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Kids and Technology: Trust but Verify

Earlier this year a friend of mine came to me for advice. She had given her blessing to her 15-year-old daughter’s plans to go to Florida for Spring Break. She would be staying with a friend from school in the family’s vacation home near Fort Lauderdale. My friend had spoken with the parents and everything seemed fine.

But as the trip got closer, my friend started to get suspicious. There were too many private phone calls, too many whispered conversations; just a little too much attention being paid on what to wear. Plus, a new boyfriend had appeared on the scene; someone who was older and more self-confident than the slightly awkward tenth-graders who normally hung around the house.

Despite a few pointed questions, my friend’s daughter assured her mom that nothing was going on. The trip was just as she described – a few days in the sun under the close supervision of the friend’s parents.

Of course, my friend wasn’t buying it – she knew her daughter better than that. But what to do? She couldn’t cancel the trip on the basis of some vague sixth sense that something wasn’t quite right. And besides, how would it have looked to the parents of the other girl? She couldn’t tell them she didn’t trust them to take care of her daughter.

As the mother of an 18-year-old, it was easy to relate to my friend’s concerns. My daughter’s teen years were filled with similar doubts and worries. There is nothing quite as nerve-wracking as raising an attractive teenage daughter who likes to party!

“Check out her cell phone,” I told my friend. “If she’s like my daughter, there will be a trail of text messages that will tell you exactly what’s going on.”

It had been a long time since my friend had reason to look through her daughter’s text messages. That was not something she had ever felt good about, even when her daughter was much younger. They had built up that unspoken trust that’s common between most parents and their kids: “If you don’t give me reason to doubt you, then you can have as much privacy as you want.”

But this was different; there were lots of reasons for doubt and lots of reasons to think her daughter might be at risk. One evening she grabbed her daughter’s phone and reluctantly looked through her texts. Of course, her suspicions were immediately confirmed: the boyfriend was going to be in Florida at the same time with a bunch of his friends, and he was looking forward to doing a lot more than walking on the beach.

The vacation went ahead but the girls were never out of sight of the friend’s parents. My friend’s daughter was mad but not as mad as she might have been. My friend thinks that her daughter was actually quite relieved. She had gotten herself into a situation that she didn’t know how to handle.

When it comes to the safety and wellbeing of our kids, nothing is off limits. That includes diaries, computers, and cell phones. In fact, technology can be a parent’s best friend, leaving a trail that allows us to trust but verify. There is nothing wrong with that; it’s just good parenting.

This article first appeared in Family Buzz, a VerizonInsider blog on the exciting and ever-expanding world of mobile technology.

Comment by Lisa, posted 12/5/2011, 10:03 AM:

Amen to that, trust but verify!
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