UPDATE: Monday, March 4, 2019 (less than 48 hours later) - Privilege REVOKED for Zia.
It may take me a while to post a more detailed follow up on this, but for now, and separate from Snapchat - she’s lost her phone and unsupervised internet access for the foreseeable future.
My ten-year-old daughter Zia sent me a chuckle-worthy but serious text last week, which I shared via Twitter and Facebook. Here’s the screenshot of her text:
This post stirred up quite a lot of thoughts, perspectives, and generally great commentary from friends and family, and also the question, “Are you going to let her get Snapchat?”
I took a day (or so) to think about it, and I landed on a “Yes, but…”, here’s how I got there.
MY KIDS AND TECHNOLOGY
I’m a woman in tech. I’m the mother of two young daughters and technology has been my livelihood since 1998. I co-run a clothing company now, but even Picture This Clothing is still very rooted in software and technology (much of it we’ve built in-house) to make it run the way we want it to run. I mostly love technology.
Zia was about 10 months old (and Sophia, 4-years-old) when I plopped our first iPad in front of them to see what they’d do with it. I was designing web interfaces at the time, and had just received my first mobile app project. It was 2010 and I was working on the first iPad app for Zappos. Turns out, my kids were two of the most valuable interface testers of my career.
Watching my then-10-month-old use this new technology was incredible. She was fascinated, engaged, and more awesomely, she seemed automatically to know how to use it. This doesn’t mean I just propped her up in a bouncy seat with an iPad all day and night, or even for hours. It just means I was working with this technology, I was curious and I enjoy sharing my curiosity with my kids and seeing what that looks like. Both my kids enjoyed poking at the iPad. We spent time together trying-out different apps from the educational to the silly.
I learned with, and from them.
THEY HAVE iPHONES
I got my daughters each an iPhone 5c in 2015 after a very scary experience of waiting for an after-school bus that was more than an hour late, none of us parents at the bus stop were able to reach the school or school’s transportation department, or a suitable alternative with answers, and none of our kids had any way of contacting them. And, they’d soon be going to separate schools so they wouldn’t be riding a bus together anymore.
“Ya, but… iPhones?”
I’ve been a Mac-user since 1998. I was one of those people who stood in line for hours for the first iPhone on release day in 2007. My work from 2010-2013 was solely focused on designing interfaces for Apple products. I know Apple products better than I know other products, this is what made sense for me.
I knew I would have device tracking with no learning curve —if my kids have their phones with them, I know where they’re at. Can they block that feature? Sure. And I can take their phones away. Their phones are a privilege that they care about and don’t want to lose, which can be a great negotiating tool. But more than anything, it gives me some small sense of comfort when they’re out in the world. I also hope I’ve taught them enough humility to not be A-holes about things like what kinds of phones people have or don’t have. I’m not ‘anti’ any particular smartphone/contact device, I’m simply sticking to my comfort-zone by going with iPhones.
Zia, quite adorably, addresses in her plea that she “most likely won’t fall for child predators”. Man, I hope not, kiddo.
It does suck that our kids have to worry about stuff like this. But here’s the thing… Child predators have always been there. Child predators certainly existed throughout my childhood and well before, and they exist now. I have more than one childhood friend who some of us never knew anything was going on, who later in life came forward about someone who’d hurt them that NO ONE ever suspected. People we all knew. People their parents knew, and trusted.
Smartphones and apps can absolutely give the worst-kind-of-sick people easy, direct access to our kids. While I fully respect each parent’s personal choices for their own families, my personal approach to this is not to prevent my kids from using these tools in order to protect them, but rather expose them to the technology, understand what they’re interested in and what they’re using, monitor the shit out of it, and try my best to teach them how to identify and handle unsavory interactions, from the mean and bully sort, to the straight-up predator. And yes - we’ve absolutely had to block some “followers” and delete some apps.
I might miss something. I won’t be able to protect them from everyone or everything, and I may one day regret some sort of fall-out from my approach. We’ve all read the stories, maybe we even know someone who went through something awful. I’m not saying I don’t think something bad can happen. I sure hope it doesn’t. But this fear I have of child predators accessing my kids is not isolated to technology as a gateway. So, I choose to move forward at our own pace, folding-in what feels right to my guts at the time.
GAMES & APPS
I am not the parent that says, “I didn’t have/do this when I was a kid and I turned out fine.” Technology is a part of the world that today’s kids are growing up with. I believe in the value of tactile and non-digital creativity, learning, and real-world-engagement —and all the fine things I grew up with, but I *love* arcade and video games. I *love* technology. I love knowing how it works, what makes it work, why it works, and exploring what’s possible. Games are FUN. And so far, my kids brains don’t seem to be in any stage of mental rot.
I find that the more I understand and embrace technology, the more I can connect with my kids through it. I hear the complaints about faces in screens and lack of human connection because of technology. There’s certainly some truth to that, but I think it’s great to identify the problems so that we can work through solutions in a way that helps our family become closer, not more separate.
I fumble through this, but I really do make a big effort to be engaged in what tech they’re using. When my kids asked me if they could get YouTube channels a few years ago, I set up my own YouTube channel. I created content and posted content for 30 consecutive days. I woke up early in the morning in order to make time to understand all I could about how it worked and how to use it as quickly as possible so that I could then let them run with it and not be completely blind to it. I needed to understand it before I felt comfortable with them using it.
I set rules for them. I want to see what they post before they post, which ends up happening naturally when I’m able to show them how stuff works because I made time to learn about it. If I see them trying to post something I feel is inappropriate in any way, we can talk through it on the spot. Revise. Try again.
If I don’t make time to learn something they ask about ahead of time, I’ll ask them to teach me and show me how they use it and what they’re making. I’ve learned about some pretty cool stuff from my kids. (Like the game Cuphead - which is AMAZING!) My kids still seem interested in talking to me and sharing stuff with me, I’ll hang on to that with all I’ve got for as long as I can. Asking them to share their apps and games with me, and learning why they like them is a really nice bonding point in our home. I was super close with my mom through my entire youth until she passed away when I was 27. I don’t do everything the way she did, but I did inherit a lot of her ways, and I elaborate on those in ways that feel right for me with my kids.
Even with an approach I consider pretty liberal in terms of my kids and their engagement with technology, I have boundaries. Snapchat has been a firm “no” until this latest request from Zia. I should note, she’s only ever asked once before, it hasn’t been a wear-down attempt or anything like that. The last time she asked was probably a year or two ago. I actually appreciate that she took the time to write out a pretty well-thought-out (albeit very exclamation point-heavy) proposal. For her age, it’s pretty darn good.
We talked about toning down the “!” use and typos, and talked about the app, privacy settings, who it’s OK to communicate with.
I’ve spent time going through Children’s Advocacy Center’s Snapchat info (click here to check that info out.)
I’ve gone through similar guidelines and rules with my kids, for years, about what content they share or even capture with their phones from the moment they got their phones.
Later today, Zia and I will install the Snapchat app together. I understand that it’s risky. I don’t know how it will go. But we’re going to give it a try, together. We cross bridge after bridge as we get to it. I can’t monitor every aspect of everything they do, nor should I. They need to learn independence and how to interact in this world, including occasional ways that scare the crap out of me.
I know there are strong arguments to be made both for and against the use of apps like Snapchat. Maybe there are points I never considered despite weighing out a lot of points quite heavily over the days since Zia’s request.
The bottom line for me is that I choose not to shelter my girls from technology, but rather encourage some freedom with it, even at early ages, because it IS the world they are growing up in whether I’m ready or not. Today, I’m choosing to embrace Snapchat as a part of a learning experience.