“Yes, parents, you should be reading your kids’ text messages.”

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This was one dilemma our parents never had to deal with: do you read the messages that your tween is sending other kids?

US mum-of-four Kristen Howerton has no doubts about it. “Parents of tweens, can I kindly suggest you read your children’s texts?” she posted on Facebook recently.

“Privacy is for diaries. They need guidance as they learn to navigate phone conversations that can be screenshot and used against them. Signed, a mom tired of trying to decide what to disclose to the other parents in her kid’s group chats.”

As a parent of a tween, this sent a chill through me. I remember what I was like at that age – the clueless things I used to think and the embarrassing stuff I used to confide in my best friend. But I’d say those things to my best friend and then they would be gone, living on only as memories that would occasionally make me squirm.

It’s different for our kids. On phones or on social media, their embarrassing stuff can live on forever. The potential for bullying is scary. Our kids might be worldlier than we were at their age, but they’re no wiser. They’re still just kids who sometimes make dumb choices.

Most of us with tweens wouldn’t let them head off by themselves into the city for the day. Why should we let them go unaccompanied into the world of group chats or social media, which are potentially just as dangerous?

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New world, new rules. We have to step up. A tween’s right to privacy can’t trump a parent’s responsibility to give guidance. We need to be involved from the beginning so kids accept it as normal. If we’re giving phones to kids, we need to be able to read their texts, and if we’re letting them have social media accounts, we need to be able to see them. We need to talk and talk and talk, until we feel confident they understand that anything sent in a text or posted on social media is permanent and can be used against them.

Yeah, my mum didn’t read my diary when I was a tween. But I wasn’t printing copies of it and handing them out to everyone at school. This isn’t prying. It’s parenting.

reading kids text messages
"New world, new rules. We have to step up. A tween’s right to privacy can’t trump a parent’s responsibility to give guidance." (Image: iStock)

Nicole Campione-Barr, a parent-adolescent relationships researcher, completely agrees that parents need to be engaged in what their tweens and teens are doing online and on their phones. But she says parents need to read messages with their kids, rather than without their knowledge.

“When you are upfront and open with them, they are more likely to be that way with you," she says.

"If you sneak behind their backs to read this information, they will be much less likely to trust you when – not if – they find out, and less likely to tell you the important stuff down the road.”

Listen: This Glorious mess discuss how you can get your teens of their bloody phones at night (post continues after audio...)

Campione-Barr tells Mamamia that eventually, teens’ private texts should be private.

“I would suggest that it is less about, ‘What age is best?’ than it is about reading the maturity of each child and their willingness to come to you in a sticky situation,” she points out.

“In most cases, if you have been spot-checking their group chats, and you are having good conversations about why certain comments or behaviours aren’t appropriate, and you feel like they are coming to you when they have questions, you’re probably in a spot to give them a little more room.”

Tweens? We’ve got our eye on you.

Would you got through your teenager's text messages? Why, or why not?

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