How much privacy should kids have online?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  March 9, 2009 12:15 AM

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I was hanging out on Facebook the other night, browsing through my friends' profiles and leaving comments here and there, when I noticed that my oldest daughter's status update had changed from something about volleyball practice to something about having to write several haiku for English class. I was about to add a comment about how I like to write haiku, but I froze: Wouldn't my liking that type of poetry make it automatically unhip to her and her friends? And also: If I were 15, would I really want my step mom posting public notes to me about poetry?

When our older kids wanted to set up Facebook accounts, my husband and I -- and their mom and step dad -- set up accounts of our own. The kids were allowed to be part of the social-networking site as long as they shared their passwords with us and "friended" us -- that is, added us to the list of people who could see their private profiles.

Their "friends" lists grew, but I was surprised to notice that mine grew more quickly than theirs. My old classmates from middle school, high school, and college were on there, too, and our mini reunions took place at all odd hours. And if unhip, old, boring, parents like me are socializing online in the middle of the night, you can bet our teenagers are doing it, too.

If you're not on Facebook, you probably should be -- if only to check and see if your kids are, and keep tabs on whom they're friends with. I admit that I don't "friend" my teens' friends as often as their mom does, but that's OK -- when you have four parents who love you and want to keep you safe, it's enough to know that at least half of them are always monitoring.

Even though we're keeping an eye on our kids and their friends because we want to make sure they're safe, it does bring up a few important questions: Where do you draw the line -- using the same access that any Facebook friend would have? Reading their email? Rigging the computer to record everything they do?

How much privacy should a teenager have online?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.


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12 comments so far...
  1. Being "friended" by your teen is no guarantee that you have access to all, even most, of what they post. It's remarkably easy to exclude someone from the things you post on FB. While I still think it's worth keeping an eye on them there, you're fooling yourself if you think that you know everything that's going on.

    My kids are not yet teens, so I don't know where I will draw the line when they get there. I do know that they will only have internet access in the living room until at least high school. Beyond that, I'm not sure.

    Posted by akmom March 9, 09 09:33 AM
  1. Monitoring your kids online activities is essential, but being an active part of that world (by writing on their facebook wall) crosses a boundary that you should try to avoid. Want your daughter to know you like poetry? Leave a handwritten note on her bureau for her to find, but keep her friends out of it.

    Posted by Jennie March 9, 09 09:58 AM
  1. This is a no brainer, they have NO privacy! period! but if they deserve your trust, then give them your trust. This sounds condradicting but it is not. Monitor internet activity, website visits, chat room visits. Be a friend on thier facebook, myspace. You dont need to leave notes to them, your not a friend, your a parent. To guide and protect them not write cute poetry togther on facebook. My children are honor roll students, dont drink, dont smoke, nor do drugs. They have a wonderful life, and I wish not to shield them from reality, but keep those lurking away from them. It is not that I dont trust them, I am a parent and those that are parents will heed this, those that want to be thier kids friend will simply turn the blind eye to where they go on the internet.

    Posted by the defender March 9, 09 12:16 PM
  1. I'm surprised to find myself on the side of privacy on this issue-- I'm at home after school and have a teen (and a younger child) whose movements, friends, and activities I'm involved with or aware of. He's not a kid who jumps from one person's house to another after school or who hangs out in public places. I do periodically check the websites he's been visiting (we have a blocker on adult sites) & I know who his "friends" are on Facebook. But I think he deserves privacy when it comes to things like Facebook and emailing. It would be like having had my parents eavesdrop on my phone calls or read my love letters or diaries. Although Facebook is more public than a diary, it's similar to a phone conversation--I think it's best to lay some ground rules for your kids, emphasize that they should only accept "friends" they know, and so on, than to be "eavesdropping."

    Posted by Some Mom March 9, 09 01:30 PM
  1. Oh man, defender, you're so impressive.

    Posted by 1L March 9, 09 03:07 PM
  1. What do you mean 1L I thought defender was impressive your just jealous.

    Posted by ;) March 10, 09 02:42 PM
  1. I'm currently in the midst of this debate right now with my own mother. As the oldest child in her early 20's I've left the house and moved out of the constant surveillance range, but my 15 year old brother has been vying for a FB account for a long time but doesn't think that he should have to friend my mom just to have one. When I was growing up and in highschool, I became painfully aware of the fact that my mom was reading my emails and my journal- a discovery that completely destroyed my trust in her. Up until then I was a great kid, I followed the curfews, I did my homework, I had an amazing group of friends that I just discovered out of nowhere that she didn't trust. It was like a punch in the face. While I understand the need and desire to make sure your kids are safe and not engaging in sketchy online encounters- reading personal emails crosses the line. Big time. As for FB and setting up the internet to record websites visited, those can go arguably both ways. Friending your teen on facebook is understandable, but having their password and being able to hack into their own page is once again- crossing the line. And as for rigging the internet... It's like putting parental controls on the TV. I understand it, but you have to make sure you ask yourself every now and then- when will they be old enough that I can lift these boundaries? If you find yourself screaming "never!", I think the issue is more you being a little too protective and in denial that your baby is finally growing up. Teens deserve a little faith and trust so that they can show you that they respect you and show you what great adults they will grow up to be. Lock into every aspect of their social life, and it's like you're locking them down and saying blatantly "I don't trust you at all". And that hurts. Please, at least consider the word from someone who's gone through this hi-tech era with her mom reading every last inch of it. You don't want your child to lose their trust in you.

    Posted by the other side March 11, 09 02:52 AM
  1. It isn't so much that your kids have a right to privacy, but that if they are doing things you wouldn't approve of, then you monitoring their facebook isn't going to remove the problem. What do you hope to accomplish with it? If you eavesdrop on their conversations, then they aren't gonna TALK about what they are doing! Will that change that the are doing it? Nope. Have you ever encountered something you had to curb on there? Completely excluding the fact that if you trust your kids, this is pointless, there is the fact that you're butting in on peer interaction that is vital to the teenage years. Just cause they want privacy, doesn't mean they are talking about things that would mean anything bad to you, teenagers have a different idea of what they don't want their parents to know about. Social details that are more personal are weird to share with authority figures, like who's dating who, or what so and so said at lunch. If you don't give your kids room to interact, they're going to be worse off later when they don't have someone hanging over their shoulder. Trust builds trustworthyness.
    Also, defender, it's "You're" not your.

    Posted by disappointed March 12, 09 09:28 AM
  1. My oldest kids are 11 and are, thankfully, not tech-savvy yet. We have set up e-mail accounts for them but I have to set up who they send and receive e-mail to and from and right now it's just relatives and they rarely log on because e-mail is so "old fashioned" LOL. A lot of their friends have cell phones and IM accounts. and text each other, they are not there yet. Right now our plan is to tackle each piece of technology one at a time as it become appropriate. For computer use, they know that I can track everything they do and I think that's the baseline I'll set as they get older. I will let them know that I will not actively snoop but have a keylogger and can and will look if I think I have reason to. As for FB, if/when they have accounts on that or other public forums I will insist that they friend me or know that I read their blog, etc. Hopefully the prospect of having mom have access will prevent them from posting stupid or incriminating things and remind them that public places require a public persona and behavior.

    Posted by Jen March 13, 09 11:59 AM
  1. My son is 18 and is far more tech savvy than I am. He is on face book and he texts and IMs etc. Texting is his most used. I do not have a key logger nor has he friended me on face book, however, he leaves his page open when he leaves all the time and he knows I use this computer. I have read his posts and looked around on it before, just usual teen, clique things. I feel that as long as he is comfortable leaving his site open, he has nothing to hide. I trust him in this public forum. His cell is also fair game, he leaves his old texts on the phone. He is obviously not worried about me reading those ( he would erase them otherwise) I do not think parents should spy on there children to catch them, however, I do believe parents should use every device at there disposal to protect there children even when there children are "grown arse men": as he puts it.

    Posted by mama18,31, and 4 March 18, 09 03:43 PM
  1. I might have the only 13 year old on the planet that does not have a cell phone. While I have allowed an email account, Facebook and Myspace are blocked sites, and my kids are not allowed to have IM accounts.

    Why? Because I don't trust them? No, because I don't trust the lunatics in the rest of the world. Kids think they know how to stay safe (what teenager doesn't believe they know EVERYTHING, especially when compared to their dumb parents!). However, recent history has shown that kids make poor decisions that leave them exposed to tons of things, including legal issues. Kids may think that they are only posting what their friends can see, but they don't realize the repercussions of "once it goes digital it's out there forever". Because of that, I will continue to limit my kids' access to technology. While they may not like it, they seem to be surviving without too much trouble!

    Posted by QuigLewis March 23, 09 01:04 PM
  1. Whoa its like big brother, imagen u had no privacy at tall? its not a very nice feeling and i dno what the point is u might tell ur self ur just watching out for them but really ur just a control freak what are u protecting them from? if there getting harrassed then they just block who ever is doing it and even so i don't think they care if sum1 sais a few mean things on the internet, and i dno about porn but if they ever watch that how is that gonna seriuosly harm them? or u can say there not ready but since when are u ever not ready if sum1 wanted to look at it then thats when there ready, and i think that all that watching is very, very unessisery, this probaly won't make a diffrence but ur bringing them up into freaks

    Posted by brian March 24, 09 08:57 PM
 
12 comments so far...
  1. Being "friended" by your teen is no guarantee that you have access to all, even most, of what they post. It's remarkably easy to exclude someone from the things you post on FB. While I still think it's worth keeping an eye on them there, you're fooling yourself if you think that you know everything that's going on.

    My kids are not yet teens, so I don't know where I will draw the line when they get there. I do know that they will only have internet access in the living room until at least high school. Beyond that, I'm not sure.

    Posted by akmom March 9, 09 09:33 AM
  1. Monitoring your kids online activities is essential, but being an active part of that world (by writing on their facebook wall) crosses a boundary that you should try to avoid. Want your daughter to know you like poetry? Leave a handwritten note on her bureau for her to find, but keep her friends out of it.

    Posted by Jennie March 9, 09 09:58 AM
  1. This is a no brainer, they have NO privacy! period! but if they deserve your trust, then give them your trust. This sounds condradicting but it is not. Monitor internet activity, website visits, chat room visits. Be a friend on thier facebook, myspace. You dont need to leave notes to them, your not a friend, your a parent. To guide and protect them not write cute poetry togther on facebook. My children are honor roll students, dont drink, dont smoke, nor do drugs. They have a wonderful life, and I wish not to shield them from reality, but keep those lurking away from them. It is not that I dont trust them, I am a parent and those that are parents will heed this, those that want to be thier kids friend will simply turn the blind eye to where they go on the internet.

    Posted by the defender March 9, 09 12:16 PM
  1. I'm surprised to find myself on the side of privacy on this issue-- I'm at home after school and have a teen (and a younger child) whose movements, friends, and activities I'm involved with or aware of. He's not a kid who jumps from one person's house to another after school or who hangs out in public places. I do periodically check the websites he's been visiting (we have a blocker on adult sites) & I know who his "friends" are on Facebook. But I think he deserves privacy when it comes to things like Facebook and emailing. It would be like having had my parents eavesdrop on my phone calls or read my love letters or diaries. Although Facebook is more public than a diary, it's similar to a phone conversation--I think it's best to lay some ground rules for your kids, emphasize that they should only accept "friends" they know, and so on, than to be "eavesdropping."

    Posted by Some Mom March 9, 09 01:30 PM
  1. Oh man, defender, you're so impressive.

    Posted by 1L March 9, 09 03:07 PM
  1. What do you mean 1L I thought defender was impressive your just jealous.

    Posted by ;) March 10, 09 02:42 PM
  1. I'm currently in the midst of this debate right now with my own mother. As the oldest child in her early 20's I've left the house and moved out of the constant surveillance range, but my 15 year old brother has been vying for a FB account for a long time but doesn't think that he should have to friend my mom just to have one. When I was growing up and in highschool, I became painfully aware of the fact that my mom was reading my emails and my journal- a discovery that completely destroyed my trust in her. Up until then I was a great kid, I followed the curfews, I did my homework, I had an amazing group of friends that I just discovered out of nowhere that she didn't trust. It was like a punch in the face. While I understand the need and desire to make sure your kids are safe and not engaging in sketchy online encounters- reading personal emails crosses the line. Big time. As for FB and setting up the internet to record websites visited, those can go arguably both ways. Friending your teen on facebook is understandable, but having their password and being able to hack into their own page is once again- crossing the line. And as for rigging the internet... It's like putting parental controls on the TV. I understand it, but you have to make sure you ask yourself every now and then- when will they be old enough that I can lift these boundaries? If you find yourself screaming "never!", I think the issue is more you being a little too protective and in denial that your baby is finally growing up. Teens deserve a little faith and trust so that they can show you that they respect you and show you what great adults they will grow up to be. Lock into every aspect of their social life, and it's like you're locking them down and saying blatantly "I don't trust you at all". And that hurts. Please, at least consider the word from someone who's gone through this hi-tech era with her mom reading every last inch of it. You don't want your child to lose their trust in you.

    Posted by the other side March 11, 09 02:52 AM
  1. It isn't so much that your kids have a right to privacy, but that if they are doing things you wouldn't approve of, then you monitoring their facebook isn't going to remove the problem. What do you hope to accomplish with it? If you eavesdrop on their conversations, then they aren't gonna TALK about what they are doing! Will that change that the are doing it? Nope. Have you ever encountered something you had to curb on there? Completely excluding the fact that if you trust your kids, this is pointless, there is the fact that you're butting in on peer interaction that is vital to the teenage years. Just cause they want privacy, doesn't mean they are talking about things that would mean anything bad to you, teenagers have a different idea of what they don't want their parents to know about. Social details that are more personal are weird to share with authority figures, like who's dating who, or what so and so said at lunch. If you don't give your kids room to interact, they're going to be worse off later when they don't have someone hanging over their shoulder. Trust builds trustworthyness.
    Also, defender, it's "You're" not your.

    Posted by disappointed March 12, 09 09:28 AM
  1. My oldest kids are 11 and are, thankfully, not tech-savvy yet. We have set up e-mail accounts for them but I have to set up who they send and receive e-mail to and from and right now it's just relatives and they rarely log on because e-mail is so "old fashioned" LOL. A lot of their friends have cell phones and IM accounts. and text each other, they are not there yet. Right now our plan is to tackle each piece of technology one at a time as it become appropriate. For computer use, they know that I can track everything they do and I think that's the baseline I'll set as they get older. I will let them know that I will not actively snoop but have a keylogger and can and will look if I think I have reason to. As for FB, if/when they have accounts on that or other public forums I will insist that they friend me or know that I read their blog, etc. Hopefully the prospect of having mom have access will prevent them from posting stupid or incriminating things and remind them that public places require a public persona and behavior.

    Posted by Jen March 13, 09 11:59 AM
  1. My son is 18 and is far more tech savvy than I am. He is on face book and he texts and IMs etc. Texting is his most used. I do not have a key logger nor has he friended me on face book, however, he leaves his page open when he leaves all the time and he knows I use this computer. I have read his posts and looked around on it before, just usual teen, clique things. I feel that as long as he is comfortable leaving his site open, he has nothing to hide. I trust him in this public forum. His cell is also fair game, he leaves his old texts on the phone. He is obviously not worried about me reading those ( he would erase them otherwise) I do not think parents should spy on there children to catch them, however, I do believe parents should use every device at there disposal to protect there children even when there children are "grown arse men": as he puts it.

    Posted by mama18,31, and 4 March 18, 09 03:43 PM
  1. I might have the only 13 year old on the planet that does not have a cell phone. While I have allowed an email account, Facebook and Myspace are blocked sites, and my kids are not allowed to have IM accounts.

    Why? Because I don't trust them? No, because I don't trust the lunatics in the rest of the world. Kids think they know how to stay safe (what teenager doesn't believe they know EVERYTHING, especially when compared to their dumb parents!). However, recent history has shown that kids make poor decisions that leave them exposed to tons of things, including legal issues. Kids may think that they are only posting what their friends can see, but they don't realize the repercussions of "once it goes digital it's out there forever". Because of that, I will continue to limit my kids' access to technology. While they may not like it, they seem to be surviving without too much trouble!

    Posted by QuigLewis March 23, 09 01:04 PM
  1. Whoa its like big brother, imagen u had no privacy at tall? its not a very nice feeling and i dno what the point is u might tell ur self ur just watching out for them but really ur just a control freak what are u protecting them from? if there getting harrassed then they just block who ever is doing it and even so i don't think they care if sum1 sais a few mean things on the internet, and i dno about porn but if they ever watch that how is that gonna seriuosly harm them? or u can say there not ready but since when are u ever not ready if sum1 wanted to look at it then thats when there ready, and i think that all that watching is very, very unessisery, this probaly won't make a diffrence but ur bringing them up into freaks

    Posted by brian March 24, 09 08:57 PM
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