Logan, eighteen, hung herself after a nude picture she'd sent to her boyfriend was forwarded to other high school girls. According to her mother, Cynthia Logan, Jessica began to experience harassment from peers who labeled her a "slut" and a "whore," and even threw things at her.15 The bullying was so painful that she lost her desire to live.

Space simply doesn't allow an in-depth analysis of the various ways and systems that are currently delivering information and entertainment. (Articles, news, and quotes on this subject are regularly updated at http://www.pluggedin .com.) Once again, your children should not be wandering through potential technology landmines without your regular oversight and involvement.

7.Marissa Lang, "Night Texting Putting Teen Health at Risk," Miami Herald (July 21, 2009).

8. Ibid.

9.Jenna Wortham, "More Employers Use Social Networks to Check Out Applicants," New York

Times (August 20, 2009); see

10.Patrick Welsh, "Txting Away Ur Education," USA Today (June 23, 2009); see

11."School's Out and Your Kids Are Online: Do You Know What They've Been Searching for This

Summer?"; see

12. See

13."Growing Up, and Growing Fast: Kids 2–11 Spending More Time Online," Nielsenwire (July 6,

2009); see


14.Brenda Rindge, "Teen 'Sexting' Risky Behavior," Post and Courier (January 6, 2009): D1.

15.Mike Celizic, "Her Teen Committed Suicide Over 'Sexting,'" MSNBC (March 6, 2009); see http://

Using Technology as a Family Friend

By Bob Waliszewski

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

Group Created with Sketch.