“My Mum reads my texts”, is the digital age version of “My mum reads my diary”. Did you write a diary when you were younger? If you did, you may remember the fear of your parents reading it, finding out all those private thoughts, spying on you.
Then the similarity between the diary and the smartphone ends, because a diary is kept private, while social media and text updates are shared with others.
Many parents worry about their children, and their use of social media and smartphones. Are they being bullied – or are they bullying others? Are they sharing information that they shouldn’t? Who are they talking to online, and can they really be sure if the person that they are talking to is being honest with them – or is even the person they are purporting to be?
The best way to protect your child online isn’t to snoop on them, or read their text messages, but to have an honest and open discussion about your fears, and your worries. Children are capable of understanding that you are not trying to spoil their fun, or restrict them, but that you are trying to keep them safe.
So, what if you are genuinely worried about them?
The first thing to remember is that our kids are pretty clued up when it comes to protecting their privacy, and are perfectly able to delete messages or updates that they know would upset, worry or disappoint their parents. Almost half of children polled by researchers said that they’d seen things online that their parents wouldn’t approve of. Some of these incidents might be pretty mild, and we should keep in mind, that parents often see things online that are horrible. I’ve seen many things online that appall me!
The trick is letting kids have enough social media rope to learn how to use it sensibly, without getting tangled up in it! And that means a gradual introduction to using social media, in the beginning with more parental involvement and supervision. As the children grow older, and are more able to assess risks, you can loosen your hold and let them go it alone.
I used to say that you should set up kids’ email accounts to forward a copy to parent’s inboxes, but kids don’t use email anymore! Remember that messaging apps such as Snapchat won’t show recent messages, as they are deleted after they’ve been read – so snooping wouldn’t even be much use in this case!
Sit down and chat with your kids, and make up your own Family Media Agreement – you can use the template below as a starting point. Agree on terms, e.g. that parents have a right to check phones, if they are worried about the child, and how that will take place.
Ensure that your kids know that they can come to you and talk about any worries that they have, and promise not to over-react. Kids often don’t tell their parents, because they are worried their parents will make them shut down their messaging apps. These apps are a vital part of social communication for many children, and they’d rather put up with bullying than lose them.
As in all matters of parenting, honest and open communication is key. “Because I said so”, isn’t a reasonable answer to give to your child in this matter. If they are old enough to use Social Media, then they are old enough to know WHY you don’t want them to use a particular app or service.