This afternoon my brother called to tell us about a text that he received from Drew. It was one of those ridiculous chain mail letters that tell you if you don’t reply and send it to fifteen friends, horrible things will happen to you and everyone around you. “Bad luck will follow you for years to come.” Drew, forwarded it. Ugh. I do not even know who forwarded it to Drew in the first place. I cannot quite figure that out yet.
This particular chain text was not sexual in nature. It did not have profanity in it. It was just inappropriate and even a bit scary. Are chains like this just harmless fun? I know Drew did not send it out with the intention of hurting anyone. He was clueless and almost unaware of why Dave and I were so upset with him that he forwarded it to so many of his friends. I have never told him that chain letters were inappropriate to forward. I guess I just assumed he would know?!?! He is eleven. Of course he did not know. I do know that he knew that what was written was not true and could never have really happened, but it was the “bad luck” part that he – and probably the person who sent it to him, took seriously. I stressed the fact that even if he knew it weren’t real, what if the kids he sent it to didn’t’? What if he scared them and now they are spreading it as well.
We reminded him of the fact that just because something is written, it does not mean that it is true or that it needs to be shared. I know that chain letters are harmless, a waste of time really. I do check my kids phones now and then. Probably not as often as I should. As their parent, I know I have every right to, but I want to give them some space and freedom as well. I don’t know how often I should be checking up on them. I am sure that my oldest is savvy enough to delete messages if he really didn’t want us to see them. Is reading through their messages like reading a diary? Is it invading their privacy? Just how much freedom should they have? With email and electronic devices so accessible, things can go viral so easily and I want my children to know how serious this is.
I decided to look it up on the internet to see what other parents though about it. I could not believe the onslaught of sites there were! It was filled with “chain letters and kids” articles and blogs. I was shocked! There was even a web site that had chain letters PRE-WRITTEN for kids to copy and paste to send to their friends! The overwhelming sense I got after reading through some of them, is that we should be monitoring what are children are doing. They need to have limits set and responsibilities in place. They also need be held responsible for what they post and share and have punishments in place if they don’t follow the rules we have set in place.
In the meantime, we have taken Drew’s phone away for a few days. I have personally emailed all of the parents of the kids that he forwarded it to and apologized. I wanted them to know that we are aware of it and that there will be a consequence. One friend emailed back telling me that she would take a look at her boys’ phones, but also thanked me for being the “trailblazing parenting in this new area we all have ahead of us.” She is so correct. When we were kids, chain letters – if we ever received them came through the mail. It was a huge process to keep them going. Now, with the push of a few buttons these letters can be forwarded to an entire contact list. Awareness will be the key. I just hope our kids realize that the consequences can be severe and they have to be careful and mindful anytime they are sharing with an electronic device.