Few parents would drop their adolescents off at school or a Friday night football game with several hundreds dollars stuffed in their back pockets, fearing the kids would lose the money or have it stolen.
Yet, many of us are doing the equivalent — sending kids out with expensive smartphones that are such a hot commodity, thieves are snatching them out of the hands of owners on the street, targeting adolescents in particular.
After a recent football game at a local high school, three iPhone robberies occurred in quick succession. The victims were younger teens. Two groups were approached in the same way as they walked home after the game or to the parking lot: Teens walked up to them and asked for the time.
Since no one wears a wristwatch any more, the victims pulled out their phones. The thieves displayed what appeared to be a gun and commandeered the phones. The third victim that night was using her phone.
Many parents are understandably distraught over armed robberies outside a football game, lamenting that students shouldn’t be at risk leaving school functions.
While they want their children to be more aware of their surroundings, several parents told me that they also don’t want their kids to become overly paranoid.
I am not one of those parents. I believe in a healthy dose of paranoia.
While I was drawn to my neighborhood for its small-town feel, I never thought it was immune from crime. My doors are always locked — in part because I grew up in a neighborhood with frequent petty crime, and in part because I spent several years as a cop reporter and saw the consequences of poor judgment by kids, and sometimes parents.
Parents want the police and school district to do something about the robberies, but there are things parents could do as well: Stop believing that kids can walk home safely at 10:30 p.m. anywhere. And realize there’s not always safety in numbers. Assailants with a gun feel invincible. Three 14-year-olds aren’t going to scare them.
I understand wanting kids to be accessible, but must they have $400 phones? I don’t have one — because it seems my friends spend a lot of time getting theirs fixed, playing games on them or looking for a signal. Almost all the parents I know whose kids have iPhones have had at least one stolen or broken.
Many of the thefts occur in school or in a sports-related context. Teens put down their phones, turn away for an instance and then discover the gadget is gone. Yet, parents keep replacing them. (And this happens in private schools as well as public. A father told me recently that his daughter had two high-end phones stolen at her swank private school.)
Young teens make dumb decisions. They sneak out of sleepovers at midnight and walk to a convenience store for chips and salsa. To impress one another, they jump off railings or attempt back flips in the parking lot.
At this age, kids are yearning for more freedom to roam, and parents are willing to supply it. Seeking a break from picking up their kids after games or taking them to the movies, parents extend freedoms probably better delayed until the teens are more mature.
Science is learning that the teenage brain is a work in progress in reasoning, planning and judgment. That’s why traffic safety experts offer a guaranteed way to make kids safer in cars: Delay giving them licenses until they’re 25.
Parents can’t keep their teens from driving, but they can make a stronger effort to ensure that newly licensed drivers follow the rules. Despite Georgia’s passenger limits for young drivers, I often pass carloads of kids in violation of the law. I’ve even seen parents waving their kids and their illegal passengers off in the morning.
The more passengers in a car driven by a teen, the more likely the driver will die in a crash. With three passengers in a car, the risk of an accident rockets by 182 percent for 16-year-old drivers, according to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Parents who enforce rules and impose limits on their teens are often admonished that they are too controlling and need “to let go.” Parenting expert Ron Taffel provides a concise rebuttal: “Adolescence is not about letting go. It’s about hanging on during a very bumpy ride.”