A post ran on Buzzfeed last week entitled “Confession: I Spy on My Daughter’s Facebook.” Personally, I don’t think this is that big a confession. I mean, I don’t think it would make a Maury episode.
Actually, I’m not even sure why this is considered a “confession.” It’s like confessing to doing your job.
The interview does, however, bring up some interesting questions about kids and privacy. The question used to be whether a parent would read his or her child’s diary. Now it’s much more layered: Does your kid have to be Facebook friends with you? Do you know their password? Do you comment on their feed, or is that too weird? What are the chances that your kid is actually maintaining two Facebook pages: one for public/parent consumption, and one for sharing photos of the weed-smoking, codeine-sipping party they went to last weekend?
My older daughters, who are twins, are 12 years old and in sixth grade. They have cell phones for emergencies and they do use the Internet. They’re not on Facebook, although many of their friends are. They’re also not on Instagram, Twitter, or any other social media. I feel pretty confident that they’re really not on social media, and not just lying to me, because:
a) One of my daughters can’t even figure out how to text from her phone (I’m sure she could figure it out, she just hasn’t bothered to yet);
b) The other one is so paranoid about Internet privacy that she’s afraid that if she puts anything on the Internet, she’ll be immediately abducted; and also
c) Both of them think Instagram is kind of stupid, because at this age it seems to consist entirely of duck-faced selfies taken in the middle school girls’ bathroom. (Quote: “why would I want to spend extra time in the bathroom breathing other people’s poop air?”)
So, yeah. We’re not there yet. That’s not to say we won’t get there, but we’re not there yet.
The Buzzfeed interview, with an anonymous San Francisco-area mom, includes the following comments:
“I read all my kid’s Facebook stuff. Don’t tell my daughter; she would be pissed and be careful to log out, and I wouldn’t be able to see it anymore…The rules are that I have to be friends with her and I have to be able to see what she posts. No overly suggestive photos. Don’t say mean things about another person, including a teacher. Don’t use curse words. No dirty photos. Keep it clean. We know employers look at it. I want her to respect the power of Facebook and what it can do.”
I think the majority of parents do want to respect their children’s physical and emotional privacy. I’m not going to barge in while my daughter is taking a shower. I’m not going to listen at the door when she’s talking with her friends.
However, as parents, a huge part of our job is to keep our kids safe. Another part of our job is to raise our kids to be functional members of society. When they’re younger we teach them how to use the phone, and that they need to wear bicycle helmets. When they turn 16, we don’t just toss them the car keys: we teach them how to drive safely and responsibly. We set rules about when they can drive and who can be in the car with them.
Even with all that teaching, we have to recognize that kids–yes, even smart kids–sometimes make piss-poor choices. (I certainly made more than my share.) The hormone-addled teenage brain just can’t seem to help it. I’ll let my kids fail on their own and learn from their mistakes if the choice is not doing their homework, for example. But I’ll do everything in my power to prevent them from making a bad choice like going off to meet some Internet creeper. Checking up on my kid’s Internet use is part of the parenting gig.
Would I read my child’s diary? Generally speaking, no. (An exception might be if I was afraid she was having thoughts of self-harm.)
Will I read what my kids post on Facebook? Hell, yes. Using the Internet, which I pay for, is a privilege, not a right. I will expect the same standard of conduct that I would expect in real life: don’t be mean. Don’t allow other people to be mean. Don’t share your personal contact information. If I see that you’re Facebooking, Instagramming, Tweeting, texting, or anything else inappropriate during school hours, you’re done. Family computers (which, by the way, it’s not like my kids paid for either) will always be in family areas of the house.
None of this means that I don’t trust my kids or that I don’t like social media. I love my kids and I think they’re very responsible. I believe that they’ll continue to be responsible, trustworthy kids as they move into their teenage years. I’m not going to create some kind of Orwellian Big Brother (Big Mother?) situation where I’m spying on every last thing they do. But just like in “real life,” there have to be rules, expectations, and consequences regarding Internet use.
How is that even a confession?
What kind of privacy expectations and rules do you have for your tweens and teens on the Internet? Share what works for you (or hasn’t worked for you!) in the comments!
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