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How Much Privacy Do Kids Need Online?

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How much should parents be monitoring kids' activities online? An expert weighs in. Listen up!

ashleigh hall

Lori Getz: Recently a momlogic reader responded to my article about the Ashleigh Hall murder with some great questions. I thought I would respond with a follow-up article.

Here are the questions:
"So do we require our kids to 'friend' us or give us their passwords? At what age do we let them have privacy? How do you handle it if your kid does not want to share their Facebook page with you?"

Let's take these one at a time.

First: To Friend, or not to Friend?

This question has been widely debated by experts in my field, so let me give you both sides of the argument.

1) If you require that your child friends you and they're not happy about it, they can do a couple of things. One, they can put you in a group where you are not privy to all of their correspondence or even the pictures they have uploaded, and two, they can create two different accounts (one they use with you, and the other for their friends).

2) Being a parent on your child's Facebook account is kinda like being a parent who hides in their child's closet when his friends are over: He may know you are there, but his friends don't. So you end up with all kinds of information that you may not know what to do with.

On the other side of the argument, experts say that kids tend to behave better when they know there is an adult present. In my experience ... I don't see it! They may act better when they REMEMBER the parent is there, but to most teenagers, this is their world and they completely forget we may be lurking.

My opinion? If being their friend is working for you, and you and your child have really talked about how you will both behave online, then keep going! But you may need to discuss the rules about what you will and will not disclose or get involved in when it comes to their friends online.

Another option is to just "check in" the same way you would if they were on the phone. Walking by while they're actually online and checking Facebook is a great way to ask questions about whom they are chatting with and what new pictures have been uploaded. Depending on your relationship and the age of your child, you may NOT need to READ everything they write. Knowing WHO they are talking to is sometimes enough. You know your children best, and if your child warrants you spying, by all means, do so. If not, a little privacy goes a long way in the eyes of a teen.

Let's chat about privacy for a minute. How much do they need, and at what age?

Again, each family is different, but let me tell you a little story. When I was 13, I begged my dad to let me have my own phone line in my bedroom. He finally conceded, and even wrapped the long cord all the way around my room so I could sit on my bed and use the phone. I didn't leave my room for three days! My dad would knock on the door and tell me it was time for dinner or time for bed, but I couldn't be bothered because I was on the phone. Monday afternoon I came home from school to find that my DOOR had been removed. Not the phone, but my door. My dad simply looked at me and said, "It's not the phone's fault you are behaving like an ass!"

I lost my privacy for two weeks, and I was mad. But I also learned that if I opened up and answered his inane questions about who I was talking to and how long I had been on, he gave me my space. Privacy is not a right (as my father frequently reminded me), it is something that is earned -- along with trust and respect. Thanks, Dad, for that great life lesson.

What do you do if your child won't share their Facebook page?
I would ask them, "WHY?" What are they willing to share? What were the rules you put in place when they created the Facebook account? Did you say it had to be transparent? Teenagers want to know beforehand what the expectations will be; when we don't set them up, we get ourselves into trouble. If you are already here, start off slowly. Talk to them about why it is important for you to know their online friends. Talk to them about what it means to put something online and never be able to take it back. Maybe you compromise, and for now they need to show you their friends list. You wouldn't let them walk out your door and get in a car without asking where and with whom they were going out, so why wouldn't you ask those same questions about their online lives?

Finally: PASSWORDS.
Many years ago, I knew a family -- a really great family with an amazing young girl. When their daughter was 13, she met a friend online. They chatted, texted, talked on the phone, sent pictures to each other ... they were in a relationship. For three years they built this relationship, until she was 16 and had her own car. She agreed to meet him face-to-face for the first time. But when she got there, he wasn't the 16-year-old boy she expected. He was a 45-year-old man who wanted to take her across state lines and away from her family forever!

When she didn't come home from school, her mom got worried and went into her e-mail to see where her daughter was. She discovered her daughter's plan and quickly contacted the authorities. Their daughter was recovered, but not before she suffered at the hands of her kidnapper. I thank God that this mom could get into her daughter's account, because otherwise, I don't know if her daughter would ever have been found.

When it comes to passwords, here is my advice: Have your resistant child write down all of his usernames and passwords for all of his accounts, seal the list in an envelope and either put it somewhere where your child can regularly see you haven't opened it, or have him give it to a favorite aunt or uncle. This is in case of an emergency! When kids are just getting started with e-mail, IM, Facebook, etc., it's easy to set up the rules and include access to accounts. But when they are already established online and these rules were never in place, this is an option, a compromise.

Our jobs as parents are to keep them safe first, and be their friend second! There is usually room for compromise, though -- but it has to take place on both sides.

Thanks for the questions. I hope this answered them.


next: Arrest Linked to Corey Haim Death
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris March 18, 2010, 8:46 AM

Thanks very much for this article. It’s very useful.

Anonymous March 18, 2010, 9:41 AM

What’s with the spots on her face?

Erika March 18, 2010, 10:18 AM

I do a lot of speaking to parents about cyberbullying and online safety and civility. I have had a number of them asking me if its ok to say “yes” to their 13 year old’s friend request on Facebook. I always say this is a good thing because it challenges the parent to behave just as much as it does the kid! I have heard teens’ horror stories of parents writing embarrassing things on their Facebook wall - there is clearly a line not to be crossed when parent and kid go public with their relationship :)

Being friends with your kid also opens up that line of communication - parents (like your dad, Lori!) can get a quick overview of who, what, etc. with an “open door” policy. But if something inappropriate or troubling shows up, you can have an offline chat to assess the situation.

Great post!

Chuck Raney March 18, 2010, 3:03 PM

I like your recommendations.
instead of a “blind” story about the stalker that got your friends child, please include some links to similar ones that are “out” so they can be shown to kids.

egene March 18, 2010, 4:38 PM

Oh! Will all this psycho babble ever end. Parents are not friends, they are parents and they have, regardless of the child’s age, the responsibilities to protect their children, no matter how much the child may suggest they are mature enough to protect themselves. I grew up in a home with 2 brothers and believe me, not one of us was ever late coming home or went out with friends my parents did not know. All 3 of us survived that “horror” and became responsible adults and parents. Computers most apparently can prove a dangerous resource for young innocent kids even for adults.

Anonymous March 19, 2010, 10:31 AM

“What do you do if your child won’t share their Facebook page?
I would ask them, “WHY?” What are they willing to share? What were the rules you put in place when they created the Facebook account? Did you say it had to be transparent? Teenagers want to know beforehand what the expectations will be; when we don’t set them up, we get ourselves into trouble.”
OH so many thigs wrong about the above quote. There is no “asking” to share facebook option - as a parent you have entire access or they don’t get facebook. And no one under 17 should be on it anyway. And way to blame the parents saying “we get ourselves into trouble”. There is no negotiating with children - they aren’t our friends they are kids.

Dominga Postell August 14, 2010, 10:59 AM

I’m pretty sure I get what your saying


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