Should You Read Your Kids’ Text Messages?


eHow Tech Blog

Man checking cell phone

Here’s a dilemma: Parents want to look out for their kids to make sure they’re safe, but checking on children’s communications can feel like snooping. How necessary is it for parents to read their kids’ text messages, emails and Facebook messages?

I put the question out on Facebook and Twitter and received answers ranging from “No, trust is more important” to “Yes, I’m paying for the service/device and the kids shouldn’t be doing anything they wouldn’t want you to know about.”

Mostly, I think, it boils down to “it depends.”

The first consideration is age. Younger children need stricter supervision to ensure they understand online safety and the importance of privacy (so, don’t share any personal details with strangers, watch what you post online, for example). Google’s Family Safety Center offers tools and information for parents to teach kids how to navigate our digital world.

The second consideration is maturity and trust. How responsible and honest is the child? How likely is the child to be swayed by friends to cross the boundaries? Unfortunately, teens with their developing brains aren’t known for consistently making the best decisions, which might be why 61 percent of parents in one survey said they regularly read their kids’ private messages. On the other hand, reading your kids’ messages can erode the trust between you and actually make them rebel (or at the very least resent you, as I’ve heard several respondents say happened to them with their parents).

Common Sense Media offers some practical advice: Discuss responsible behavior and set the ground rules early on — ideally, when you give the phone to the kid. If you suspect something worrisome going on with your child (for example, bullying or another cause for secrecy), then you’d need to choose between confronting the child or using something like TeenSafe or another monitoring tool.

It’s a dangerous world out there, but it’s a fine line between looking out for your children and doing NSA-like snooping. I’ve got a couple years before I’ll have to navigate this minefield myself, but when I do I think it will be with an open policy: I reserve the right to periodically check on my daughter’s texting and online activities, but will be honest about it when I do. Hopefully I’ll be able to decipher secret, scary text acronyms like WYRN or LMIRL or whatever new ones they’ll come up with by then.

What are your thoughts on this debate?

Photo Credit: Joi (Flickr)

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