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

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.

The article also argues the other side, that parents may not be totally hysterical in their urge to install spying apps and read everything their child is doing with their phone:

According to Gabel, at least 60 percent of parents believe they should have control over exactly what their kids do on their phones and other technology, which has translated to nearly $1 billion in annual sales for products like his. And the numbers continue to grow.

And while these parents might seem like the ultimate control freaks, recent news suggests they might have good reason.

In Georgia, the appellate court has revived a negligence lawsuit against the parents of a boy who allegedly created a false Facebook profile of a female classmate. The court said that a reasonable jury could very well conclude that the parents are liable for having ”failed to exercise due care in supervising and controlling” their son’s activity.

Knowing that I could be held liable for my child’s bad internet behavior is pretty terrifying and I can completely see how a parent would be motivated to spy on their kid’s every digital move. However, I still argue that teaching them how to handle themselves appropriately is a weapon far more effective than spying. For instance- if I thought my child may be immature enough to create a false Facebook profile for someone else then they would not have a phone or unmonitored access to the internet to begin with. That may sound naive and simplistic but before my kids are allowed to use Facebook or any other social media, they will need to be at an age and level of trustworthiness where I am not concerned that they will do something wrong.

That said, I don’t see an issue with some monitoring and I will be making it clear to my kids that I will always have access to their phones and computers in case I become suspicious that something is amiss in their online activity. As long as I am paying for the internet, I will be in charge of it. However, I will not be the parent to read every text and pore over every email. Once the decision is made to give my children the chance to go online, it will be because I trust them and I feel they are adequately prepared to make the right choices. I am convinced that the more taboo I make it, the greater lengths they will go to thwart and work around my efforts. After all, they will have friends with unlimited internet access- I will never be able to control it all. The best thing I can do as a parent is teach them responsible internet behavior and hope the lessons have sunk in.

(Image: Nikola Solev/Shutterstock)

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