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Monitoring Teens Online: When Is It Inappropriate?

Our Thoughts On Monitoring Social Media And Internet

Your Teen for Parents recently posted an article titled “Parental Internet Monitoring: Balancing Privacy and Safety.” In this article two Dads talked about how they monitor their teenagers’ internet and social media use in the Internet Age. A psychologist and a private investigator also weighed in on the subject.  I asked Your Teen’s Virtual Family to read and comment on the article.  Here are their responses and we would love to hear yours.

It is NOT OKAY to monitor you children’s actions so closely like that. I will never think this is okay and the kids are correct that they have a right to their privacy. IF a parent thinks their kid is not mature enough to handle themselves online, then they need to ban them from either the computer or social networks all together. I wasn’t allowed to have a Facebook or a MySpace until I was in high school. Not because my parents thought I was bad, but because my parents were worried about the safety thing. But eventually I went behind their backs and made a Facebook.

They were mad for a second, but then I showed them my privacy settings and they felt a little better. I also became friends with my mom on Facebook so she could see my activities as a friend. But just like I would never approve of my mom or dad reading my diary I would never be okay with them monitoring my online activities so closely. And frankly we have even had issues with their reactions to some of my posts.

I am not going to lie, some of the stuff I post (pictures, comments, statuses) are not always PG13… BUT I AM NOT 13. Facebook is a place to be yourself and have fun with your friends. And believe me, if your kid is having inappropriate (or what you consider inappropriate) conversations online then I bet they are having those exact same conversations in real life too. Now I am not trying to scare, but…. kids say a lot of things that they either 1) don’t really mean or 2) mean something completely different than what they sound like. I mean really most of the time some inappropriate comment is really an inside joke that is relatively harmless.

Okay I think I am done ranting… OH WAIT! The dad that said something about Lady Gaga… I laughed so hard at that. Really? Lady Gaga is a problem? Let’s think back parents, when you were 13/14 did your parents approve of what you were listening to? (And on that note, did you sneak out? Drink? Experiment? Hang out with that girl/guy you liked?)

I know this all sounds so typical coming from a 21 year old college girl. But seriously, here is my opinion on dealing with high school aged kids. Don’t deprive them of all the stuff you got to experience. Or if you didn’t have those experiences, don’t hinder them just because you weren’t into the same things they are. Let your kids have some fun.

Sure if you catch them sneaking out, ground them (that’s part of the experience too). But let them have fun with their friends; let them talk online without having you breathing down their necks. All you can do is tell them how you feel and teach them about the dangers. But if you are too protective you will just end up with resentful kids that will want to leave for college as soon as possible to get away from you. And in my experience that doesn’t end up well when your kid has to call you the same night you drop them off to come back because they are in the hospital getting their stomach pumped… Just let them go sometimes and they will respect you all the more for it later.

While I agree that these Dads are a little too strict in monitoring their kids social networking there are two important principles that sometimes are forgotten.

1) Facebook (and other social networks) is NOT PRIVATE!!!! If you hide your diary in your drawer I won’t look at it. But if you put something on a billboard that hundreds of people are seeing…. I can see it too (along with future employers, etc.) If you really want something to be private why would you put it on Facebook?

2) Privileges (such as Facebook, driving, staying up late etc.) are just that…..privileges. As a minor, in my care, you have to demonstrate the responsibility that goes along with those privileges. I won’t let you drive if I find that you’ve been drinking, and I won’t let you use Facebook if I find that you’ve been using it inappropriately either.

Having said that….I do think these Dads are out of line. In this day and age, Facebook is a part of life. Our job as parents is to teach our kids how to deal with the challenges that they will encounter. We start by giving our younger child an email account, gradually loosen up the controls, and eventually expect them to be responsible enough to use Facebook. There needs to be trust and encouragement along the way. My 12 year old daughter may start by interacting with boys in groups, but at some point she’s going to go on a date – and neither she nor I want me to be going along. My responsibility as a parent is to TRY to prevent my 14 year old daughter from going on a date with a 20 year old college student. But hopefully I’ve taught her what’s appropriate before she gets to that point.

Part of teaching responsibility and learning to deal with life’s challenges IS a degree of privacy, and allowing a kid to make their own decisions and choices. Some of those choices will not be my choices, but hopefully most will. As long as they are safe choices, I’m not snooping.

Let’s just say I am EXTREMELY glad I’m not that 13 year-old girl, and that’s not just because she’s a 13 year-old girl. If there’s one thing I value in my life, it is my privacy. By saying that, it doesn’t mean that I regularly have inappropriate text conversations or post inappropriate things on Facebook; it just means I don’t want my every text and my every post or picture on Facebook to be closely observed by my parents like they’re detectives observing evidence.

If you’re the parent checking every single move your child makes on the internet or on his/her phone, how can you say you trust your child? If you can’t trust your 13 year-old daughter, your biggest problem isn’t the text you found on your daughter’s phone that had a curse word in it. Parents need to trust their kids to make the right choices when they are put into tough situations.

Secondly, if I know my parents are checking all my texts, yes it will prevent bad language or inappropriate comments or anything like that, but it will also make me cautious of the conversations I have with my friends. Let’s say I’m having relationship problems. If I text my friend to talk to him/her about it and ask for advice, or maybe text my girlfriend to talk about it, that’s private. I don’t want my parents reading that. Parents reading texts might limit bad language and inappropriate comments or conversations, but it also stops kids from talking to their friends about things that they might not be comfortable talking to their parents about.

Like the Dad in the article said, he signed up to be a parent, not a friend. So kids talk about things with their friends that they don’t feel comfortable talking to their parents about. For parents to read these conversations isn’t fair. When parents read texts, it might prevent inappropriate content, but it also is an invasion of privacy and evidence that the parent does not trust their kid.

Do your child a favor and show him/her you trust them. Also, don’t invade your child’s privacy by investigating everything they do. Your child should have their privacy, just as I’m sure every parent values their own privacy.

Mindy Gallagher is the Social Media Manager for Your Teen Magazine. She is the assistant coach for the girls’ lacrosse team for Solon High School in Ohio.

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