Spying on Your Teenagers
Is it okay for a parent to spy on their teenager?
Ask that question to a group of parents and you’re likely to stir up a heated discussion. Parents feel quite differently about the appropriateness of ‘spying’ on their kids. (And when a kid acts out and puts herself in danger… watch how quickly a parent switches polarity on the issue.)
In my parenting workshops across the country I always receive at least one question that sounds something like this: “Is it okay for me to have my kids’ passwords and see what they’re doing on social media?”
If you asked teenagers, you know what their answer would be: “No way! That’s an invasion of my privacy! It’s like reading my diary!”
Two years ago my then-16-year-old daughter Alyssa went with me to a parenting workshop as I laid out sample guidelines parents could use for their teenagers. One of those guidelines was parents having access to passwords and the freedom to read texts and social media. After the workshop multiple parents came up to Alyssa and asked her, “What do you think of your dad’s rules?”
Alyssa answered candidly. “Oh, I have no problem with any of them except one- the fact that he thinks it’s okay to read my texts. That’s just wrong.”
We had to agree to disagree on that one… something parents need to do at times.
I’m not alone on this issue. Some experts have gone as far as to claim, “We have a duty to hack into our children’s emails and monitor their texts.” (Which I would probably take more seriously if this “expert” realized barely any kids actually use email anymore.)
Parents are as divided as Congress on this issue. Many parents think we need to give our kids complete freedom to learn these lessons on their own. Others think we should keep a careful watch.
With the rise of teen smartphone ownership, we’re also seeing a rise in “tracking” and monitoring services, like mSpy Family. mSpy is a mobile monitoring software solution allowing you to track every tiny detail of your kid’s cell phone activities. Simpler solutions for younger kids exist, like FiLiP, a watchlike GPS tracking device that allows one-way texting from parent to child and other safety features like a big red button they can push in case of an emergency!
What’s the Answer?
Are parents becoming too clingy? Are monitoring options like mSpy or FiLiP crossing the line?
I think the key is keeping your eyes on the calendar.
Parents need to realize that when their kids turn 18-years-old, they can join the Army, move out of the house… and do whatever they want. The primary job parents need to consider is, are you preparing your kids for that day when they are going to be out on their own?
How can we do this?
The key is incremental independence. When your kids are young, you should be much more involved in their decision-making. As they get older, begin equipping them to make more and more decisions on their own, with the goal of preparing them for that day when they are totally on their own.
I include an added twist to this—freeing my kids from all rules and restrictions at age 17½. We figured, they can do whatever they want when they’re 18 anyway, so why not get there six months early while they’re still under our shadow? (More about how that turned out here.)
The key is looking for frequent opportunities during adolescence for them to practice discernment on their own.
“Dad, can I download this app?”
“I don’t know, what do you think?”
Create an environment where your kids talk to you about the decisions they are making. As they become more mature, let them make the decisions… even fail… and talk about the consequences, good and bad, afterwards.
So use FiLiP or mSpy if it provides opportunities to teach your kids discernment. A little accountability isn’t such a bad thing. But bathe all these moments in conversations—dialogues, not monologues. Use every opportunity to equip your kids to make good decisions, especially as they approach the day where they’ll be on their own.
Are you preparing them for that day?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.