What Are Students Hiding From You Online?

Kara Powell | Mar 29, 2013

As a teenager, I wasn’t all that rebellious. I was far from perfect; I was self-centered and not-all-that-nice at home to my family. But my forms of rebellion were pretty mild.

In fact, the one thing I used to hide from my mom in my room was a breakfast food. She wouldn’t let us have sugary cereals, so my brother and I would manage to get our hands on boxes of Frosted Flakes and hide them in our room from her. I was quite the hooligan.

Times have changed. The internet makes it so much easier for teenagers to keep secrets from parents and youth leaders.

One infographic compilation of data regarding teenagers’ online use indicates that:

  • 70% of teenagers today admit hiding online behavior from parents (compared with only 45% in 2010).
  • Parents don’t know about 14.7% of teens’ duplicate e.mail accounts and 8.7% of teens’ duplicate social media profiles.
  • One half of teenagers have cleared their browser history to hide activity from their parents.

Even non-math-whizzes can see that the vast majority (70%) of teenagers are hiding online activity from their parents.

Instead of freaking out and kidnapping your young person’s phone and laptop, what can we as parents do? Many of my best suggestions are captured in this list of “Cell Phone Rules” passed on to me by a friend (who got it from a friend herself). This is the agreement she and her husband created with their teenage son; a copy of the rules below is posted in his bedroom.

1. It is our phone. We bought it. We pay for it. We are loaning it to you. Aren't we great?
2. We will always know the password.
3. If it rings, answer it. Say hello, use your manners. Never ignore a phone call if the screen reads "Mom" or "Dad.”
4. Hand the phone to one of your parents before bed every night.
5. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.
6. Put it away in public (for example, in church, in restaurants, in movie theaters, wherever you are with other people). You are not rude; do not allow your phone to change that.
7. Do not use your phone to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first.
8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
9. No porn. Nothing you wouldn’t want your mother to see.
10. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else's private parts. Don't laugh. Despite your intelligence, someday you might be tempted to do this. It is risky and could ruin your life.
11. Take pictures, but don’t forget to live your experiences. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk.

12. Leave your phone home sometimes and be okay with that decision. Learn to live without it.

13. Download music that is new or classic or different than your peers. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
14. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
15. You will mess up. We will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We will always be learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.

What are your best cell phone rules as a family or in your youth ministry?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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