Care and Feeding

I’m Worried My Son’s Transgression Means He’s Lying About a Lot More

I am so angry and disappointed.

A boy's head peeks over the top of a computer.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an 11-year-old son “Jax.” He is on the autism spectrum (highly intelligent, with some sensory and social issues). He ‘s been a fairly easy child to parent and is good at following the rules, at least until now. Jax was given his own iPad under the following conditions: only we know the passwords (to download apps, etc.), we have the ability to access the iPad at any time, no chatting to anyone not on our approved list, and social media is strictly forbidden. As you might have guessed, Jax figured out the password, downloaded YouTube and TikTok under a different name, and uploaded videos (mostly of his old DVD collection and football cards—they’re actually quite cute). I am so angry and disappointed. He is obviously going to be suitably punished (iPad taken away, extra chores, etc.), and we’ll definitely change the passwords, but that’s not my biggest worry.

I am concerned about the broken trust—how do I know that’s the only thing he’s lied about? What else is he hiding? And how do I know that when his iPad is returned to him he won’t just create another profile? Or am I overthinking this and it’s normal pre-teen boy behavior?

—I Don’t Understand the Assignment

Dear I Don’t Understand,

Eleven is an age of testing limits. Jax wants to know what-all he can put past you. Screen time and social media tempt tweens to push the boundaries more than most of the other privileges they’re granted.

I’d hesitate to treat this as a “gateway” to other deceptions. If Jax has been honest about everything except this, treat this as its own, singular incident. Just because he tried to circumvent the passwords and sneak some privacy doesn’t mean he’s lying to you about a host of other things.

Ensuring that his actions lead to restrictions and consequences is the right thing here. Continue to stress to him that lying will only lead to more restrictions; it will have the opposite effect of what he wants. Also impress upon him that, even when he’s older, increased online access will only be earned through trust, not through fake profiles and sneaky workarounds. Every time he tries that approach, and you find out about it, it will result in more supervision, not less.

Hopefully, it won’t take long for him to learn this lesson. In the meantime, continue keeping a close eye on his bookmarks and history.

—Stacia

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