To Spy or Not to Spy: When to Give Kids Privacy

Privacy: what kids want and what parents struggle to give.

Tweens and teens especially crave independence and privacy from their parents. If they think their parents are spying on them, they will figure out how to be sneakier and do more stuff behind their parents’ backs. Also, parents who give kids more autonomy and privacy are victimized online less frequently than kids whose parents are more controlling and invasive. So we definitely want to give kids privacy!

But the world is a scary place – what if something bad happens and you aren’t even aware it’s happening? How do you protect them while also giving them the independence and privacy that they deserve and need to become responsible, thriving adults?

How much privacy you give depends on your child’s age and level of responsibility. Start out young, like when they are preteens, with less privacy.

So for instance, your 10 year old wants an Instagram account. This is a great opportunity to start getting your child used to what is okay for social media. Let your child know that you will be monitoring her activity and after a weekend of having Instagram, the two of you will review what’s been going on and then create a social media contract. This will give you the chance to see what she does with Instagram and how it could possibly be dangerous or inappropriate – like having a public account and random people liking her photos.

Once you’ve set up those guidelines, continue to monitor her account with your own account. Check out her photos, who is liking them, and what comments people are making. Whenever something weird happens, like maybe there is a comment that you think could be mean, ask her about it.

Then keep the conversation going. Ask her about things you see on Instagram – fun videos she has posted, how to create an Instagram story, has she heard about a recent news story on cyberbullying and why might someone cyberbully someone else? Getting these conversations started early, when you are still monitoring her activity, and she is open to talking with you about these things will make it easier to continue these conversations as she gets older.

Often during these conversations, our own preconceived judgments come out. Maybe you think your child said something mean to someone else. But sometimes, that’s just an adjustment in communication that happens across generations. So instead of accusing her of saying something mean, start the conversation by approaching it from a truly curious perspective. That will help your child feel comfortable talking with you and won’t put her on the defensive every time you talk about social media.

The more your child proves that she is responsible, the less you check in on her– the more privacy you give her. Maybe she can have a SnapChat account. There are still rules that you came up with before in your contract that you continue to develop, but you also give her space to be independent and stop checking to ensure she’s following the rules because she’s already proven how trustworthy she is.

Giving your kids privacy doesn’t mean that you’re not paying attention to their online or in real life lives. You keep that conversation going that you started when they were younger. You ask them about new apps and how they work. You can ask them about their friends. You can ask them about their Instagram account. You can ask about something you heard happening at school and what do they think? Do they ever have trouble with social media? Again, by being truly curious and open to learning from your child, they will feel more comfortable coming to you and telling you what’s going on. Then, when something uncomfortable, risky, or hurtful happens, they will know it is safe to come to you for help. And that is how we keep them safe.

Fireborn Institute is a non-profit that provides parents with practical and easy-to-remember strategies to help their children in school. Through our lectures, podcasts & handouts, we coach parents on topics such as helping with homework or conquering a messy backpack. Our ultimate goal is to help parents help their kids thrive at school.

About Katherine Firestone

Katherine had a hard time in school because she suffered from undiagnosed ADHD till her junior year of high school. What made her successful during this time was the support system she had around her. After college, she worked as a teacher, and saw that parents wanted to help their kids at home, but didn’t know what to do. She started the Fireborn Institute to give parents ideas on how to help because success at school is enhanced at home.

She is also the host of The Happy Student, a podcast for parents on promoting happy academic and social lives. The show provides practical strategies on a variety of topics based on Fireborn’s 4 pillars

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