Man, that's hard to type. It's hard to admit to myself that I have a teenager that I thought I raised well, and cared for with all of my heart, is going through so many hard things and she seeks refuge not in her family, but in her "friends." Is this a normal thing with teenagers? Possibly. I remember being a teenager and doing the same type of things, but wow is it a different feeling when you are on the other side of the fence.
It wasn't long before she stopped hanging out with her family, started becoming irritable and secluded herself to her room. Typical pre-teen behavior? Maybe, but now she had a link to the outside world right from her room and didn't have to engage with her family for social time, because she had her entire world in the palm of her hand.
Let me tell you, that world in that little device is big, and scary and, most of all, influential .
I didn't check her phone or tablet most of the time, because hey ... she was a good kid, I trusted her. Until I started to see a change in her behavior and started to become curious about what she was engaging in on her devices. So , I took her devices and I looked through them.
I was devastated at what I found, floored, scared, disappointed, and angry. I couldn't believe that my little girl would be posting the things that she was posting. I was worried for her mental health and her safety. So, the devices were taken, and we began to make a plan to get her back on the right path.
Our plan seemed to work. She started spending more time with family, her hobby was fishing (she went everyday), her grades were up, she was a joy to be around and respectful and responsible. I still had the rule, at that point, of no devices for the children . Things were going well, and I felt we had made the best decision.
Then, one day, she came home with a phone that a friend had given her for free. She begged and pleaded to keep it, and since she had been doing so well we decided to let her keep the phone, with no plan, but only a wifi connection.
I now believe, this is one of the worst decisions we could have made. At first, it was okay because we had her passwords to her social media accounts, and we could check her phone at any time. Then those passwords slowly started to change without our knowledge, and checking her phone became more and more of an altercation.
Whenever she would misbehave we would take her phone from her and she would have to earn it back, until she decided that she would no longer hand over her phone on her own, and we would have to physically pry it out of her hands.
She became reclusive and irritable. Every time someone would try to speak to her (because she always had her headphones in) she would snap at them in anger .
That's not the worst of it though. Like I said above the world on that little device is big, scary , and influential. She started to talk to other children her age from towns surrounding ours. Children she had never met in person, but that she had access to online. Children that were in a bad place themselves, disturbed, hurting, and making very bad decisions. Then she began to tell lies to hang out with them, and got herself involved in things I never thought she would be involved in.
So we, again, did what we could to protect her. We talked to her about the mistakes she was making. We put restrictions on her. We even spanked her little backside when we caught her engaging in illegal activities in our house. We did, and have done everything we could think of to get through to her, to no avail. Leaving us shaking our heads and wondering what can we do to make sure she gets back on the straight and narrow?
After an episode of complete disrespect and defiance from her she was put on restriction, grounded, not going anywhere until she straightened up. She was then on her best behavior for a week or two. Listening to everything I said, helping out around the house, being respectful, keeping up on her schoolwork. I was relieved. I was proud of her for coming around. So she asked me if she could spend the night at a friend's house for the weekend. My reply was that she could stay for one night if I was able to speak with the parent(s) before she went over there and be assured that she would be with an adult the entire time . She agreed.
Then I began getting suspicious text messages from this friend's "dad." I held my ground that I wanted to meet him before I would allow my daughter to go anywhere for the night. I had my suspicions this was no adult, and my intuition was right.
However, that didn't stop my daughter from collaborating with kids through her phone to leave anyway. Without my knowledge she took off from my property at 7 PM that evening and didn't return until Sunday, with no contact for the entire time she was gone. We called the police. We looked for her. We showed pictures around town. We talked to every friend we knew of and tried to collect information for where she was. I was able to hack into her social media accounts and found videos of illegal activity, posts that no 14 year old should be posting, and messages that broke my heart and made me, again wonder, where we went wrong.
As soon as she returned home, safely, with the help of a friend we decided that the phone had to go . Kids these days have their devices and their entire world revolves around them. They lose sight of what is really important, all that is important is that phone and those "friends" that live inside of it.
I honestly believe that technology addiction is real, and not just real, but really terrifying when it comes to young kids because of all of the influences that are accessible right at their fingertips . It's no longer like when we were growing up and our peer influences were a bike ride or a phone call away (which wasn't any better to be honest), but now these influences are with our kids ALL OF THE TIME. From the moment they wake up until the moment they finally fall asleep from being so exhausted from staring at a screen all day .
According to an article by Sandstone Care technology addiction is considered a behavioral addiction but acts similar to a chemical addiction in the sense that the expectation followed by the reward releases dopamine and other feel-good chemicals into the brain.
Now, I am not saying that the entire reason my daughter is having behavioral issues is because of her phone. That would be irresponsible and naive of me to believe that. However, I do believe the constant contact she has through devices, and the influences she constantly has at her fingertips have played a major role.
I also believe that we have been irresponsible as parents to allow her to have so much screen time with such minimal monitoring. As I said above, we trusted her, as I believe all parents want to do with their children, and we didn't realize there was a real issue until it had completely blown up in our faces.
So, my daughter ran away. She's home now, and her phone was pried out of her hands with her kicking and screaming because that phone was her whole world, that phone helped her create lies to go do things no 14 year old should be doing, that phone allowed a lot of influences into her life that quite possibly would have never been there without it, and that phone allowed her to be in contact with someone who came onto my own property and took off with her for almost 36 hours without me knowing and with no contact from her. .
However, we , her family are really her whole world and she is ours, and we feel she needs a reality check in a big way. We want to protect her like any parent would their child. It's been a very stressful and emotional learning experience for us all. If you are experiencing similar behavior with your teen, first of all, know that you are not alone. And secondly, consider taking their devices, monitoring them closer if you're not already, making sure you always have all the passwords, and even grabbing some spyware if you need to. If we would have done that we could have headed off a very stressful situation before it even began.