It’s been a while since my last post. It’s been a busy year, as always, but the main thing that’s kept me occupied……teenagerdom. We have a teenager now, and boy – nothing on earth prepares you for that!! Mr 12 turned 13 at the start of the year, and in true Harry Enfield style, he became Kevin…..
Kevin’s arrival at teenagerdom was marked by the usual observable teenage characteristics, squeaky voice cracks, rapid increases in height – seemingly overnight, so I guess we did have a sense of the impending drama of adolescence that was to come. Well, we thought we did. We didn’t.
Having never been a teenage boy, I certainly didn’t know what to expect. My partner, it seems, either forgot or was markedly less teenagery than Kevin. We knew, of course, that the teenage years are marked by rampant narcissism, ego-centricity, and out-of-control hormones, but what we hadn’t banked on was the intersection of typical teen development and modern technology. In particular, smartphones.
Kevin had an old second-hand smartphone as a 12 year old, that was essentially a toy. It didn’t have a SIM card, so it was little more than a wifi-enabled games console. Aided by my own mobile hotspot, we’d catch Pokemons on the weekends and after school. It had a few games on it, but Kevin would pick it up and put it down as much as any other toy. Then he turned 13 and a scary transformation took place. The phone became so much more than a toy. It became Kevin’s conduit to his new high-school friends, and apparently, you have talk to your friends online before, during, and after school if you want to be considered in any way cool. Like the Terminator, Kevin was part man (boy), part machine. The phone became an extension of his right arm and never the twain shall part. It happened so fast, we didn’t initially notice that Kevin’s teenage mood swings seemed to be synchronous with the blips his phone was making. Once we did realise what was happening, Kevin’s addiction to the device was well and truly in train. In a move we came to regret, we agreed to let Kevin get a SIM card for the phone, as he was going away with is bio-mum for a while and we wanted to be able to stay in contact. In hindsight, we should have taken the SIM card back when the trip was over.
The following months saw my partner and I downloading and trying to ‘break’ various forms of parental control software for mobile devices. We had to think like a sneaky teenager. We were beyond surprised to find how difficult and un-user-friendly a lot of the software was, even for someone who is relatively tech-savvy. I can imagine that parents who are still getting to grips with email and have yet to venture onto Facebook would find it an almost impossible task. We were also surprised at how may of programs had pretty huge holes in them. For example, many of the programs designed to restrict web browsing to child-friendly sites only worked on browsers that were installed on the phone post-purchase. Any browser pre-installed by the manufacturer (known as bloatware) was immune, hence the whole point of the software was lost! Others only worked via restricting access to online materials via a router, so all a savvy teen need do is switch to mobile data.
We partly solved the problem by taking away the phone and replacing it with a ‘dumber’ device, a wi-fi only screen. The problem of mobile data access disappeared, and the software we eventually adopted was good enough (though still not great). However, the pain and suffering we experienced in trialling these different programs was nothing compared to the suffering we endured during the monumental tantrums that followed the news that there would be parental control software on devices from now on. Kevin raged. He ranted. He punched a wall (and probably immediately regretted it because it looked like it hurt – and the wall was fine), he levelled threats, he pleaded, and he even started to pray. No God, however, was going to spare him his online freedom.
Several months in and things have settled down a bit. We negotiated the terms of the parental control with Kevin, to help him feel as though he had some control over his life (which, if you think back to 13, is important to a teenager who doesn’t know how much they don’t know). The tantrums have subsided, the nagging and sneaky behaviour seems to have abated somewhat, but I know the battle has only just begun. Technology changes fast, and so do kids. At the moment we’re a couple of steps ahead of Kevin, let’s hope it stays that way for a bit longer yet….
The reluctant step-parent