The Question of iThings

teenager teen ipad idevice tablet internet social media

Recently I put a question out on social media “Would you let a 13 year old have an iPad?” The responses I got were varied and extended, everything from “Absolutely not” to “Yes, but with restrictions”.

I’ve been sitting firmly in the “Absolutely Not” camp as the Viking recently suggested we pass on our iPad to Stepdaughter (13) when we get an upgrade. Here were my concerns:

1. Security and Permanency

teenager teen ipad idevice tablet internet social media

No 13 year old needs unrestricted and unmonitored access to the internet. I’m not old fashioned, I’m not a prude and I’m not naive – I know what I got up to on the internet at 13 years old and the internet is a lot scarier and darker place these days! What in my day (OK maybe I am a little old fashioned) was chat rooms and anonymity behind a pseudonym is now a public space attached to your full name where something you said when you were too young to know better will be around for the rest of your life. That’s a scary thought.

2. Inbuilt Cameras

Back when I was 13 if you wanted to take a sexy picture to give to the person you were interested in you had to get acces to a camera and film, then take it to a shop and get it developed, then end up with a hard copy photo which you had to post. And don’t laugh saying no one would ever do that. They would, and they did. It wasn’t until 15 that I had access to a digital camera, and even then you had to borrow one from someone’s dad who had bought one.

Yet an iDevice has the ability to take a photo or video and post it to the whole world before you’ve had time to think it through. Or there’s a little thing called FaceTime. Sure, handy when the Viking wants to chat to her. Not so handy when she wants to chat to the boy she met at something or other.

3. Finance

Even though the iPad or iPhone would not cost us anything to give her, as we already have them, they are worth quite a bit, and I always worry about children and teens not understanding value. I know I didn’t understand value growing up, even though we were never rich, and I believe it has shaped my finances today.

Then there’s the worry of guilt if she breaks it (I know her, she would feel very guilty), or the fear of it being stolen from her, or worse, someone hurting her to take it.

Plus then there’s the debate of whether or not said iPad would have a SIM card (I’m a very strong NO on that one, even if I lose on the iPad front, for reasons 1 and 2), which isn’t avoidable for an iPhone, and then who would pay for that?

4. Bullying

The more access to social media with school friends, the higher the likelihood of cyber bullying taking place outside of school grounds. And the harder it is to track and stamp down on. The simple answer is no social media, but when you have a device where social media accounts can be created at the click of a button, how do you prevent that? Sure it can be locked down, but how well? And how long before her or one of her friends learns how to get around it? It’s far safer to assume it will happen than assume it won’t. And words said over the internet have just as much capacity to hurt as words said to your face. Sometimes even more.

5. Sedentary Lifestyle

My stepdaughter is an active kid. Her favourite things to do are swim and waterski. She loves running around, playing all kinds of sports, she’s sports house captain and enjoys things even I would be scared to do (mind you, waterskiing seems like a really fast way to break a nose face planting at high speed to me, but I am way less coordinated than she is), so why would I want to discourage that by giving her a reason to stay inside and play video games? I’d rather give her her own set of water skis and tell her to get out there and have fun.

6. Inability to Monitor

We do not have primary custody of my stepdaughter. For geographical reasons, we do not have the ability to constantly monitor the device and, as we are not the primary carers, we do not have the ability to insist on restrictions to the device such as copies of all emails, access to social media accounts, etc. Of course her mother would monitor what she does, but if we’re providing the device, I’d be a lot more comfortable if we were able to monitor it. Particularly the Viking who teaches IT and therefore has a LOT more knowledge about locks, hacks and jailbreaks than any of the rest of us.

But my opinion was in the minority so I asked Karen to weigh in:

Karen and Abi

Karen and Abi

I have 3 kids (11, 9, and 6). My husband and I approach iDevices in much the same way as we do most parenting issues – with cautious enthusiasm. We’re happy for our kids to have iPods and iPads but they come with strings attached!

Our 11 year old, Abi, owns an iPod Touch. For the uninitiated, it’s essentially an iPhone without the phone. Before my husband and I agreed to her having one, we had two main concerns to address. First, she was expected to buy it herself as we theorised she’d value it more if she earned it. She saved her pocket money over several months, threw in some birthday money, and voila, it’s in pristine condition two years down the track.

Our second concern was about security and privacy … the dreaded internet. We have a running conversation with all our kids about what it means to have an online persona, so when Abi got her iPod she understood that it would be fairly well controlled. She agreed that I would hold the passcode and Apple ID, that she would only play with it during “screen time”, and that it is only to go into her bedroom if she’s listening to music. At the end of the day it’s switched off and put in a drawer in the living room. As time went on we rewarded her sensible iPod use with greater access, meaning she now has a private Instagram account, she uses email to keep in touch with grandparents, and iMessage and FaceTime to contact her friends.

I know that online bullying and unintended exposure can be a difficult issue for parents to deal with but our family rules have really helped with that, at least so far! I don’t worry about her lying in bed at night receiving nasty messages because the iPod isn’t in her bedroom. I don’t worry about her downloading tricky apps (like Snapchat) because I have the Apple ID. I don’t worry about her sending inappropriate images because she only messages her friends from public areas of the house.

Ultimately though, it does come down to trust and a bit of wisdom. I trust her to use it well, and she trusts that I’ll shut her down if she tries anything shifty! As for the wisdom, well, we recently witnessed a social media “incident” involving a Year 6 classmate. Abi has seen first-hand how humiliating it can be to post inappropriate images. She will tell you that a good rule of thumb is “if you’d do it at school assembly with all your grandparents in the front row, then it’s okay to post online.”

I’m grateful that at 11 she seems to have taken this message to heart. She’s currently saving for an iPad and I’m prepared to relinquish some control so she can take on more responsibility. Things might get crazy, but my husband and I truly believe children should be taught to manage their world, not be managed by it. Fingers crossed.

Where do you stand on kids, tweens, teens and iDevices?

Image Credit: 1 photo of Karen & Abi taken by Natalie Hicks

  • Melissa Savage

    Karen, that is such a sensible approach. Like T, my house is a constant source of second hand iDevices, because Jelly develops for them. Currently we pass them on to Jelly’s parents and various friends when we upgrade, but I can imagine that once kids are in play the temptation will be to pass them on to them, and that doesn’t promote a sense of value, necessarily. However, if you as the parent control the Apple ID and whether or not it has a SIM card and the hours of access, then it can work well, as Karen shows. And I think that some kids are good at valuing expensive equipment and others aren’t, and by age 13, patterns of treating possessions well are probably established.

    Of course T’s family has the added complication of divorced parents and custody issues, and you’d need to be damn sure all the parents and stepparents were playing by the same rules.

    • Karen

      Ooooh goodies! Always happy to accept hand me downs 😉

      And totally agree that T’s family structure makes this a very tricky one!

  • Detachable Princess

    I think Karen has the right idea with regards to rules, trust and earning your electronic devices. But I think that Tamsin is at a big disadvantage here because she’s not the custodial parent. Even if the relationship between all the adults is fantastic, it’s still a lot of work to make sure everybody is on the same page – *willingly* on the same page. One parent undermining the other, however well-intentioned, and the child will jump on any opportunity to relax the rules. And I really really, really, hope that, whenever stepdaughter does get an iDevice, that it’s not a surprise for the other parent. Nothing would piss me off more than my child receiving a gift like this without it being discussed with me first*.

    *Note: I know T wouldn’t do this without discussing with everybody, just putting it out there for any other potential gift-givers. The kids might love you, the parents surely will not!

    • Karen

      Totally agree! These things only have the chance to work when everyone’s on the same page.

    • Tamsin Howse

      That would REALLY piss me off too. So, of course, we wouldn’t do it to her mother. But a really important point.

  • Not Graig

    Teachable moment?
    How bad does she want one? Cameras, bullying and privacy aside, this may be an opportunity to enter a constructive discussion about all of these topics. And more.
    I remember wanting a games console when I was 10. It was $194.00 at Myer – this was a lot of money at the time. It led to my parents not buying it for me, but supporting me as I went about working to buy it myself. Aluminium cans, crushed were 50 cents a kg, and there are 52 cans per kg.

    My mum, bless her, walked with me all over the town for weeks collecting cans to help me buy the thing. I hope I get such teachable moments with my young ones.

    • Tamsin Howse

      Stepdaughter? She hasn’t asked for one. We are about to have one we don’t need.

  • Maree Talidu

    I love Karen’s approach. I’ve seen the negative consequences of tweens/teens and i-devices with no limitations in place. Also Like T mentioned, it worries me that kids don’t understand the VALUE of something like an ipad. There have to be rules. If the kids can’t abide by them, they don’t have the maturity to have one to themselves (at a certain age.) How many horror stories to we need to see/hear about kids killing themselves over cyber-bullying, sending naked photos to each other, the need for attention at any cost?

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