Students cheer and take photos with smart phones at concert at a Virginia Catholic high school. Many experts and parents say teens’ phones need to be monitored more. (Catholic News Service)

Students cheer and take photos with smart phones at concert at a Virginia Catholic high school. Many experts and parents say teens’ phones need to be monitored more. (Catholic News Service)

This is history’s first generation of parents who must deal with kids carrying all the world’s glory, wisdom, gore and smut in their pockets.

Smart phones and tablets have become a major concern for moms and dads in places like Oregon, where three quarters of teens have or have access to the devices. A study released in April by the Pew Research Center says 92 percent of U.S. teens go online daily, with 24 percent staying on the internet “almost constantly,” a situation made possible by portable devices. 

Church leaders accept the constructive possibilities of the mobile internet, but point out dangers.

This summer, Pope Francis told reporters that spending too much time online amounts to "a psychological illness." The pope praised parents who allow their children to use devices only in common areas of the house as a way to keep kids away from “dirty content.”

Pope Benedict XVI said new technology provides “unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship,” but also may lead to isolation and excessive exposure to the virtual world.

Kids got into trouble before smart phones. But the devices make it easier. Dangers include cyber-bullying, in which texts and posts can degrade a teen from a distance at the touch of a few buttons. Teens can get into legal trouble by “sexting,” sending inappropriate photos over the internet. Sexual predators pose as teens and try to lure youngsters to meet.

Parents now can purchase software like TeenSafe, PhoneSheriff, Net Nanny or My Mobile Watchdog for kids’ phones to keep an eye on texts and calls.

"Parents should monitor their teens in proportion to age, maturity and the teen's history,” says Jason Kidd, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Archdiocese of Portland.

Kidd admits that some parents think abstinence is best and that screen addiction can interrupt life. But he suggests teaching children by example how to use phones with moderation.

“We need to show and model to our teens that you can use technology responsibly, in a way that supports everyday life as opposed to disrupting it,” says Kidd.

Since phones can expose teens to sexual predators, parents must keep an eye on use and have frequent “age-appropriate conversations,” he explains. 

Oregon Catholic parents all want what is best for their children, but have different approaches to smart phone regulation. 

Dave and Lisa Edson, parents of 10 from Tigard who attend Holy Rosary Parish, don’t worry about monitoring phones because they don’t let their kids have them in the first place.

“Phones are not a necessity, until they go off to college, at which point you hope they are mature enough to handle it,” the Edsons say.

LouAnn Edwards, a mother of six from St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton, gets her kids “dumb phones,” that is, pay-as-you-go phones that are just for communication, with no internet. 

“Part of it is a budget issue, but honestly, there's no way I as a parent can allow the whole world to have access to my child without my knowledge or consent,” Edwards says. “I think it's a lot easier to just not buy the phones with internet than to try and monitor them after the fact.”

She says teens are savvy enough to skirt any observation anyway. 

Jessica Straub, a mother of 12 from Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, favors monitoring kids’ phones. The general rule in her house is that no one under 17 gets a phone or iPod or iPad with internet unless it’s needed for a job.

“I think 13-16 year olds are too young to have a cell phones,” Straub says. “The way I also see it is I don't want to give my children a device that can easily put them in a near occasion of sin and expect them to monitor themselves from the get go.”

When the Straub children do get old enough for a phone, they get a talking to about the dangers, and must submit phones for inspection until they turn 18.

“We still monitor everything else in their lives, like food, sleep, friends,” says Straub. “Why not this?”

Jeanne Loftis, a parent of four from St. Thomas More Parish, thinks monitoring teens on their phones is akin to eavesdropping, so she avoids it. Loftis does look closely at the bill each month to see what time calls and texts are going through. If grades drop, she picks up that student’s phone at 10 p.m. and returns it in the morning. 

Martha Norrie, a member of St. Mary Cathedral Parish, has children ages 5, 13 and 15. Her children all got iPads at school, which makes tech monitoring and challenge.

Its tough to call in iPads at 10 p.m. when kids are still trying to do homework. The devices serve as calendars and organizers and notebooks. And Norrie’s kids use cell phones to work on group school projects, sometimes late.

At times, the parental controls she places on the devices block legitimate academic research.

“We don’t really monitor much anymore,” Norrie explains. “If an obvious inappropriate incident occurs, we would simply remove the device as a consequence.

While most teens object to having their privacy broken, they also recognize that parents need to do their job.

"I believe that it depends on the amount of trust between the parent and teenager,” says Ashtyn Chamberland, a student at Regis High in Stayton. “The child should be able to subject the cell phone to parents at any random time for inspection, but the parents should also not abuse that option and become overbearing."

Jan Slattery, director of the Office for Protection of Children and Youth of the Archdiocese of Chicago, spoke at a Vatican symposium on the internet and pornography in 2012

“In most parts of the world, we would never give a child keys to a car and place him or her behind the wheel without making sure that they are mature enough to see, to view the road, to learn how to turn the car, manage it properly, to know how to read a map, use speed appropriately, and how to safely park and maintain a car,” Slattery told a Vatican hall filled with bishops and religious superiors. “Why do we do differently with the internet, cell phones, and modern technology?”

Slattery said that research shows that the internet leads to more social connection, but also said that constant use changes the brain in ways that mimic drug addiction.