Parents Shouldn’t Monitor Teens’ Electronics

Kids should have an expectation of trust from their parents.

Parents Shouldn't Monitor Teens' Electronics

Photothek via Getty Images

Sydney Gager, Editor

WIRED recently published an article written by Christopher Null, entitled I Monitor My Teens’ Electronics, and You Should Too, with the subheading “Kids should have no expectation of privacy on devices given to them by their parents.” I read through this article, crossing my fingers that this would be a parent casually defending their right to occasionally check their kids’ internet history. However, it was an article that defended looking at all online activity, including their text messages. The parent in question has a 13 year old and a 17 year old. As a 17 year old, I felt compelled to give my response to this article and the topic in general. 

What the WIRED article basically boils down to is that this parent doesn’t trust their kids. He doesn’t believe them capable of keeping promises or understanding the dangerous world we live in. He believes “children just don’t have the life experience or wisdom to know what behaviors are acceptable.” While this can be true with younger kids, once kids are teens this seems like a flaw in their upbringing. Shouldn’t teenagers have an idea of morality? And if they don’t, shouldn’t they have the opportunity to learn it? Is cutting off their individuality really going to benefit them? While monitoring devices may be reasonable with a thirteen year old (I would argue probably not, as I had free rein on the internet then and the worst thing I did was waste my allowance on in-app purchases), it’s ridiculous with a seventeen year old. How can you trust your child to go to college next year, if you don’t even trust them to make smart choices online? While the internet can often amplify the extremes of the world, it is also easier to be smart because there’s no direct peer pressure. If you don’t trust your child to make good choices daily, what are you going to do when they’re no longer under your roof?

More often than not, excessive electronic monitoring is a sign of an overprotective parent who isn’t allowing their child to understand and make decisions in the world. 

It may be your right as a parent to search your kids, but it’s a pattern that creates mistrust and under communication. 

I’m lucky enough not to experience this first-hand, my parents trust me to make good decisions (and although they might tell me not to download certain apps, we all know that they won’t check to see if I listen). I have never felt unsafe on the internet, but I also would have felt comfortable telling my parents if I had. If my parents read my texts, monitored my posts, and watched my online searches, we would have all been unhappy. They would’ve seen me complain about them (which would have created arguments about otherwise unimportant topics) and all my text messages would’ve been stilted (which would’ve prevented me from creating closer friendships). This extra task would be a pain for my parents, but it wouldn’t have had any benefits other than destroying our trust.

While I feel comfortable sharing anything with my parents, my friends whose parents monitor their devices often hide other things. This might be harmless things (not discussing their school days) but it can often escalate (into behavior such as sneaking out). These teens don’t share with their parents because the precedent has been set–their parents are out to find what they do wrong, not to support them. 

Often, kids are finding online communities that mirror what they love, something they can lack in school. Whether this be silly memes, fandom, learning more about the lgbtqia+ community, etc. this is something that can be beneficial. If this outlet is being excessively monitored by parents, kids will feel uncomfortable learning about the world and expressing their interests. Whether it is low stakes (such as fandom) or more important (learning about their identity), many teens use social media to find a sense of belonging that they would otherwise lack. Well-intentioned parents can destroy this opportunity by scrutinizing their child’s every move.

It is important to remember that parents should violate privacy if they have a valid reason–if their child is acting odd (and conversation has yielded no response) it’s important to make sure they’re not being bullied or encountering other issues. But a constant lack of privacy just teaches kids how to access the internet in other ways so that parents cannot track them. 

I believe that parents need to consider why they’re monitoring their children (especially if they’re going so far as to read their text messages). Is there a genuine issue or are parents helicoptering and assuming the worst? 

As someone who has been provided many opportunities for individuality, I have always felt confident in making my own choices. Parents and kids will both be happier if they build an honest relationship rather than parents constantly doubting their kids’ abilities to make good choices. Most teens with a supportive environment will choose to make good choices and will deal with the bad ones better, while mistrusted teens will try to hide their mistakes. 

Teens, like adults, benefit from supportive environments where they are trusted and their opinions are valued.