Spying on Your Teenagers

It’s interesting to observe how different parents feel about ‘spying’ on their kids.

In my parenting workshops across the country I always receive at least one question that sounds something like this: “Is it okay for me to have my kids’ passwords and see what they’re doing on social media?”

If you asked teenagers, you know what their answer would be: “No way! That’s an invasion of my privacy! It’s like reading my diary!”

Two years ago my then-16-year-old daughter Alyssa went with me to a parenting workshop as I laid out sample guidelines parents could use for their teenagers. One of those guidelines was parents having access to passwords and the freedom to read texts and social media. After the workshop multiple parents came up to Alyssa and asked her, “What do you think of your dad’s rules?”

Alyssa answered candidly. “Oh, I have no problem with any of them except one- the fact that he thinks it’s okay to read my texts. That’s just wrong.”

We had to agree to disagree on that one… something parents need to do at times.

I’m not alone on this issue. Some experts have gone as far as to claim, “We have a duty to hack into our children’s emails and monitor their texts.” (Which I would probably take more seriously if this “expert” realized barely any kids actually use email anymore.)

Parents are as divided as Congress on this issue. Many parents think we need to give our kids complete freedom to learn these lessons on their own. Other think we should keep a careful watch.

With the rise of teen smartphone ownership, we’re also seeing a rise in “tracking” and monitoring services, like mSpy Family. mSpy is a mobile monitoring software solution allowing you to track every tiny detail of your kid’s cell phone activities. Simpler solutions for younger kids exist, like FiLiP, a watchlike GPS tracking device that allows one-way texting from parent to child and other safety features like a big red button they can push in case of an emergency!

What’s the Answer?
Are parents becoming too clingy? Are monitoring options like mSpy or FiLiP crossing the line?

I think the key is keeping your eyes on the calendar.

Parents need to realize that when their kids turn 18-years-old, they can join the Army, move out of the house… and do whatever they want. The primary job parents need to consider is, are you preparing your kids for that day when they are going to be out on their own?

How can we do this?

The key is incremental independence. When your kids are young, you should be much more involved in their decision-making. As they get older, began equipping them to make more and more decisions on their own, with the goal of preparing them for that day when they are totally on their own.

I include an added twist to this—freeing my kids from all rules and restrictions at age 17½. We figured, they can do whatever they want when they’re 18 anyway, so why not get there six months early while they’re still under our shadow? (More about how that turned out here.)

The key is looking for frequent opportunities during adolescence for them to practice discernment on their own.

“Dad, can I download this app?”

“I don’t know, what do you think?”

Create an environment where your kids talk to you about the decisions they are making. As they become more mature, let them make the decisions… even fail… and talk about the consequences, good and bad, afterwards.

So use FiLiP if it helps your situation. Take advantage of products like mSpy if it provides opportunities to teach your kids discernment. A little accountability isn’t such a bad thing. But bathe all these moments in conversations- dialogues, not monologues. Use every opportunity to equip your kids to make good decisions, especially as they approach the day where they’ll be on their own.

Are you preparing them for that day?


  • Cotswoldsrose

    Great article. I can’t believe this is even an issue today. Our kids are more vulnerable to dangerous stuff than ever before, because of an unlimited access to the world through the internet. It doesn’t matter that they are more sophisticated than we were at their age; they’re still young. We need to keep more watch over them, not less. However, I don’t spy on my two teens. I tell them straight out that I respect their privacy until I feel a suspicion about something, and at that point I have both the right and the duty to investigate every possession and corner of their lives. I don’t apologize or negotiate or ask. As the parent, I don’t need to. But I also tell them that when they are 18, they can do what they want, and I also give incremental freedoms. (I should say, “we,” as my husband and work together on all of this.) My duty is to raise them as best I can until then, and that means–as I tell them in a half-joking way–they own nothing but their skin until they are 18 and even that is debatable. They get it.

    I love the idea of giving full freedom at 17 1/2 and retaining an advisory role to help them transition. I will have to think about that more.

  • wisconsinnorm

    This is a no brainer. You are responsible for your kids and they know it. They can get into trouble that you don’t want them to and your kids know that as well. Love them and keep track of them. They want that. They really do. I didn’t say stunt their creativity-just keep them out of big trouble. You have to know who they hang with as minors. You have to know what “opinions” they are being faced with. You have to talk-not text.

  • http://www.markamerica.com/ Mark America

    Children don’t need cell phones. I find it to be preposterous that we’re even having a “privacy” discussion. Children don’t have any beyond their parents’ willingness to let them enjoy that privilege. There can be no rational basis for any expectation to privacy on a phone you didn’t buy, with a service for which you don’t pay. This much at least should be self-evident to whomever is paying the bill. There’s a very good reason we draw a line between child and adult. I think far too many parents are far too intent on being their kid’s best friend. If you want a best friend who will love you “unconditionally,” get a dog. The job of parenting is not for the timid.