Ayrial Miller is clearly annoyed. Her mother is sitting with her on the couch in their Chicago apartment, scrolling through the teen's contacts on social media.
“Who's this?” asks Jennea Bivens, aka Mum. It's a friend of a friend, Ayrial says. They have not talked in a while. “Delete it,” her mum says. The 13-year-old's eyes are narrow to a surly squint. “I hate this! I hate this! I hate this!” she shouts.
Yes, Bivens is one of “those mums,” she says. She makes no apology.
Nor should she, says a retired cybercrimes detective who spoke to her and other parents in early June at Nathan Hale Elementary School, a K-8 public school in Chicago. “There is no such thing as privacy for children,” Rich Wistocki told them.
Other tech experts might disagree. But even they are concerned about the secret of digital lives, many teens are leading, and the dreadful array of consequences-including harassment and occasional suicides-that can result.
Today's kids are meeting strangers, some of them, . Teens are storing risque photos in disguised vault apps, and then trading those photos like baseball cards. Some even have spare “burner” phones to avoid parental monitoring, or share passwords with friends who can not afford to be on their accounts when they are taken away.
David Coffey, a dad and tech expert from Cadillac, Michigan, said he was floored when his two teens are telling him about some of the sneaky things his peers are doing, even in their small rural town. “It's difficult to say how many kids are pushing digital boundaries this way. But academics, experts like Wistocki and Coffey, and many teens themselves say it's surprisingly common for kids to live online lives that are all but invisible to most parents.
Exposed to tablets and smartphones at an increasingly early age, kids are correspondingly savvier … with tips. Parents, by contrast, are both overwhelmed and often naive about what kids can do with sophisticated devices.
Wistocki often holds up a mobile phone and says wide-eyed “ominous device” keys to a new Mercedes and saying, “You can drive to Texas, Florida, New York, wherever you want to go.”
Such journeys can lead to ugly incidents, sometimes involving surprisingly young participants .
In January, two 12-year-olds were arrested in Panama City Beach, Florida, for cyberstalking that the police said that Gabriella Green, who had been repeatedly bullied. Last year in Naperville, a 16-year-old was killed himself after the police discovered that he was recording himself with his hockey teammates. While searching his phone, they also found photos of other partially naked girls in a secret photo vault app disguised as a calculator.
And yet, Wistocki says, too often parents remain in denial with what he calls “NMK – not my kid . “
Bivens, Ayrial's mum uses an app called MMGuardian, one of several available, to manage and monitor her 13-year-old daughter's phone use. She turns off certain apps, sometimes, and monitors texts.
“It's a full-time job,” Bivens concedes. “
A 2016 The Pew Research Center found that they had checked their children's phone calls and text messages or even their children's social media.
Tech experts agree that monitoring makes sense for younger kids. But Pam Wisniewski, a computer-science professor at the University of Central Florida, proposes a gradual loosening of the strings as teens prove they can be trusted.
“I'm almost to the point where I feel like the world would be better off without social media, “says Wisniewski, who studies human computer interaction and adolescent online safety. “But I'm the same a pragmatist.”
Wistocki says “Golden Ticket” – no matter when they came to them about mistakes they were made online or help they need with a social media problem.
Ayrial's mum is all for that. Recently, Ayrial started a live videostream on Twitter and encountered a stranger who asked her to show her bare feet. It was a “creepy” request, the teen said, that she was sidestepped a block on social media by using a tablet.
But she did tell Mum what happened soon after.
Ayrial still is not happy that her mum is going through her contacts with her. The soon-to-be eighth-grader appreciates that “she cares about me,” but hopes Mum will eventually “back up” a bit.
“When I'm in high school, that might get embarrassing sometimes, you know ? ” she says. “You need to learn your own – how do I put this? – discipline.” You need to learn from your own mistakes. ” If Mum does not give her that space, she says, she's always coming up with new tricks to get online secretly, just as her friends do.
And no, she will not share how. – AP