Teens and online privacy

One of the big dilemmas for parents is how much privacy they afford their children as they get older, particularly as they reach the teen years when they become more conscious of their bodies and how they look.

For some parents this is a struggle: if mom and dad have always just walked into their daughter's bedroom, it's going to take some mental and physical effort to stop and knock as she gets older. But for a trusting, caring relationship that will endure, we have to make that adjustment. Just as grown-ups need their space, so do teens.

This increase in privacy should also extend to teens’ online lives. However, increased online privacy doesn't mean that the rule book is suddenly thrown out of the window. In the same way that a teen should have a clear idea of how late they can stay out, there should be a clear set of rules when it comes to technology and use of the Internet.

Make a deal

With most tech gadgets like cell phones, video game consoles, or iPods, it's fairly easy to monitor use and know that rules are being followed. But what about time online? In the password-protected and mobile world of the Internet, how do we know that rules are being followed and that our teens are not putting themselves at risk?

Thankfully these days there are numerous ways for parents to monitor their kids’ online behavior and see what they are up to. But isn’t that spying and doesn’t it immediately undermine the trust we are trying to build?

One of the ways around this is to sit down with your teen and make a deal. Let them know that you are installing monitoring software on their computer but you aren't going to use it....unless they give you a reason to! Explain that the monitoring software is there to protect him should anything bad happen.

Most kids will happily sign on for this arrangement. If your child does something that he shouldn't be doing, he knows that the evidence will be there for you to see – web sites visited, Facebook posts, IMs. However, if he sticks to approved web sites and appropriate behavior, he has nothing to fear.

This doesn’t mean that your teen always gets the benefit of the doubt. If you think there’s a problem, jump in and find out. Safety always trumps privacy. But if you have a happy, well-adjusted teen and there’s no reason to spy, then you had better be prepared to hold up your end of the bargain!

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