Perspective from a father and a police officer
Submitted by Mickey Gruber Hiawatha Police Officer
I am a father of three beautiful, intelligent, hard-working daughters with two of them being teenagers. The youngest daughter is currently in middle school and the middle child, as she likes to be referred to as, is in high school. I also am a police officer who spends the majority of my time dealing with criminals in the realm of technology, so I bring experiences from two different viewpoints on the impact of smartphones/technology with teenagers.
Our family is like the majority, we have let the kids have smart phones and we have worked diligently to teach and monitor our children with proper usage of such devices and the applications that come along with them. What many of us as parents don’t truly understand is the impact these tools can and do have in our day to day lives.
Here is a hypothetical question for you as a parent to ponder. Would you allow your children to go to the local city park to hang out and engage in lengthy conversations with the weird guy who hangs out down there talking to kids? Would it be okay for this guy to know where your child lives, have your child’s phone number? Would it be okay for this odd lurking person to give your children gifts?
I am sure you – as any good parent would – would not allow your child to be exposed to an obvious potential danger. Now consider the internet. That communication portal that comes into all of our homes from a plug in the wall or wirelessly transmits into our homes, cars, and to the city park where the kids play. That portal to the communications and interactions on the internet gives our children a key to a doorway to the rest of the world. It opens the door for that hypothetical weird guy in the park wearing that cliché “trench coat” to come right into your home and communicate with your child. Anyone on the internet can, in theory, chat with our children, send and receive pictures, or do a live video chat. We as parents can’t monitor every phone call, text message, or application our children use but, we as parents, should take a very proactive role in keeping tabs on the usage of these devices by our children.
Parents should Google search “smartphones and kids” and see the articles about how they can make your kids unhappy or how they present our children with new ways for any child to become a criminal. The kids are sharing inappropriate photos of themselves. Not a week goes by where I am not contacted by some stressed parent or school personnel about potential inappropriate images making the rounds, or kids doing things they should not do, and cannot do, because it is a crime.
The list of applications that you can download and utilize is endless. Many of these applications are designed for secrecy and privacy of the device owner. We all expect and want our privacy but does a 14-year-old child realistically deserve complete and unmonitored access to the internet and the applications that can help hide inappropriate or illegal behavior.
The vast majority of the producers of these third-party applications for our devices reside in the State of California. As outrageous as it may sound, many of these vendors who produce these applications do not recognize a search warrant issued to them from a district court in the State of Kansas and they will do everything in their power to block or refuse to cooperate with law enforcement investigations. There is a mentality among some of these vendors that privacy of information deserves the ultimate protection from government intrusion.
We grew up with the saying of “a man’s home is his castle” and thousands of law enforcement officers have been trained for many years that a person’s body and their home deserve the most protection from unlawful search and seizure. Although these things deserved protection they could be searched with a valid search warrant issued in the court of law.
Producers of these applications often have the information that would aid law enforcement to investigate crimes and protect victims. Often times they will refuse to cooperate, no matter what. They see that the privacy of the information is more important than a victim of a crime and tend to hold the expectation of privacy of information on a higher level of protection than your individual body or your home.
In my experiences being online undercover, posing as a male and female teenager seeking out predators who are looking to exploit our children, I have found that there is an endless number of individuals who are sexually predatory in nature. I have had direct conversations with hundreds of suspected adults who do not have an issue with engaging a teenager or even a younger person in conversations of a sexual nature.
I have had persons mail items, to what they believed was an underage female, such things as adult toys and risqué undergarments. I have had persons offer to send me money or buy me a new cellular phone. I have also had adults seeking to engage in sexually explicit conduct with underage children. These persons, have and will, drive over a hundred miles if they believe or actually do find a child that they can take advantage of. Male child or female child, it makes no difference, there is evil in the world, who if given the opportunity, will take advantage of our children.
The town we live in has a few thousand people. We have the typical small rural Kansas town. This gives us some measure of security from larger city problems for sure, but it does not insulate us from the dangers of sexual predators, as I have put handcuffs on men who drove a long way to Hiawatha to see what they believed was an innocent child that they intended to take advantage of.
Personally and professionally, I have seen the various problems that can arise just because of the technology in the hands of our children. They create new problems for parents and kids alike. They distract our kids from growing, interacting and learning as well as impact our child’s day to day demeanor.
It often seems every moment your see your child they have the phone in hand with head down buried in the device seeking technological interactions with the device and friends. It distracts them and can be very frustrating as a parent. The kids aren’t playing outside as many of us did growing up, they have become somewhat of a digital zombie.
Recently in our family, we have removed smartphones from the children and provided them with the older style flip phones. My wife and I went back and forth with the idea for quite some time and eventually we decided it was time to cut the cord, so to speak, on our teen daughters having smartphones. Having a regular flip phone, we can maintain a direct line of communications for things like “I’m done with practice,” or “when will you be home, supper is about ready.”
In the short time our kids have been without smart phones we have experienced a much more pleasant daily attitude from the kids, and they spend their time in a much more productive mode. One example of a positive result was one of our children has read seven large books, each with hundreds of pages, in a short span of a few weeks, now that she has not had a smart phone. Three such books were read just over spring break. Now we jokingly threaten to take her book from her so we can talk to her or see her for a moment. Seeing your kids interact with you and see them smile without their head buried in a smart phone is far more fun than having to take a smart phone, or having to monitor applications, text messages and smart phone drama.
These are new problems for parents in dealing with kids and technology and I am sure tomorrow will present us and future generations with different kinds of problems. For now, the over two million smartphone applications and the open doorway to the world for our kids will stay guarded, for I know what is lurking out there waiting for any opportunity to exploit our children. Plus, it is kind of nice to see our child’s smiling face once in a while.