Thursday, September 10, 2015

The 3 Ps: Privacy, Protection and Parenting

Earlier this week, I posted a story about some so-called calculator apps that offer users (read, "teens or adulterous spouses") a way to hide secret pictures (read, "sexts"). The post generated a lot of emails.

Some friends thanked me (and, no doubt, ran rather than walked to their offspring's cell phones to search for fake apps).

Others questioned whether parents should micromanage their child's mobile. How much supervision is too much? How much is, in reality, snooping?

Privacy vs. protection. It's a tough call sometimes and it can be a very fine line.

When we first broke down and gave my now teenage daughter a cell phone, I thought we were so on top of things. We knew her passwords; we checked her emails. She gladly friended me on Facebook. She agreed to all the parental surveillance because ... OMG! ... dreams do come true ... OMG! ... she was getting an iPhone! (OMG!)

It's been six years now, and any control we had then (or, at least, thought we had then) has pretty much gone bye-bye. We're still friends on Facebook, but my daughter and her peers rarely use it anymore. (How can you blame them? It's full of old people. Like me.) I don't know her passwords, her user names, where she has accounts. All that oversight kind of evaporated over time.

Did we get lazy? Maybe.  Did she also make valid points about her own maturity and privacy? Yes.

At any rate, despite the big bad of technology, my daughter (at almost 18) has about the same amount of autonomy I had. The devices change. But, the secret life that your parents don't know much about? Well, that remains the same. Not that I was any kind of bad girl, and (I assume, hope, pray) neither is she. It's just that when you're "17 going on 18," you need some privacy. I wouldn't have wanted my mother going through my diary any more than my own daughter wants me snooping around her cell phone.

I don't recommend checking up on your teen's online activity unless you have some reason for concern. Chances are, you're not going to find anything to make you happy. After all, how many kids text their friends to praise their parents' parenting ways? If your child is doing fine in school and doesn't seem to be having any trouble with alcohol, sex or drugs (or even rock and roll), let them have their privacy. 

On the other hand, if you have legitimate worries (falling grades, changes in health, signs of depression, or trouble at school or with the law), that's different. Or if your daughter or son is too young to know what's right and what's wrong online. Then, invading their privacy becomes more than your right. It becomes your responsibility.

For anyone who argues that you should never break your child's confidence, let me tell a sobering story. When my daughter was still a tween, our PTO presented a number of programs on online safety. One evening, we learned about a boy who had been savagely bullied online and eventually committed suicide. His father had respected his son's privacy but insisted that the boy write down all his passwords and leave them in a sealed envelope. After the suicide, the father was able to use those passwords to track down the kids who had made his son feel so hopeless. They were then held accountable (in whatever half-assed way juveniles are held accountable for online cruelty and harassment — yes, that comment's meant to be as bitter as it sounds). All the parents were nodding and making mental notes to go home and get those secret passwords onto paper and into sealed envelopes.

I wanted to scream. "But, it's too late! The kid is dead!" 

In hindsight, doesn't that father wish he had looked at his son's texts and emails sooner? You know he does.

Of course, this is only one story and most (statistically it would be: "virtually all") online activity doesn't end so tragically. But, I don't think you can condemn scrutinizing kids' usage altogether. If there are warning signs (legitimate, objective warning signs), go for it. 

Risk their wrath; that's your job.

Just ask yourself if you're doing it for their sake or for yours. And be as honest with yourself as you've asked them to be.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at

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