teen boy using laptop

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Q: My 14-year-old son recently told me that he wants more privacy and no longer wants to allow me to check his text messages, Instagram, and emails. He claims that he needs more freedom and independence as he is growing up and feels as though my checking his social media is an invasion of his privacy. What should I do?

~Indecisive over independence, USA

A: Dear Indecisive,

Your question reflects one of the major challenges of parenting an adolescent: finding ways to provide increasing freedom while at the same time ensuring that he takes responsibility for that freedom.

A 14 year old does not yet have the cognitive ability to fully understand the concept of privacy—at least not the way adults do. Most 14 year olds I’ve talked to define privacy as ‘keeping my parents clueless’. That may be because adolescence is a time when young people are seeking autonomy as individuals and, specifically, defining themselves as separate from their parents.

That can make it difficult to know what your role is, but that role is still important: You can help your son learn a more adult concept of privacy and help him learn to protect himself, not just in the present, but into the future as well. To do this, you need to parent him in the digital domain, just as it sounds like you have been doing—through monitoring his online activities and accessing his devices and social media accounts.

Because many parents feel inept compared to their children when it comes to the internet, they often default that space as a ‘kids-only zone’, allowing children to assume that parents don’t have the right to monitor their online activities. However, your involvement in his online activities is similar to your involvement in his offline activities. Just as you wouldn’t let him go to a party at a house you didn’t know, unaware of how it may be monitored or whether alcohol, drugs, or weapons may be present, do not let him go online or into social media spaces without making yourself aware of what he is exposed to and how he is behaving.

Although your son will most likely not be happy with your continued monitoring, explain that as he demonstrates his ability to act responsibly online, keep an open dialogue with you about any concerns he has, and avoid potential risky or dangerous activities, you will check less often. In the meantime, the knowledge that at any time you can visit his text messages, Instagram, or Facebook page may help him behave in ways that you expect of him until they become habits—and leave the door open for discussion about what’s happening in that space. Just as he may earn the privilege of driving on his own once he has demonstrated that he can do so safely, he may also earn online privacy when he has demonstrated that he can behave responsibly in that domain.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®

 

(photo by Send me adrift /CC by 2.0)

5 Responses to “My 14-year-old no longer wants me to monitor his social media – what should I do?”

  1. Stan Faryna

    Parents have the right, responsibility and authority to educate, encourage and discipline their children in all good things including virtue, wisdom, faith, self-understanding and citizenship.

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    Reply
  2. lacochonbleu

    What specific kind of monitoring are you calling for? Are you saying that parents should read their teenagers’ text conversations, emails, inbox messages, and IMs? Or just know what websites their kids have accounts on? When I was 14, I was using the internet with monitoring from my parents, and it allowed me the freedom to research my interests, keep in touch with other like-minded kids, and find inspiration all over the world. (I’m now 32.) To the extent that I was doing anything risky (chatting with strangers, pirating music starting at age 16), I would have gladly discussed it if my parents had asked me. I was blessed to have the good sense never to tell strangers anything identifying (not even what town I lived in), and my parents additionally advised against it. And they helped make me feel safe telling the truth about where I was going and who I was seeing every time I left the house. Communication goes a long way, so I’m not sure what additional use there is in surveilling your child.

    Reply
  3. Busymom4

    As long as I am paying the bill and they are living under my roof I have the right to follow what my son and daughter are doing. I do not read their texts, but know who they text with and the phones shut off every night at 9:30pm (so they have ample time to get homework done, etc….without the distraction of a phone).They also know that I follow them on Instagram and Twitter. It’s the rule of the house, and they don’t seem to have a problem with it. There is so much junk, pornography, inappropriate content, bullying etc… that I don’t want my kids wasting their time getting sucked into all of that. It’s my job as a parent and It works for us.

    Reply
  4. Reyns

    I found out through checking my 14 year olds facebook, a conversation between her and her 24 year old step uncle saying “I love you baby ” what do I do? She lives out of state with her dad

    Reply

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