Dear Grandparenting: My grandchildren came along about 10 years apart. The first batch was all about their computers. They would come over for Sunday supper and set up their computers. Then we would talk for a little while. Guess what happened next? They went right back to their computers. What am I, a potted plant? After I wised up to that, I made a new rule. Computers can wait until after supper, or else!
Now I am into my second batch. They are 10, 12 and 13. Their thing is smartphones. I have a computer and understand how computers work. But I am totally in the dark about what smartphones are capable of doing. More to the point, what kind of trouble are my grandkids most likely to get into by using smartphones? Time to wise up again. I want to be able to relate, if you know what I mean. Thank you so much. Alice Tate, Atlanta, Georgia
Dear Alice: What single object do more American grandchildren have in common than anything else? A cell phone of course, or maybe a stepped-up smartphone version. We’ve heard industry spokesmen boast that these thin, palm-sized devices contain more technology than the first spacecraft to land on the moon. That may be an exaggeration, but you get the idea. These gadgets are all-powerful.
Smartphones come pre-loaded with software applications (apps) for functions like email and weather. Grandchildren often add more apps that enable them to send and receive digital messages within their chosen social networks. These messaging apps present a challenge to grandparents struggling to stay abreast of their grandchild’s smartphone activity. Most of us are pretty clueless about newer digital technologies and rely on grandchildren for tech support.
Not that long ago, when all family members used Facebook to exchange messages with friends, grandparents could keep better tabs on their grandchildren’s digital social life. This surveillance diminishes as adolescents and teens transition away Facebook and toward newer messaging platforms like Kik, Line, WhatsApp and Whisper.
What happens on these smartphone apps isn’t public. Grandchildren can goof off with friends and pretend to be something they’re not. But while much of this activity is harmless, youngsters can be led down dark pathways that result in bullying, pornography, sharing nude photos and meetings with strangers who turn out to be pedophiles.
But many grandchildren don’t take these digital exchanges seriously, or hide their worst experiences, fearful of being cut off from using the apps — the rough equivalent of being sent to an isolated island. Grandparents and other guardians left in the dark have several alternatives. One can build enough trust and understanding for grandchildren to open up with the whole truth, restrict phone usage or acquire an app that monitors and reports on their grandchildren’s app activities. Hope this helps you to wise up!
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Vince and Veronica Holland from Quogue, New York, checked in to say they ordered matching T-shirts to wear at the beach inscribed with “My grandchildren are little rays of sunshine.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.