5 reasons I spy on my kid (and you should too!)

By Romi Lassally, Managing Editor, ParentsAsk.com

My 11 year-old daughter has taken to video chatting and IM’ing with a vengeance. What used to be occasional online missives shared among a few friends on her buddy list has turned into multi-modal madness.  Her computer screen is a collage of tween faces, rainbow colored text bubbles and a chorus of shrill voices all vying for her attention.

Recognizing the increase in these activities as the cyber equivalent of puberty, I knew it was time to have "the talk" - the tech talk that is. We sat down one night and covered the basic "birds and bees" business regarding the computer - limiting screen time, installing the uber-strict net nanny filter, warnings to not to talk to strangers.  And then I casually threw out the fact that to keep her safe I reserved the right to check in on her email account and IM history every now and then. She seemed OK with that, but then shot me a look:

"What??? You're going to read my emails?  You're going to look at the PRIVATE IMs I WRITE TO MY FRIENDS?"   Are you kidding me...WHYYYYYY????!

Like many moms, I'm still wrestling with the privacy vs. safety issue - wanting to give my kids space and foster their independence but keep them protected from the myriad unknown and potentially nefarious forces out there in cyberspace. I know that checking her computer history isn't like reading her diary, but honestly, at times I feel like it is. (And, despite temptation, I don't want to be one of those moms!)    

As a result of my ambivalence, I didn't have a good answer for her. At least not a good enough answer to convince either of us. So I called my go-to tech mom, Monica at The Online Mom (thank God for friends with tech-xpertise) and she gave me the following ammunition, which I'm happy to report made an impression and I recommend that you DO try at home:

  1. The internet environment is one with long-lasting, sometimes permanent and always far-reaching consequences – terms she’s just beginning to understand – and until she’s 18 or so, she’ll still need guidance not just on what she does, but on what others in her playground are doing. (I equate this to being in a taxi cab – when the driver’s going around full speed like a maniac and I ask him to slow down, I always tell him that I know he’s an expert driver, but it’s the others I am worried about!)
  2. These days, when a kid goes missing (when anyone goes missing actually) the FIRST PLACE the FBI looks is the person’s computer. They go through records, IM’s, emails etc. Believe it or not, I have a lot more maturity – still – and I WILL be able to spot red flags if I come across them, as far as strangers and even the people that she knows.
  3. The digital playground while she’s “under my roof” is no different than the real one – my #1 job is her safety and that I will do whatever it takes to keep her safe.   
  4. I do NOT HAVE TIME to be looking at her stuff, but if I notice a behavior change I WILL LOOK to see if there is anything going on that is causing it.
  5. The anonymity people think they have online makes them act differently.  I know this (hello truuconfessions.com!) but she’s only 11 – she doesn’t know this.

Fess up: how are you dealing with your kids' online activities?  Keeping your distance or setting down ground rules?

Comment by Joseph, posted 5/11/2014, 11:09 AM:

Agree with micaela jones, i would NEVER spy on my child, and neither should you, yet you are saying "everyone should spy on their children" that is a terrible way to say "I gave birth to you, but i do not trust you" Yet, neither of your reasons are about no trust on your child, yet you spy on her for mere entertainment, this article is a pure embarrassment, you could just go to her room every now and then to check on her, yet you did this, people like you are mean, to say the very least
Comment by Ryan Miller, posted 12/14/2012, 10:33 AM:

I feel a parents should monitor their kid only if they feel something is going on that they are not sharing. Then yes, its the parents job to step in and see to it the child is safe.
Comment by Samantha, posted 4/29/2011, 6:39 PM:

Look, kids need to have privacy too. Especially at that age. If your kid starts acting weird then you can peek in on their emails or whatever, but you have absolutely no right to go through your childs privacy. they can have private things too. just like you can.
Comment by robh310, posted 8/29/2010, 12:48 AM:

SpyBubble is a software system that will allow you to log in from any computer and supervise any Smart Phone or BlackBerry in real time. Check it out at http://spybubblespyapp.weebly.com/
Comment by Toby Treacher, posted 5/24/2010, 1:55 AM:

Worth remembering that Boys and Girls are different and also, each parent has a different way of dealing with these things in the offline world. Would you read a diary if you found one in your child's room? It is about trust, which needs to be earned and nurtured, but also about teaching and providing guidance. Hope you don't mind, I re-posted this article: http://www.digitalparents.org/5-reasons-i-spy-on-my-kid-and-you-should-too
Comment by Alicia H, posted 4/21/2010, 6:36 AM:

It's a balancing act of trust & being a parent. Ignorance is bliss. If you don't know what your kids are doing on the web, how do you know what specifics to talk about? I looked into the history of my 13 yr old son recently and found porn and an abusive & sick web chat lead by a 13 yr old classmate. So, it lead to a week w/out his computer & so far some great conversations about puberty, sex, friends and online safetly & appropriateness have occurred. He has my trust and I have his respect.
Comment by sallie redekop, posted 3/20/2010, 9:00 PM:

i 100% agree with miacaela jones.
Comment by Lori F, posted 3/1/2010, 11:29 AM:

Why are you allowing an 11 yr old to video chat and IM anyway? You are asking for trouble.
Comment by Elizabeth , posted 2/26/2010, 9:48 AM:

I'm sorry Micaela, but even good kids can get mixed up with people on-line that don't have the best intentions. I know because my honor roll student who had committed herself to purity until marriage, went on mission trips with the church and was an overall pillar in the teen community fell prey to a counselor from Christian camp and was lured over the internet into his web of lies & deciet. Iwas a painful lesson as she went missing for many months. I respected her privacy. I trusted her.
Comment by Angela, posted 2/22/2010, 1:12 PM:

Great tips! I'm not 'spying' and I am upfront with my children that I will be keeping tabs on their on-line activities. It is my responsibility and most kids will never run into drama on-line, but am I going to just have faith that it could never happen to my child? No, I set ground rules and then follow up. I do trust my child, but not all of the people they interact with on line.
Comment by Rachel, posted 1/27/2010, 9:02 PM:

My oldest is only 6 1/2 and he is just barely becoming aware that there is an online world. I'm dreading the teenage years for this very reason. The things I would have hated as a child are the very things I feel like I need to do to protect my children.
Comment by Lisa T, posted 12/3/2009, 4:05 PM:

Romi, right on. Your first priority is to keep your kids safe and if double checking thier emails helps you keep them safe, then do it. It's not a trust issue, it a naivete issue. Kids have NO idea what they are getting into online, it would be irresponsible as a parent to assume otherwise. Keep snooping! Keep them alive.
Comment by micaela jones, posted 11/24/2009, 4:31 PM:

i think that what you did was wrong i think that the talk was ok but all the you have to look at everything. You can tell her that she cant do this that and the other but you cant be spying on her. Dont you trust your kid!!! All you have to do is put some ground rules and thats it!! My kid is 17 and she is not in anything like you say you dont have to do all that stuff just trust that you raised your kid the right way and talk to her like your best friend and you will learn to trust her dont spy!
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