Everyone knows that siblings bicker, fight, and argue, right? Sometimes they insult each other, too. I happen to have a boy and a girl so I’m privy of this little irritation especially during the winding down of something – approaching a break, a change in grade or sports, some major event.
Bottom line is they love each other fiercely even if they call each other idiots* and morons* twenty times a day.
Months ago a 12yo boy my kid has known since the beginning of school got a phone for his birthday. Immediately he and my own 12yo kid started texting each other, even though they see each other at school, play football together at lunch, have playdates. Texting is fun! It’s new and the novelty certainly has not worn off yet.
This is understandable.
At the time, my kid’s phone was very old and cumbersome to use for anything other than texting. Loading WordReference for dictionary use for school was excruciatingly slow, and the TTC app for his bus took forever too.
We acknowledged this.
He told us he wanted a new phone like his buddy has. Something faster and better. We told him ‘you got your first phone from us, upgrading is up to you. You have a job, birthday and Christmas money, start looking for a new one. This is your responsibility. Our responsibility is to pay for the plan, and to be liable for your actions on the phone. The rest is up to you’.
Long story short, his old phone (which was my phone for 3+ years) died, despite a battery change, and that was that. He found a new phone, bought it with money from his account, and his dad went along and bought the same phone for our youngest. Inexpensive android phones that are contemporary and load the apps they need for school and bus quicker.
So both the almost 13 and 10 year old have a phone. They have limited data and storage. The main purpose to have a phone is to text us if there’s a school thing they want to participate in and won’t be taking the public transit home at the usual time. They can now text me they’ll be late and why.
Both kids got the talk about the rules:
- We parents are liable for what you do on the phone because we pay for the plan, and you’re minors.
- Do not abuse your privileges. (We explain what they are and they understand.)
- Accept the consequences of abusing your privileges. (Same as above.)
- Loading apps is allowed as long as we know what they are and approve them.
- No video games during school days even on your phones. (This isn’t heavily enforced when they’re not home. I realize indoor recess during rain days is tough to endure. Sometimes the kids play stupid little games on their phones to make the time pass. Or, a kid is at a rink for the sibling and they sit and play games…I’m ok with that.)
It’s working, mostly. The kids are pretty good, and I do have ways to check up on them.
Then one day a few weeks ago, I picked up my son’s phone and scrolled through some of the texts he got from one of his friends. I do it periodically, out of curiosity and just to see if he’s abiding by the rules. This was one of the rules we told the kids about: everything you do on the phone is transparent, as we are liable for your actions. I can read his phone anytime I want (and rarely do) but he knows this, so there was no spying or sneaking around on my part.
My kid was following the rules. I saw the apps, I saw the texts, and I saw very little of interest. But the one kid he was texting with…let’s just say the language that kid was using was eye-opening and shocking!
They’re 12. They’re ONLY 12…not even teenagers yet! That type of language, most of it sexually explicit, and insulting toward a mutual friend of theirs who wasn’t even in on it (i.e. they were texting insults behind his back), threw me a bit for a loop.
Actually, I completely lost it.
My first reaction was: all these anti-bullying messages and assemblies they conduct at school are obviously a waste of time. It’s not sinking in. Not at all. And how many seminars have they had about internet safety, sexting, and all the rest of it? It almost feels like the school’s the one that opened the door to invite the kids to experiment with this ‘new’ topic…
My second reaction was: where are they hearing some of those terms? The answers are varied: probably from tv and movies, likely also from songs/social media like YouTube. And almost certainly from older kids (siblings, cousins, kids at school). After all, they’re in grade 7. They’re on the bus with highschool and college kids. They hear stuff, see stuff…
I asked my partner: did you speak this way when you were 12? (and showed him the boy’s messages he sent to my kid.)
He said no. He said they didn’t start those terms till about 14, 15…
It must be said that the majority of the really shocking lingo didn’t come from my kid, although he did engage in some of the ‘bullying’ part of it.
We had words with our son (united front and all that). We knew we needed to reinforce some of the explanations, but in a positive, rather than reactive way. This is all new to us, and like it or not, the internet is here to stay.
I explained to the kids, again, that whatever they say on text or on the internet, we parents are liable for. Really made them understand that even if it seems harmless and in good fun, it may not be interpreted this way.
Especially in today’s #metoo climate. It’s a learning curve for all of us.
I said to my son: maybe have a word with your buddy, tell him his number will be blocked if the language continues.
We know he can’t control what his buddies say to him, but he can control how he responds.
Then I had a deeper thought, a realization of sorts:
We have no idea how involved someone else’s parents are with their kid’s phone use.
-I know for a fact that some parents track their kids every move, with apps, GPS and all the rest of it.
We are not that way. We have no plans to become that way.
-I also know that some parents install spyware to control what happens when their kids go on the internet. Plenty of apps out there (I checked, and briefly considered).
We don’t do that, either. (Doesn’t mean we won’t, but for now, we don’t.**)
-At home, the kids obey their internet usage, and we see them. We get backups of their emails, and we can check their histories occasionally. The computers, tablets and phones are used on the main floor only, not in bedrooms or basements.
They’re doing all that, and they’re well established habits.
But, the phones travel with the kids.
Which brings me back to my own kids bickering.
They have started to insult each other over text. The words they use are relatively harmless (which, in today’s climate, is moot, but allow me to continue for a moment). It goes something like this:
Her- hi I’m bored
Him- you’re a moron
Her- entertain me, I’m bored! (add in sixty emojiis)
Him- you’re fat
Her- you’re an idiot!!!!! (emojiis….)
Him-you’re ugly and fat
When I see this kind of exchange I see two things:
Siblings of different gender and age acting like normal siblings.
What I also see is that after a while, as the insults from him get stronger, she ends up in tears. And, after tears, she gets mean and nasty. She too can insult him with the same harsh words…
They are their own worst enemies…
What I see next is a habit forming. The habit of texting insults to someone. Doesn’t matter who it is, sooner or later, the kids’ contact list will expand, and include kids of both genders, and the habit of insulting each other ‘in fun’ has already been established because it’s been practiced on a sibling for months, years…
See where I’m going with this?
I need for this behaviour to stop. In today’s climate, my male child’s odds of getting away with ‘boys will be boys’ behaviour are stacked against him. It is our job as parents to enforce that any kind of bullying and insulting is unacceptable. EVEN toward his own sister. (And, it goes both ways. She doesn’t have to respond with an insult…)
I see the future: What would happen if he texted a girl in school that she’s fat and ugly? What if this girl doesn’t have a brother or male cousins? What if she’s got ‘thinner skin’, or is more sensitive than our daughter? And what if her parents take offense at my kid’s texts, meant as a joke, but not taken as a joke by the girl, and start coming after us that our boy is bullying their girl and she’s now psychologically damaged?
Or, what if some other boy does this same thing to MY daughter?
My partner and I are on the same page about phone privileges. Another talk about texting insults is in their near future, and a periodic checking of their messages will continue. I have little doubt that my kids will get it once we explain it, and the consequences, to them again, but if there’s one thing I learned about tweens it’s this:
Repetition, reminding of expectations, enforcing rules and delivering consequences will continue for the foreseeable future.
We are on the threshold of a much more complicated series of parenting adventures.
Please send wine. 🙂
If you’ve read this far, I thank you. I would also really appreciate thoughts on this topic. Please, feel free to leave me a comment, I’d be interested in how people deal with these things. 🙂
*sometimes the insults are worse… 🙄
**trying to control every aspect of your kid’s internet use will drive you mental. I speak from experience and I only contemplated this for about two days. Those two days were some of the most nerve-wracking, intensely filled days of ‘how do I protect my kids’ questions without answers. Ultimately us parents decided that we have to trust our kids and keep the lines of communications open. There are certain controls in place, but we can’t micromanage their every step…in a year and a half, one of ours will be off to highschool. Practicing the good habits now will prepare him better.