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It's not spying - it's parenting!

When my eldest daughter, Emma (age 14) started acting secretively and spending more time at her friend's house than at home, I didn't know what to do. Every question I asked was met with a non-committal grunt.

In the end, my suspicions got the better of me. One night after she went to bed, I looked through the texts on her cell phone. Turns out she'd been seeing a boy who - what with the references to his car and job - was quite a bit older than she was.

I never even suspected Emma had a boyfriend, let alone anything so serious. I became certain that all the time she told me she was at her friend's house, she was in fact seeing him. It made me sick with worry. What if they were having sex? She was only 14.

I decided to have it out with her. Of course, she was furious when she found out I'd read her texts. But when you're a mom, you have to step in.

We talked about sex and contraception. I tried to make her realize that she was too young to handle the emotional side of a sexual relationship and that it was against the law - her boyfriend was 19.

I considered grounding her but I didn't want her sneaking around behind my back. Instead, I gave her clear instructions that I would call her friend's mom to check she was there and that she had to be back at a certain time. She wasn't happy about it but too bad.

To this day I don't know what happened to the boyfriend. My guess is he wasn't interested when he knew sex wasn't on the agenda. Do I regret snooping? No. It's not my job to be my daughter's friend, it's my job to be her parent.


This true story perfectly illustrates the dilemma that sooner or later confronts most parents. We probably feel good about our laissez-faire attitude to our child’s social life. We’re proud of the fact that she was one of the first kids at school to get a smartphone and open a Facebook account. We’ve shown her love and understanding and we trust her to exercise good judgment.

And then something happens.

It could be the sudden appearance of an older boyfriend, or a new set of friends that are more interested in drugs and alcohol than homework or sports. Maybe there has been a bullying incident, either at school or online. Maybe there are self-esteem issues that are driving her to harmful web sites.

Whatever the problem, it’s our job as parents to know about it, help our kids get through it, and above all, keep them safe.

But how do we find out what’s going on? Teens and even younger kids increasingly live their lives in an electronic world that’s walled-off from adults – particularly their parents. They are constantly checking Facebook, surfing the Web, and sending and receiving hundreds of texts a day, but we’re lucky if we get a quick hello sometime between drama club and soccer practice.

Unfortunately, for most parents, we only realize something is wrong after the fact. We sense a mood change, a sudden sullenness where before there was only our happy-go-lucky child.

Of course, the best solution is to have an open dialogue – to get together with your child and talk through whatever it is that’s bothering her. But what if you don’t have that kind of relationship, or it’s something that she just can’t bring herself to talk to you about? That’s when technology becomes your friend.

If you were smart, you insisted on having access to all her passwords and regularly checked to make sure they hadn’t been changed. If you were even smarter, you regularly checked her cell phone bill for unusual or unknown numbers. And if you were really smart, you installed parental control software that allowed you to check in on her Facebook posts and web history whenever there was a sign of trouble.

We’re not talking about reading every text or monitoring every e-mail. We’re talking about constructing an electronic safety net, so you can be there if something goes wrong and your child needs your help.

It’s not snooping or spying. It’s called parenting.

Spying or good parenting? Are you comfortable monitoring your child’s online activity? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

Tomorrow we will talk about parental controls that will help you look out for your child.

Comment by Jim, posted 4/22/2011, 11:53 AM:

I like to call it "love and limits." Our kids need both. I agree that open communication is key. Sometimes difficult when they are moody. I am friends with my daughter on FB, not necessarily as a friend, but it allows me to check on her periodically. Parenting is like holding a wet bar of soap. Squeeze to tightly a d it slips out. Hold to loosely and you get the same result. I also agree that we need to be parents first, friends second. Thank you for the great articles.
Comment by won, posted 4/22/2011, 11:17 AM:

Where do I find the parental controls article mentioned at the end of this one? I am eagerly awaiting my Kaspersky software in the mail. Since writing to you about it, an incident happened that made it overwhelmingly clear that my maternal instincts were once again to be trusted. Now, I'm a sponge waiting to absorb any and all info I can find. This is some seriously scary stuff!
Comment by Megan Sigmon-Olsen, , posted 4/22/2011, 6:14 AM:

This mom did a great job and she did something that many parents are afraid of doing. So many parents that I work with are afraid of losing the "friendship" they have with their teen - this mom kept the boundary clear: She did what she needed to do to keep her daughter safe, safety was priority, and she was willing to have some ugly conversations in the process. A good example of how messy parenting can be. Great post!
Comment by Rita Brennan Freay, posted 4/17/2011, 6:46 PM:

Wow, kudos to this mom! And thanks for giving the rest of us an eye opener....and some great tips as we prepare...for our kids getting older and on the internet...seriously into the electronic age. Right now my 10 yr old has aol email...and I am not comfortable with that! Ugh...this is not going to be easy....but I am better prepared now. Thanks!
Comment by Ellen Lebowitz, posted 4/13/2011, 5:33 PM:

Excellent story. Finally, parents who parent. Keeping your children safe. Possibly a generation of parents thought that "friending" their children was smart. This is not helpful to either parent or child. Parenting means exactly that. It does not mean being best friends with your kids. That may happen if you're a responsible parent/adult. Adult children remember, appreciate, respect and love their parents for doing their job as a parent Thank you.
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