In the late 1980’s, two of my favorite cartoon families converged with the airing of “The Jetsons Meet The Flintstones.” George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, Mr. Spacely and Astro shared the screen with Fred, Wilma, Pebbles, Barney, Betty, Bamm Bamm and Dino. It was a clash of cultures as each fumbled to understand the other’s way of life.
Coincidentally, it was just about this same time that I attempted to approximate the life of the Jetsons by acquiring my first cell phone. It wasn’t the small, smart phone of today that easily fits in my pocket; organizes my life; takes high res pictures and allows me to surf the web while playing music. No – in those days it was the equivalent of a 10 pound black box that housed an awkward handset, its electronic components and battery pack. However, I felt like the world as I knew it was shrinking with every call that I made.
I remember making my first call from the banks of the Ohio River with the city of Cincinnati beautifully reflected in what appeared to be a blue acetate ribbon that flowed by the city’s shoreline in the spring of the year. The seven hills of the city were in blossom with rich green leaves and the pink hue of the redbuds.
My wife Mary Beth answered the phone while tending to our two young daughters. I could hear them crystal clear crying in the background as Mary Beth attempted to prepare their lunch while pretending that she too was excited about my new toy. I felt much like George Jetson at Spacely’s Space Sprockets – circumventing time and space — miles from any plug or cable. “How far could we be from the promise of the Dick Tracy wrist-watch video phone,” I thought?
Of course, like many of us at the time, we repeated those calls with reckless abandon until we received our first month’s bill for $400. Thereafter, we were back in the gravel pit with Fred and Barney.
I was reminded of that same movie while preparing for another presentation on “Teens Living In a 7 x 24 World.” Much like Fred Flintstone, the world of technology that we have provided to our teens is largely foreign to most of us. We are not familiar with the websites that they visit, the features and apps on their phones, or in some cases those fads that a percentage of teens find acceptable. To that end, parenting and managing the use of this technology often proves futile.
I’m sure parents felt the same way in the 60’s and 70’s when the transistor radio equipped with the one ear-bud kept them from hearing the music and lyrics of The Kingsmen’s cover of Richard Berry’s “Louie Louie.” Each evolution of technology seems to bring us closer and closer to the world of the Jetsons. And each change in youth culture often leverages that technology to propagate its fads. However, the jump in technology and its accessibility to the masses took an unforeseen leap since the turn of this century.
It has only been 10 years since Blackberry created the concept of a smart phone by merging a PDA with a cell phone. That same year, (2002) Sanyo released the first phone with a camera. Moreover, the ubiquitous iPhone was not released until 2007 – with the Andriod platform being released two years later in 2009. Yet in those 10 short years smart phone technology took America by storm. It is difficult to walk into a suburban public high school without seeing at least 60% of the students with some kind of smart phone device.
Today 234,000,000 Americans have a cell phone. Nearly 50% (116,500,000) of those are currently using a smart phone. Over 50% of those users purchased an Andriod device – which has only been available for 3 years. Meanwhile, Blackberry, the once dominant purveyor of such devices is almost out of business. Change is swift and unrepentant.
While we might think that the iPhone and Andriods are the future of American communication – my guess is that another device or technology will come along that will render them both passé in the next 5 years. Keeping up with technology will be forever a challenge. However, learning to manage our child’s technology is the responsibility of every parent or guardian. Yet is it important to understand that it’s not so much managing technology as it is managing our teen’s use of the devices. The reasons are plentiful.
Recently a research study found that teens that “sext” are more likely to have sex. I’m not sure that those results are startling to anyone. However, what they did find is that perhaps affluence plays a role in teens’ misuse of such technology.
For example: About 1-7 teens in urban Los Angles were involved in sexting versus about 1-4 teens in Houston, Texas. Eric Rice, a social network researcher from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, led the new study. Rice said the rate of teen sexting in Houston may have been slightly higher than in Los Angeles because of demographic differences. In other words – affluence provides better access to technology.
Perhaps even more disconcerting is that teens that know someone that is sexting are 17 more times likely to get involved in such practices.
It’s interesting that we demand that teens receive driver’s training both in the classroom and behind the wheel before we will grant them a driver’s license. However, we are all too glad to provide them the power of a smart-phone without anything more than a user’s manual.
I can tell you that after speaking with over 40,000 students, the consequences of the misuse of technology by a teen can be just as devastating as the reckless use of an automobile. The CBTS speakers program “TEENS LIVING IN A 7 x 24 WORLD”, was developed following the tragic suicide death of a young woman in Cincinnati who had sent a naked photo of herself to her boyfriend. When they broke up, he sent it to his friends who in turn sent the photo to hundreds of other people. She was harassed in the hallways of her school and through cyberbullying on her cell phone.
The story of Phoebe Prince, a teenage Irish immigrant who committed suicide in 2010 is another example of students using digital technology to harass a fellow student – ruining the life of Phoebe, her parents, family and friends.
Sadly these are just two examples of the many tragedies related to the mismanagement of technology by teens. However, we look no farther than the likes of Congressman Wiener, Brett Favre and many others in the public eye who made similar mistakes while hurting their own families and legacies.
Unlike adults, teens are not aware of the consequences of their actions when they send mean-spirited tweets and posts on social media. Nor are they aware of the control that they give up when they send inappropriate photos of themselves – or others – via text messages. The moral, social and legal consequences of their actions are always the last thought. As all too many have discovered, there is no turning back once you click “send.”
There are many great technologies available that can assist parents with monitoring the activity of their children. I ask you to consider platforms such as SafeEyes, BSafe, Cyber Sentinel, Netnanny and Cyber Patrol. These are all excellent technologies to help you monitor your child’s web behavior.
However, I ask you to also consider both the free and paid services offered through companies such as UnknowKids. This new free platform provides significant free options such as Facebook monitoring and a significant archive of information for parents on teen digital safety. Moreover, the paid services provide monitoring on several social media sites including Facebook, Instagram and MySpace – while also monitoring text messaging activities on Andriods and Blackberry devices.
Ironically, in the movie “The Jetsons Meet The Flintsones” Elroy had been tampering with his own technology — a time machine. Like many parents, George thought that Elroy simply had a great imagination and that no harm was being done. Little did he know that the technology worked — and that Elroy had used it to bring a girl from ancient Arabian times to the future. Although lost on me at the time, perhaps even cartoons understand that when you mix young minds and hormones with love and technology – anything can happen.
While the movie “The Jetsons Meet The Flinstones” is a comical concept — it is after all pure fantasy. Unlike Fred and Barney – we can’t afford to take a Neanderthal approach to life that is ever-attached to social media and technology. As parents of a digital generation of children – we must understand and teach the rules of engaging these technologies – with the same care attention as preparing them for driving a car.
To quote George Jetsons at the end of every cartoon: “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!”