Can I Invade My Child’s Electronic Privacy?

Can I Invade My Child’s Electronic Privacy? February 27, 2018


Ideally, parents provide children with a safe place to live and grow. In tandem with physical safety we want to experience a sense of security. I see this as a more emotional element. Parents are like coaches who teach the team how to play the game, to know the rules, and to play with excellence. Good coaches foster relationships with the players, bring out the best in them, cheer when they succeed, and correct when they fail.

Parents, we turn into coaches as our children grow. Rules rule when they are young. But then they start asking “why” and exerting their own will and opinions. We must navigate those years with grace and wisdom, not giving in to our teens’ plea for privacy so that we can be their friends, nor treating them like a four-year-old with no judgment (unless they’ve acted like one and require discipline).

I asked my seventeen-year-old son how he would answer the original question, “Should parents invade the electronic privacy of their kids?” With permission, I share his answer:


“Really? You aren’t just giving me the answer you think I want?” He nods emphatically. “Ok, why?”

“Because we are stupid.” He laughs. “We don’t make good choices with it, and we need you to check us. I wish we weren’t like that and you didn’t have to do it, but we are and you do.”

He knows that we randomly check his phone. We scroll through his texts, emails, and chats. We set (and record) passwords to every account he uses. His online life is an open book to Mom and Dad. While he tolerates it with mostly good humor, on occasion he has been glad we knew what was going on, so we could help guide him into safer territory.

We’ve not always done this perfectly. We learned the hard way about installing filters on our devices years ago when they were new to our home, only recently installing a modem-level filtering tool that works on any device that enters our wifi. We limit screen time for all our children, but not enough (according to studies). We “dumb down” the smartphone our seventeen-year-old uses, so that he can call, text, and listen to music. But we don’t open up social media or the internet on that device . . . not yet.

We all learn as we go, and I hope these thoughts aid parents of younger children, who may wrestle with these soon-approaching dilemmas. As technology changes, the methods will change with them. But the underlying reason for leading and coaching our kids’ online lives remains the same.

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