Social media is one of my last remaining glimpses into my teenage daughter’s life. Like most 14-year-olds, Emily indulged in a post-weekend ritual by posting pictures after a Friday night hangout, complete with captions and tagging. As her follower, viewing kept me updated on her happenings.
We have a no computers in bedrooms policy in place in our house, so I can still walk by the office or the family room couch at any given moment and see my children’s computers. Yet, as time has gone on, Emily’s become more private. She’s figured out ways to circumvent our computer parental controls, like using earphones when video chatting and creating vault-like passwords to access her phone and computer.
I respect my children’s privacy and Emily’s harmless and resourceful tactics to maintain her private teenage life, but, as her “friend”, I liked that I could see what was going on and stay updated. Viewing her pictures felt similar to driving my kids and their friends in the car–when they would forget that I was there. I would try to stay still, even if I wanted to change the radio station, so as not to risk reminding them that I was only inches away. Similarly, with social media, I avoided commenting on a status or “liking” a picture so that I could relatively anonymously enjoy my full access to photos.
But then, one Saturday morning, I received a text from a friend. She asked if I knew a particular boy in Emily’s grade. “There’s a picture on Instagram,” she added. Before I finished my morning coffee and went for my daily run, I quickly logged onto my account. Nothing was inappropriate about the photo – their arms were around each other, and they were smiling at the camera. There were other friends in the picture, too.
Emily was busy over Memorial Day weekend. She spent hours at our town’s fair, had a shopping and lunch outing to Main Street, and hung out at friends’ houses at night. Monday and Tuesday came and went, but no pictures popped up on my newsfeed. I was confused and suspicious. Where were the end-of-the-weekend photos?
And then on Wednesday, Emily texted me: “Can you take a pic of my speech and send it to me?” She was running for secretary and wanted to practice her speech. Without hesitation, she gave me her computer password, as if it were no big deal. For me, however, it was as if she had just given me the key to her diary. And I was faced with a dilemma.
Given the apparent simplicity of her computer password, I could easily hack into her account. But, I had never done anything like that before. I trusted her and respected her private life. It wasn’t that I was concerned that she had done something “wrong” over the weekend. I just needed to know whether she had changed her privacy settings, thus limiting my ability to view her profile.
I typed in the password, took a picture of her speech and texted it to her. And then, I took a deep breath and stared at the open laptop. My fingers typed quickly, and a moment later, I had logged into her account. I quickly scrolled down, and even though I was home alone, I intermittently looked behind and around me. When I was done, I closed the laptop and stared out the office window.
Just as I had suspected, there were no inappropriate photos. But true to my suspicions, I discovered that she had changed her privacy options and limited my accessibility to her pictures. I felt rejected. But, even worse, I had become the very parent I claimed not to be.
I never told Emily that I logged into her account. And, I don’t plan on doing it again. I trust my daughter, and I want her to trust me.
Maybe it’s not my place to see her private teenage life anymore, unless she chooses to share it with me. And then, last weekend, I drove Emily and a friend to the mall. They talked about a recent party and clothes they had seen online at Urban Outfitters. I changed the radio station, forgetting they were in the car. “Why did you change that?” they asked, giggling at my soft rock music choice. And then, they continued talking about who was and wasn’t at the party, as if my presence no longer interfered.