Crossing the digital line of parenting

Why parents shouldn’t go through their children’s phones

In the age of social media, children as young as eight have their own phones, enabling them to communicate with the world through their personal devices. With the younger generation so stuck in the digital world, some parents have determined that the risk for bad behavior and bullying is so high that they check their child’s devices. As the children age, however, this behavior often crosses the line from good parenting to an invasion of privacy.

When a child is younger, parents should definitely be allowed to check up on their child’s device. According to TechCrunch in 2016, “The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.” This is a time where kids are not mature enough and have not learned enough about safety to be completely trusted online. Not only is this a time for parents to keep an eye out for cyberbullying, but it is a time where what happens over text and on social media will shape their whole childhood. In elementary school, and to a lesser extent middle school, it is a parent’s responsibility to watch over their child as they mature. There are definitely lines that should not be crossed, but for the most part, moderately monitoring online presence is within the bounds of good parental guidance.

At a certain point, however, it is no longer acceptable for the adult to check in on their child’s behavior without them knowing. The trust between a high schooler and their parent is one of the most valuable parts of their relationship, and checking their texts to monitor them shows that the parent has no confidence in their child’s decision-making skills. Yes, high schoolers do often times make rash decisions, but having a parent watching their every move might push them away from their parents, towards sneaking around even more. If the parent wants their child to trust them, they need to show that same amount of faith.

One of the main arguments parents make in favor of checking their children’s phones is that they are the ones paying for the device. In the cases that this is true, it definitely is something to be taken into account. Keep in mind, though, that using this fact as an excuse to have unlimited access to the electronic device is going too far. It does not change the fact that a relationship built on distrust and the invasion of privacy is not healthy.

If the adult really thinks that checking their child’s phone is necessary, they should be transparent and honest about why they are doing so, and set limits to show that it is purposeful and not stepping past what is appropriate. The worst thing to do is try to sneak on without the child knowing because, let’s face it, that won’t work. Even if they know the password, chances are the child will find out and start to distrust the adult.

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Instead of monitoring constantly, parents should teach their kids how to make good decisions online and trust that they will do so. According to Nielsen’s Mobile Kids Report in 2016, “67% [of parents] expressed concern that their children might not know how to use their phones responsibly.” Instead of using this concern as an excuse to secretly monitor online and mobile activity, parents should teach their kids what to watch out for and what to avoid on their devices. The limitless opportunities on a device, from social media to Google, can be dangerous and scary, but it is a parent’s job to trust and leave room for their child to make mistakes, not to micromanage every aspect of their child’s life.