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August 16, 2012

Helpless, Clueless Parents

File under "Overthinking Life":

Dear Prudence, I have a beautiful, awesome 17-year-old daughter. She does well in school and she doesn't get into trouble. This morning I dropped her off for band camp and she accidentally left her phone in the car. When I discovered it, I texted her with it, saying I had her phone. Then a few texts caught my eye, and I snooped. It turns out my daughter is sexting with a couple of boys, sending naked pictures of herself over her phone. Should I pretend I never saw it but somehow subtly offer some advice about the dangers of sexting? I don't want her to feel the shame of knowing I know. But even worse, I don't want her to feel the shame of the entire world knowing if one of these boys decides to be an ass. These boys have sent pictures of their junk, too. If she were in a serious relationship, I could understand her having sex, but it's the sending of pictures that really has me bothered. What do I do?

—Bewildered Mom

Wow. Just wow.

The blog princess apologizes in advance, because this is going to turn into a rant. What in the blue blazes is wrong with parents these days?

And perhaps more importantly, who is paying for this kid's phone, anyway?

There is something deeply disturbing about a parent who doesn't seem to understand that a 17 year old is not an adult - not by any stretch of the imagination. A teenager who is sending nekkid photos to guys she's not even involved with (one hopes, though this particular parent has already demonstrated a degree of cluelessness rarely seen outside Congress or the Executive branch) is clearly neither old enough nor responsible enough to use a phone.

Having a cell phone is not a human right. It is not necessary to get through school. In the extremely unlikely event that we had given our teenaged sons a cell phone, it would not have been one with texting or Internet access. But if we had - for some reason that escapes us - done that and learned they were using a phone we paid for to do something we didn't want them doing, the answer would be obvious: downgrade the service or take away the phone.

Good Lord. Quit worrying about your daughter's feelings and start worrying about what she's obviously been doing with the phone you're paying for.

Posted by Cassandra at August 16, 2012 07:44 AM

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What mystifies me is how can you text someone on their own phone? If the daughter left her phone in the car, how on earth is she going to read the text? Where does this mom think that texts go?

So maybe we have an explanation for the clueless daughter--she has a clueless mom.

Posted by: Rex at August 16, 2012 12:02 PM

Good catch! The blog princess refuses to text except in times of Xtreme Emergency, so she missed that one!

Sounds like Mom felt she needed an excuse to look at her daughter's phone. Anyone know whether you can rig your PC or email to pick up text messages?

I know some electronic devices can be linked (my Kindle Fire has some features like that, though I distrust that sort of thing enough not to want to enable those features). I think I can even get mail on it, though I'm not sure why I need email to follow me everywhere I go :p

Posted by: Cassandra at August 16, 2012 12:24 PM

I don't want her to feel the shame of knowing I know.

Why the hell not!? Who's the parent in this relationship?

What mystifies me is how can you text someone on their own phone? If the daughter left her phone in the car, how on earth is she going to read the text?

Why, she'll read it on the throw-away cell she got with her own resources, Silly, her smart phone having had forwarding set up. Perhaps those resources include income from selling photos of herself after their marketability has been vetted by her two male reviewers....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 16, 2012 12:27 PM

Who's the parent in this relationship?

That's a big part of the problem - there is no parent in the relationship.

This has really been bothering me lately. I see even parents of toddlers who don't seem to feel comfortable acting as parents. It's as though we have to treat everyone equally ... even when the other person is only 2 years old and can't possibly be expected to take care of themselves or make good decisions.

We're uncomfortable with authority. Even legitimate authority, and even when it's vitally important that *someone* take responsibility.

re: shame, I agree: the daughter ought to feel a little shame. I don't really care about the morality of sending nekkid photos. I have an opinion, but so does every other person on the planet.

What she should feel shame for is being so *&^% dumb that she can't understand - on a gut level - that her actions can cause all sorts of problems, not only for her but for her parents and family.

Whatever happened to thinking ahead?

Posted by: Cassandra at August 16, 2012 01:10 PM

Oh I'd say Mom is not only clueless she's totally abdicated the role of parent in exchange for being a 'best buddy'

Her daughter needs to know that she got caught doing something very wrong. I'd even let the other parents know AND the school! that Mom - and the father wherever he is - need to step up to the plate.

Take the girl's phone away. Take her computer away. There are consequences to behavior like that and they should be put in place and enforced.

I could rant more . .but in interest of keeping my blood pressure down . . . I'll hop off the soapbox now!

Posted by: Nina at August 16, 2012 01:27 PM

Well, I know that I could download an app for my Xoom that would allow me to send and receive text messages, but I can't figure out a way for a to receive them. As far as I know, text messaging uses the SMS (Short Message Service) part of the cell phone signal, so one must receive a cell phone signal to receive a text message.

That being said, there could be a commercial service that receives text messages via cell phone and translates them to e-mails, but I don't know if one exists or not.

Posted by: Rex at August 16, 2012 01:37 PM

In other unrelated good news, the command screening results (USMC) were released a couple of weeks ago, and my son is getting his battalion next summer! My wife and I are really happy about that.

Posted by: Rex at August 16, 2012 01:40 PM

Congratulations! That's a big achievement :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 16, 2012 02:03 PM

I'd have to stop and think about how I'd react, Nina. Based on what I can remember, the bare minimum would be letting the other parents know. To me this isn't a slap on the wrist kind of thing - your child is doing something that could affect them for years to come, especially if they plan on living and working in the same community. Who wants to have naked photos surface years later? Or (God forbid) have them come up online when an employer Googles you?

My trust level with schools is pretty low (that's a sad thing to admit), so I don't know what I'd do there. They don't have a very good track record of sensible reactions - everything is zero tolerance these days. It never seems to occur to them that this doesn't make it likely that either parents or kids will come to them with problems.

We were kind of odd in that we didn't let the kids have a computer in their room (they were a lot more expensive back then, but even if they hadn't been, I wouldn't have done it) and they didn't even get a land line in their room until senior year. That was a big privilege, and I seem to recall at least one of the boys having it taken away temporarily in response to some misdeed or other.

In general I gave our boys a lot of freedom in HS, but told them if they showed me they couldn't handle it, it would be taken away. They mostly did handle it pretty well, and when they didn't, there were consequences.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 16, 2012 02:11 PM

Cass, I must be as odd as you then! ;-) My daughter doesn't have a computer in her room either, I monitor her online activities (we have lots of discussions about what sites she can and cannot go to), when her friends are over the computer is off, and thankfully she's not really into carrying her phone around with her constantly (but as an 8th grader that might change a little).

You're right - many schools don't have a good track record of sensible reactions to issues like sexting or bullying. Which makes it difficult for parents who are involved in their child's life to trust something like this will be handled well. However, here in Colorado there are some schools that are working closely with public safety and even the news media to get the word out about the ramifications of sexting. Its an uphill battle, but hopefully it will help.

And I agree, something like this isn't a slap on the wrist kind of a deal. Sexting is a big fat hairy deal with long-term consequences. And if parents don't want to realize it and make excuses rather than impose consequences then that child will learn nothing from the experience of getting caught. Always irks me to no end when I see a parent who'd rather pass the buck as it were than step up and hold their child accountable for their actions. Irk being the safe for this blog term instead of other words I'd use. ;-)

Posted by: Nina at August 17, 2012 08:44 AM

You ogre, you! Obviously it crushed their spirits, and now they divide their time between huddling in your basement playing video games and taking the bus to demeaning jobs in gray cubicles.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 17, 2012 08:46 AM

Sometimes I think it's a good thing I don't have children. Because of stupidity like this. I wonder if it occurred to "Bewildered Mom" there that she had viewed child pornography. You have the photos of the genitalia of underage boys in your hand there lady! You MIGHT want to delete that.

Mind you, I agree that going to the school with it would be a bad idea. There have been cases of them alerting the cops and having the kids involved arrested for child porn trafficking. But alerting the other parents is a minimum.

And for crying out loud! Worrying about your little exhibitionist feeling ASHAMED!?!? The HORROR! It sounds like she needs to understand what shame is and practice a little more! Shame is what you feel when you do WRONG.

Re: giving cell phones to kids. This honestly baffles me. I know parents who swear up, down, left, right, and center that their child MUST have a cell phone "for safety". Bullcookies. I and everyone my age and younger stretching back through the mists of time did not need a cell phone to be safe. "But what if..." shut up. Just shut your food hole. Yes, I know you can imagine a scenario where a cell phone could save their life. That scenario is so remote as to be statistically insignificant. No teen NEEDS a cell phone. Hell, adults don't NEED them. I finally broke down and got one when the land line to my house got fried, and AT&T wanted to charge an arm and a leg to fix it. It's a convenience, sure. But farm from required.

Finally, in defense of texting. I too thought it was pretty dumb to type to someone else's phone when you were holding a phone in your hand. "Call them, you idiot!" I thought. I'm a convert. For times when the connection is bad and I only need to send a quick message (my flight number, say), for times when I need a shopping list and don't want to stay on the phone for five minutes as my wife remembers item after item. For when I need to copy down some small bit of information and I don't have a pen and paper... texting is a highly useful thing. But again, I don't think a teen needs to text.

Like I said, I sometimes think it's a good thing I don't have kids... they'd be social lepers, with me as a father.

Posted by: MikeD at August 17, 2012 09:05 AM

This is a good example of well meaning but intrusive laws causing intended problems.

Years ago, the services decided to embrace informal spouse networks (Family readiness, Key Wives/Key Volunteers). I went to training and was pretty alarmed to learn that any volunteer in one of these programs was a mandated reporter. IOW, if another spouse contacts you for help and you have ANY reason to believe there might be domestic abuse, you have no choice but to report it to the authorities.

That really bothered me, and continues to bother me, because making a call like that is pretty subjective. Is a mere hint enough? Or do you need something obvious? You could be ending someone's career - or marriage - on a mere suspicion, and it's hardly rare for people to exaggerate when they're upset.

I still remember an incident that happened many years ago in quarters. Several neighbors suspected that a child was possibly being molested but there was nothing anywhere near proof. Some people wanted to go straight to the police, others wanted to approach the parents and try to get more information. It was a bad situation, and the worst thing about it was that some people genuinely believed that girls have no sexual impulses whatsoever (and therefore any awareness of sex "proved" abuse). That is arrant nonsense, especially in today's society. I've been generally appalled at the naivete of some parents wrt their daughters and sex. That's one reason I push back so hard against the idiotic belief that only boys/men have strong sex drives. If you have a daughter and you believe that, you're asking for trouble.

I understand the reasons for mandated reporter laws, but anyone who tells anything to a school official should know that it won't stay confidential.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 17, 2012 09:55 AM

I understand the reasons for mandated reporter laws....

I don't. All they do is suppress the initial calls for help. Or even just for advice concerning what really is a minor incident. I do see the pseudo-rationales for such, but they're idiotic on their face.

I've told the stories about my front teeth as a six-year-old and my older brother's scars on his back. How much trouble would my parents have gotten into today over my brother's and my story-telling then?

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at August 17, 2012 10:22 AM

Some people have no clue about appropriate behavior and how to deal with it. Sad. Glad my parents were not so clueless.

Posted by: man riding unicycle naked at August 19, 2012 09:47 AM