There are times when I need to be conked on the head a few times before becoming aware that a problem is afoot.
The final blast to my noggin occurred earlier this week when I walked through the door to find my 13-year-old lying on the couch. He had his Xbox Live headset on and was talking away to someone he was gaming with across town. His computer was on his lap and he was Facebooking with friends, while at the same time monitoring and responding to the incoming text messages on his cell phone.
As I was pondering the clear need to set some new limits, my son informed that he was thinking it might be cool to join the Marines.
“Ted is a Marine,” he said.
“Who is Ted?” I asked.
“A guy I’ve been talking to on Xbox. He’s 18. I think I’ll ask him to get me some information about the Marines.”
“Who exactly can you talk to on Xbox Live?” I asked, unfortunately three months after he received it.
“Pretty much anyone who is on Xbox Live,” he replied.
I’m terribly ashamed to say that I didn’t know that.
In fact, I don’t know much at all about this technobeast that sits in the center of my family room and allows my son to have actual verbal conversations with other gamers whom he teams up with and competes against.
“If I was a pervert interested in preying on boys, I guess the world of Xbox Live might be a decent place to hang out in,” I told him.
He informed me that he felt he’d know if someone was an “old pervert” since he could actually hear the person’s voice and have real conversations with him.
I informed him that not all perverts are old and that a person’s tone of voice or articulate conversation skills had little to do with his morality, ethics or motives.
He walked away with a seemingly slight acknowledgment of my concern, and I walked away flipping through the Xbox Live instruction manual searching for the parental control section.
So I’m working on that and working on keeping the laptop and the cell phone out of his bedroom at night because I’m quite sure there is never a desperate need to be sending or receiving texts or Facebook messages past bedtime.
As I was discussing my new “tough on all electronics policy” to my friend Dan Frazell over coffee a few days later, he let me in on the latest threat to parents trying to keep pace with the electronic universe their children live in.
It’s called “Tigertexting” and it is sort of the Mission: Impossible answer to sending and receiving secret text messages.
Frazell spent most of his career as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer at the Bangor Police Department and speaks all over the country and Canada about media, music and electronics and their effect on children.
He is adamant about the necessity of parents to monitor their children’s text messages. Some parents simply take the phone and look at it once in a while; others pay a fee to the cell phone company and are provided with monthly reports that include all of the text messages sent and received from their child’s phone.
Tigertext is a new application that allows for text messages to basically self-destruct, leaving no trace behind, according to the company’s Web site.
The user can determine how long the message should remain — from a minute after reading or up to several days. Not only is the message erased from the cell phone, but there is also no record of it by the cell phone company.
“This is just an awful tool for kids,” Frazell said. “Talk about the opportunity for cyberbullying and sexting. This type of thing just swings that door wide open because kids aren’t going to be afraid of who might see the messages they send someone.”
In fact, an example on the company’s Web site states, “Doesn’t she check ur texts??” and the reply is, “These’ll be long gone b4 she looks at my phone:)”
Despite that example, founder Jeffrey Evans insists that the application is not designed with spousal cheaters in mind and in fact he actually informed a CNN reporter that the name “Tigertext” had absolutely nothing to do with Tiger Woods and his whole texting affair. It was just a coincidence.
“There is absolutely no reason in my opinion why kids should have this on their cell phones,” Frazell said. “Parents really need to check their phone bills and make sure that their kids have not downloaded this application.”
It is a remarkably crazy world our kids are growing up in, and it changes so fast that keeping up seems an impossible feat.
Clearly, though, as parents we must. Sometimes we have to stop amid the madness and put our necks out there far enough to receive a good conk to the head.