To snoop or not to snoop?

We’ve logged on.  We’ve created a profile.  We’ve found our kids’ site.  So now what?  Michelle Slatalla has written a very fun article in the NYTimes entitled “OMG! Mymom joined Facebook!” (see reference cite to access the article) where she approaches the issue of teenage privacy.

It’s quite a precarious balance.  On one hand, we are protectors.  Much like a fanged mother grizzly, we are there to protect our cubs from those nasty wolves who are just waiting to eat up our innocent offspring.  On the other hand, our kids our growing up.  Just like we needed space when we were growing up, feeling entirely violated if our parents went in our room, read our journal, or listened to our phone calls, our kids need room to grow. On one hand, you and I both know Instagram and Facebook are very public spaces–our kids are writing things that lots and lots of people can see.  On the other hand, it feels private.  And not only does it feel private, but it feels like a place where they don’t have to worry about being  what their parents want them to be.  On one hand, we can’t be naive; our kids can get into big trouble online.  On the other hand, our kids need us to train them and, ultimately trust them to make their own choices. OK, I’m out of hands.  What’s a parent to do?

From the way I see it, there are a few factors to keep in mind–maturity level and past experience.  Should we let a naive 14 year old wander around the pornographic halls of the internet unsupervised? Are you kidding? No way.  Luckily, when they first start out, they have usually begged us for permission to have an Instagram or Facebook page. We need to make sure we use that leverage.  In exchange for access, it’s easy to negotiate pretty strict rules about how it can be used and how often we will monitor the site. (The trick is to remember to keep checking their site. Quite honestly, for us middle-aged parents, it can be easy to forget) After looking at their site, it makes sense to talk about it.  Get them used to talking with you about their online life.

As kids grow up and mature, it makes sense to give them a few more priveledges–maybe checking their sites less frequently. Just like when they first get their driver’s license (OMG! what a lessen in blind trust and complete loss of control!) we need to give them increasing levels of responsibility and space.  That doesn’t mean we don’t keep talking about it, but it does mean we stop putting comments like “hi, sweetie, hope you’re having a great day, love you bunches pumpkin-buns” on their Facebook page.

Ultimately, we want kids to have the internal tools to make good choices about what they do online. Balancing the role of protector and empowerer can be quite a tricky lesson in parenting.

(Thanks to the Savvy Technologist, Tim Wilson, for the heads up on the article)

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