When I was growing up, our secrets and privacy were held in journals, written in letters, spoken through phone calls with friends and our behaviors were witnessed in person. When our parents were worried or wanted information they snuck into our journals, listened in on the other side of the door, spoke to teachers or friends’ parents. Our options for putting information into the world were limited and so there were fewer ways for them to keep a finger on the pulse of our lives.
Now, we are inundated. We can see grades and school effort weekly online, we can track phones, have texts and emails sent to our accounts, there is Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Vine, Tumblr, YouTube, Google +, Pinterest…it goes on.
We often coach parents on how to manage their child’s access to these tools, encouraging that they start with incrementally introducing children to the parent approved platforms and having a hands on approach to help shape how their children show up in the online world.
Equally important is determining what type of parenting stance you want to take once your adolescent has access to these apps. What style of monitoring do you want to engage in, how much and why?
Developing your stance on this requires that you take into consideration your values, knowledge and experience, as well as come to a middle ground, if you are co-parenting and on different pages. Some families value privacy and don’t believe in censorship; others use the resources they have to keep tabs on their children.
Once children are driving, parents often place a tracking app on their child’s phone; many families choose to have their child’s texts and emails sent to their accounts for ongoing awareness, for a feeling of safety and control perhaps in a world where our children are exposed to so much more than for what we are prepared.
Here are the top 6 things to consider as you shape your stance:
How frequently do you want to play detective?
Set boundaries for yourself that fit for your schedule, that are based in logic and that allow your child some freedom and privacy. Perhaps you look at things when there is a pattern of difficult interactions, like when your child comes home upset and refuses to interact with you about it. Don’t let this turn into the new impulsive habit that fills all of your free time.
Will you tell your child what your approach is or keep it secret?
Transparency is helpful in relationships, though it can encourage your child to learn to be more sneaky. Some families, when allowing an Instagram account for example, let their children know that they reserve the right to check their child’s phone when they want. This is something that needs to be accepted in order to maintain certain accounts.
One key, if you prefer to keep it from your child that you can access their accounts, is to be prepared to deal with it when you are discovered, because you will be. Take accountability and know what your message is so you are not falling over yourself with apologies or lashing out in defensive anger.
What information requires action and what does not?
This is for each family to decide. Keep in mind the difference between incidents and patterns. If you react to every incident, your child will likely close up and feel as though you are not safe to talk with about anything happening in their lives. Parents need to agree about the red flag issue, which issues fall under concern but don’t need action and which are typical and appropriate. First and foremost, if you are working with a co-parent, communicate with each other before approaching your child on an issue.
Can you manage “knowing” gracefully?
With information that does not require action, can you hold it without it leaking out sideways and creating toxicity at home?
There might be things you see that you don’t like but that are not red flags that need to be addressed. However, you cannot unlearn something. So, your reactions and interactions are at risk of changing based on the knowledge you are holding on to. We each manage our own emotions differently and managing difficult emotions is key to “knowing” gracefully.
Will your approach increase safety and control or just provide you a feeling of having more control?
Be clear on what your intention is. If he does not know that you can see where he is going, you can either show up in a place where he is not supposed to be or address it at an appropriate time. However, this does not stop your child from going places you don’t want him or making unhealthy decisions.
He can also turn the phone off when he does not want to be tracked. There might be an added layer of safety but it is a common misconception that it will change the outcome of things wholly, simply through knowing where your child is.
Remember, many of us grew up in an age without tracking devices and our rule was to be home before dark. We did not always make great decisions but would that have changed if we had trackers on us?
In what ways, other than tracking content, can you help shape the ways your child shows up online?
Role modeling is key. How do you talk about yourself and about others? In what ways do your judgments get expressed through social media? How much of your time do you spend on social media?
Do you engage in volunteer work with your children, to connect them to the importance of being in service to their community, to help them expand their reach of kindness? Do you have frank conversations about bullying, about an being sexualized, about pornography and about the idea that things do not disappear from the internet?
Ask your child how she would feel if you posted an inappropriate picture onto your facebook page for others to see…help them tap into that embarrassment and see if they can relate it to their own behaviors.
Finally, it is important to be consistent but not rigid. Once you have anchored into your stance as parents, the micromanagement of it might change as you gain real time information about how it is working and how responsible your child is able to be. Be okay with change, as long as it is thoughtful and agreed upon and not based in emotional parenting (making changes becuase your child is upset).
Hilary Moses and Jen Murphy are experts in their field as transtional specialists and parent coaches. Their goal has been to provide increased support to parents and created Solutions Parenting Support to give parents the confidence and tools to navigate the tough terrain of raising struggling pre-teens, adolescents, and young adults.