Obsessively Monitoring Your Kids’ Social Media Isn’t Parenting, It’s Spying

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girl on computer

I can remember when my parents bought our very first computer. A Gateway ordered from QVC that came in a box big enough for my little brother to live in. We got hooked up with AOL (naturally) and my parents laid down some ground rules. Above all, we understood that at any moment, our parents could ask to read what we were typing. The rules seemed reasonable and my brothers and I knew not to bother stepping out of bounds because we could lose our privileges entirely. I’m sure my parents would have preferred reading every single thing we typed but they must have realized that it makes little sense to spy on your kids online. It is better to teach them the right way to handle themselves so you know you can trust them on their own.

I know things are wildly different now as far as the internet is concerned. Monitoring your kids’ social media is a hot topic. There are seemingly endless ways for a child or teenager to cause themselves trouble in the digital age. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and texting present young people with many opportunities to exercise bad judgment and misbehave. However, parents obsessively spying on all of that is not an effective means of parenting. If a child is taught from the start how to handle themselves with the internet, then the parent can trust them to a reasonable degree. From the NY Post:

“You create greater danger than what’s out there online when you try to control every single aspect of a teenager’s life, to track where they are and take their phones and read their texts,” says Yalda Uhls, a developmental psychologist and media researcher for UCLA.

“It doesn’t build an honest, trustful relationship between the parent and child, and like with any extreme parenting, children will rebel like Jennifer Garner’s daughter does in the movie.”

Understandably, she says, “People are terrified, and they don’t know what to do now that technology is so pervasive in their kids’ lives.”

But much of the fear, she says, is overreaction.

“The truth is that very few children actually get attacked by sexual predators, and of the 25 prosecuted cases a year [nationally] of children who met up for sex with someone they met online, they had all exhibited problems in their offline behavior.”

The article is referring to a movie in which Jennifer Garner plays a parent who obsessively monitors all of her teenager’s online activity and of course, her child rebels. Uhls’ assertion that children who are attacked by sexual predators they met online are usually experiencing trouble elsewhere is backed up by Danah Boyd, author of the book “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens”:

“The risks that youth face online are not evenly distributed. Teens who are most at risk online are often struggling everywhere.”

In my eyes, the risks I am more concerned with are bullying and the chance that my child could be putting something on the internet that will never go away and could effect them for years to come. That is one of the main lessons I plan to instill in them before allowing them to use the internet.

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  1. Cee

    November 11, 2014 at 11:45 am

    My parents were so scared of technology that they locked the computer in the trunk of their car when I found out I was chatting with someone online. I was over 18 at the time.

    • Linzon

      November 11, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      LOL my mom was pretty similar. In my mid-teens my mom looked over my shoulder at my LiveJournal profile, saw that I was in a group called”art_bitches”, freaked out, and took away the keyboard rather than asking me about it (it was about art snark or something).

  2. CMJ

    November 11, 2014 at 11:47 am

    To me, internet use for children is a privilege and not a right…so, if they do stupid stuff, that privilege will be taken away. Will I monitor everything? Hell no…ain’t nobody got time for that…but they should always know that NOTHING put on the internet is really private and should never expect it to be…so, they will understand that I will monitor them from time to time.

    • whiteroses

      November 11, 2014 at 11:56 am

      This. I figure if my son would have an issue with me reading what he types, it might make him think twice about random strangers.

    • Lilly

      November 11, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      I always wonder about the software being installed do the parents actually read the reports and discuss it with their children or is it used more as a “I installed it so I will know” scare tactic and then no follow-up is done.

      My father was really tech savvy (did programming, wrote firewall/encryption algorithms in his spare time) so he controlled the family computer since the first one we had (1984 original Mac). Once we had internet access in the 90’s my sisters and I were’t given these kinds of controls but there had been a lot of build up and discussions with my father beforehand about the tech and what it could do and who we could contact.
      I think that the relationship that was built on trust did more than any controls he probably had the ability to put in place could ever have done — and they carry forward to now which makes the 90’s message boards look like child’s play.

    • Valerie

      November 11, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Right. Not only is it unrealistic to monitor everything, it shows your kids that you have no trust in them.

    • Spongeworthy

      November 11, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Exactly. It’s a privelege, just like having an allowance, using the car, going out with friends–those are things that will be lost if you abuse them or show you can’t use them responsibly.

    • Elizabeth Wakefield

      November 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm

      How about this – my friend has a college-age daughter and she monitors all her daughter’s social media PLUS tracks her daughter’s cell phone to make sure she’s not staying at her boyfriend’s house. Her daughter is away at college. I was flabbergasted when she expected me to agree that this was a great idea.

    • 2Well

      November 11, 2014 at 11:19 pm

      How does she monitor her daughter, exactly? Does she have her daughter’s passwords? How does she track her phone?

    • Elizabeth Wakefield

      November 12, 2014 at 8:41 am

      There’s a “Find my iPhone” app that she uses, I think. And then she looks through her daughters phone, computer, etc anytime she gets a chance. She looks through texts, IM chats which, for a college student, I feel is excessive.

    • MC Dangerfield

      November 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm

      Definitely excessive. At some point, she’s going to have to treat this college-age woman like, you know, the adult she is.

    • Elizabeth Wakefield

      November 12, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      Well, she asked me what I thought, being the closest in age to her daughter that I am, and I was very honest about how it could really damage their relationship and cause her daughter to be more secretive in the future.

  3. Helene

    November 11, 2014 at 11:48 am

  4. whiteroses

    November 11, 2014 at 11:48 am

    I think it’s nothing short of insane to release your kids onto the Internet with no supervision. My son will never have a computer in his room, I will be his friend on all social media platforms, and I reserve the right to check what he’s writing/change wifi passwords/ restrict Internet use at will. When he can prove to both his father and me that he’s mature enough to deal with unrestricted access, he’ll get it. I’m not going to monitor every keystroke he types, but I’m not going to allow free access all over the Internet when he’s thirteen. Hopefully, by the time he’s sixteen, he’ll be mature enough to where I can de friend him. But he still won’t have a computer in his room. If he wants one, he can contribute to the Internet bill and pay for his own computer.

    Colleges check social media platforms. I’m not going to have him risk his future before it ever started.

    Of course, I also think parents who give their twelve year olds iPhones are nuts, so there’s that. Technology can be a wonderful thing, but only when it’s earned like every other privilege.

    • Valerie

      November 11, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Absolutely. I would never let them go willy-nilly and never check it but I also won’t have all of their texts sent straight to my in-box. There has to be a balance.

    • Elizabeth Wakefield

      November 11, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      The computer access in the room is key. I also plan on putting my daughter’s technology (phone and/or tablet) on chargers in my room during the night.

  5. Ursi

    November 11, 2014 at 11:54 am

    I honestly don’t know how parents deal with this. I have no idea how it should be done nor do I have any solutions.

    My folks were super strict but they couldn’t control what I did on the internet when I started frequenting chat rooms as a teenager in the 90s because they didn’t know how. The stuff I got up to… I mean, I got quite the education. Stuff I would never allow a young teen to participate in. It was a crazy freeing experience when held up to my stifling real life existence and by the time I got into college I was unable to keep up with my schoolwork because I was a bona fide net addict. My entire life was there; friends, games, roleplaying… I met some of my partners there. I flew to another state to meet a boy. I gave out my phone number to online friends. This was when people were far more concerned about the dangers of that, you had to be crazy to date online, etc. I was protective enough not to give out my address or too many photos but I was super naive.

    My parents would never have let me do anything like that but they didn’t know. I knew how to cover my tracks on the internet and I lied about everything. Everything. Didn’t even think about it. They were too strict to allow me to have a normal life so I lied to get the life I wanted.

    Looking back on that I can safely say that if I did have a child I would be a nervous wreck about their internet usage. There’s just no easy solution for parents.

    • whiteroses

      November 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      I think part of it is having a good relationship with your kids in the first place. I’m pretty severe about net access because both my husband and I can get around pretty much any firewall and any social media platform out there. I don’t want my son to have a computer in his room because I feel like having it in a public place would eliminate a lot of prospective issues, and I hope by the time my son goes to college the net won’t be a big deal to him.

    • guest

      November 11, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      Yeah, back when we got access I was literally left alone with a computer from age 7 up. I remember my brother having to step in to tell me the girl I was talking to was, in fact, probably not Baby Spice. Somehow I managed and man did I have some amazing friendships on there that I legitimately miss when I think about them. Of course as my brothers and I got older my dad wised up and decided to check some stuff out and called me out specifically (in front of the whole family) for looking at stuff I shouldn’t have but my brother was there to step in and tell them that pop ups do happen 😛

  6. monkeys mama

    November 11, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    Our computer(yes i still have a pc) is in the living room so there is no expectation of privacy and yes she has to be my Facebook fried. My daughter knows i must have access to her phone if she wants me to pay the bill. I may glance at her messages once in a while but most of the time i am just using it to call my lost phone. For the most part i trust her.

  7. Rachel Sea

    November 11, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Nothing says lets have a close relationship based on mutual trust and respect like net-stalking your kids. The parents I know who pull that crap have taught their kids to loathe them with their STFU Parents-worthy behavior.

  8. WarriorMermaids

    November 11, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    I do agree that teaching kids about the internet so you can trust them on it is a lot better than obsessive monitoring. After all, it’s not like you’d be able to watch them EVERY time they’re online, and unless you keep your kid home all day, he’s going to get to places where he would have access to unsupervised, unfiltered internet. It’s like, today we’re seeing a lot of studies on how the modern trend of kids constantly being under adult supervision is causing problems for them as they get older. I think there is some similar version for the internet, where they’re going to have to learn how to handle it anyway.

    Though kids, particularly younger ones, should have some level of supervision. Even if you aren’t hovering over them as long as they’re using the computer, might wanna at least know their search history. Supervising older teenagers seems a bit unnecessary unless they’ve said or done something to suggest that they’d run into trouble online.

  9. mamaduck_75

    November 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    I think this is a great article about balance. You’re paying for it, so as a parent you make it clear that it can be taken away at any time. Also, that you can pull up texts and anything else if you so choose, but then you give them enough space to build a trusting relationship and do their own thing. I think it’s very important to have a candid discussion on porn and sexting (which can get a teen a sex offender charge these days), and online predators before anything else…they may think they’re talking to someone their age and agree to meet somewhere, making them vulnerable.

    Also, it’s important to discuss with them being careful about viruses and pop ups, and watch what you type in when doing searches…there’s a lot you could accidentally pull up if you type something in the wrong way, and porn on the internet is NOT the porn that our grandfathers looked at in their stash of playboys. A teen boy or girl could be curious, and pull up something they didn’t expect that is very edgy and only for consenting adults. This is why it is so important to give them some space, so they trust you enough to come to you and have discussions about something they see online.

  10. Katherine Handcock

    November 11, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Yes, this! Every bit of this! Talk to kids, let them know you can and will monitor if you suspect a problem — and that the internet, like anything else, is a privilege that can be removed if it’s misused. But don’t read everything, and make sure they always know they can talk to you if they come across something accidentally (or maybe even sort-of-on-purpose) that scares or upsets them.

  11. guest

    November 11, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Every time I hear people mention being worried about their child it reminds me of a girl I grew up with. We were best friends and her parents always had like the kids aol for her and would never let her have anything else as they were quite overprotective while my parents were the opposite. She did end up getting attacked in her own home when her parents left her for the weekend with her dance teacher as a babysitter/chaperone. (No fault of their own obviously. They didn’t know the dance teacher had a stalker who took that as his opportunity to attack.) It just goes to show that you can try to protect your kid all you want but anything can happen.

  12. MC Dangerfield

    November 12, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    My kid is only one, and who on earth knows what kind of social media/internet/app programs will be available in thirteen years, so I’m being super flexible with my approach on this topic. Ultimately, I think the “trust, but verify” approach will probably work best. I’ll hopefully raise a kid who won’t do stupid, foolish, dangerous, or harassing things on the internet, but it doesn’t hurt to do due diligence and check to make sure that’s actually the case. Also, it’s not spying if you’re up front about it, and let your kid know you will monitor their activity from time to time.

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