Should parents monitor the social media accounts of their tweens and teens?

A mum and a millennial give us their opinion on how much social media and online monitoring they think teenagers need...

Social media: unless you live in a hole (a pretty deep one), there’s no avoiding the fact that this is now the favoured way of communicating with other humans. Having to arrange dates and actually turn up (because there was no texting or internet) was an actual thing back when us grown-ups were less lined and had more energy. Meeting friends and – ahem – love interests was something we did face-to-face as opposed to Facebook-ing. Tinder was what we used to set a fire in our parent’s hearth. And Snapchat? Well, clearly that was having a gossip with your mates while playing a retro game of cards. Parenting teens has never been an easy ride, but parenting tweens and teens and knowing how to handle their social media accounts – if at all – is trickier than working out who is related to who in Game of Thrones. Should us mums be constantly checking up on our kids’ online shenanigans? Or should we be keeping our sticky beaks out? We’ve got a mum’s take on how much intervention (stalking) she thinks is appropriate when it comes to her teenager’s life online, and also the opinions of a millennial on how much social media scrutiny she thinks should be applied by parents…

Tracy the mum

THE MUM: As a parent should I be checking in on my child’s online activity?
This is such a tough call: remembering back to when I found my mother snooping into my handwritten diary when I was around 15 years old STILL mortifies me nearly 30 years on! There was a whole lot of teenage angst in there, but nothing my mum ever needed to know about. It was all flash-in-the-pan adolescent woe, and I am guessing despite the era of all this technology, teenagers worry about the same stuff we did. Only in a more public arena.

Parenting is an ongoing learning curve for sure, but when it comes to monitoring social media for my kids, I do bear in mind how awful my parent’s privacy invasion felt. I try not to pry for the sake of prying: I am of the opinion that their gossip and banter – the good, the bad and the ugly stuff alike – are probably the same kind of conversations I was having with my mates way back in the 80s (only we did it in person!).

My 10-year-old is very open about what she will share, but I suspect in a few years’ time she will try and shut me out online as much as she can (like my 15-year-old has). For me, what is more important than checking up is checking in: we have regular chats about what is appropriate to share online (and in real life!), and how words and pictures used online can never be taken back – screenshots can never be retracted. We discuss the potential dangers of cyberbullying, phishing (receiving fraudulent emails asking for personal information, passwords and bank deets), catfishing (when some nefarious character adopts a fictional online persona in attempt to win trust) and online grooming, and I also encourage them to share with me ANYTHING that makes them feel uncomfortable or worried (which goes for offline issues too). Yes, I itch to hack into my eldest’s social media accounts, but I like to think that by giving him a measure of privacy and letting him know he can talk to me if he needs to, he can be trusted to use the internet without my intervention.

Sheralyn the millennial

THE MILLENNIAL: How do you feel about intervention, how do teens avoid parental monitoring and where should the line be drawn?
I’ve been using the computer since I was four and been a denizen of the internet since I was six years old. I grew up in a completely uncensored environment and the only limits I had on internet use was my screen time. My parents believed that the more you pried into a child’s life, the more they would hide from you. In the end, you can’t dictate what kids see or do behind closed doors. Instead, my parents made sure I knew I would face consequences for my actions and impressed upon me that what I did or said on the internet could have a real effect on me.

Kids KNOW that parents worry (and snoop) and if they really want to avoid intervention, they will censor parents by limiting the amount of information their parents can access anyway – kind of like keeping a locked diary! I sometimes keep several social media accounts for the same platform, and it’s not just for avoiding parents. I do sometimes confide about things that have gone sour, but I also withhold details.

What parents should be asking is not “what is my child being exposed to?” but “how is my child affected by these?”, and if so, “what should I do about it?” As the ancient meme goes, “What has been seen cannot be unseen” and it’s not always possible to shield their eyes from everything, but you can teach your kids how to respond to tricky situations. If your child has difficulty differentiating the content they should or should not be interacting with, intervention might be necessary. Of course, it goes without saying that if they are exposed to activities with serious offline consequences such as scammers, gambling and cyberbullying, this absolutely requires immediate intervention from parents.

Okay, so we think it is kinda clear that teenagers don’t want us older folk nose-bagging around their lives (either on or offline). And it seems that the level of access you, as a parent, think you should have to your child’s online life is very much a personal decision that should be made between you and your kids. Strike deals, have the hard conversations and keep talking and laying the grounds for a relationship they feel they can trust enough to share what they want to share with you. And try to resist the urge to tell stories that start with “Back in my day…”. You know how that always went when you were a kid.

Check out our other articles in the series: The apps teens are using right now and How teens stay private and how parents can manage this.

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