Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: How old is old enough for teenagers to have “private” conversations on social media? I feel like a snoop reading my 14-year-old’s conversations. However, I feel like a neglectful parent if I don’t. My child so far has handled herself well, but there have been some close calls (older boys urging her to play sexual games over Skype, etc.). We have a detente on my reading her stuff. I pretend I don’t, and she pretends she doesn’t know I am looking.
Guinea Pig Generation
DEAR GENERATION: When they’re 18, they’re adults and you have no business in their correspondence unless they have for some reason forfeited their autonomy (drug abuse, for example).
At 14, I’d have been outraged at having my every exchange monitored. I expect I’d have agreed to the following, though:
(1) A minor is at heightened risk on social media and in other online forums; parents have a duty to protect.
(2) Any sense of privacy is false security, since anything texted or posted in private can end up everywhere. Having a parent catch your inappropriate exchange is better than having a school administrator or vindictive peer find it first.
(3) A minor is also a person deserving of a social life over which a parent isn’t constantly hovering; parents don’t supervise teens’ every move in life, nor should they do so online.
An approach that encompasses all three is for a parent to have full access that the child knows about, but that the parent uses only for spot checks, vs. constant monitoring. How often you check depends on the kid as well as the peer group involved.
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