parent opinion

UNPOPULAR OPINION: "Teens need their privacy and this includes their phones."

I’ve noticed a trend recently in new apps that are available for phones. More specifically, apps that allow one user to monitor and control another user’s phone activities; for example, being able to read messages sent, monitor calls, and control which apps are downloaded and used. This sounds like an alarming way for abusive partners to gain control of yet another aspect of their partner’s lives, but these apps are mostly marketed towards parents.

Parents have wanted to know what’s going on in their kids’ lives since the beginning of time, and that’s okay. But this is the first generation to have access to smartphones and the internet from an early age, and that’s making parents a little bit crazy. Yes, there are all manners of dangers online, from peer-group bullying, to predators just waiting for the opportunity to befriend. This is where internet education and a healthy, open relationship between parent and child are helpful.

But you know what doesn’t foster a healthy and open relationship? Snooping through your child’s phone, or even giving them access to a phone only on condition that you’re allowed to install spyware or go through it at a moment’s notice. This, to me, is the equivalent of a parent reading their child’s diary in the pre-mobile technology days. It’s a gross invasion of their privacy, and it will lead to a mutual distrust.

Got teenagers who stay up all night using their phones? Andrew Daddo is here to help.

Video by MMC

If you’re still dubious and believe that you have the right to look through your teen’s phone because they’re underage or because you pay their phone bill, perhaps some of these responses from teens to the question “should teens have privacy?” on Quora might change your mind.

A 16-year-old user wrote that she is restricted from downloading apps, using her phone at all between the hours of 12am – 6.30am, seeing websites which use words prohibited by her mother, tracked (to the point her mother receives an alert every time the front door to their home is opened), and her messages read.

“All of these restrictions and flat out invasions of privacy have led to me being punished for doing things that are normal,” she wrote.

“Always being punished meant I couldn’t go anywhere, which meant friends just flat out stopped inviting me, which meant I became more and more alone. Whenever I started talking to a new potential friend I had to warn them not to text me anything suggestive so I wouldn’t get in trouble. The constant message and location checks led to my anxiety skyrocketing, making me terrified of my mother.”

Several other teens replied to the post with stories about their parents invading their privacy, with more than one even forced to come out as gay against their will in their early teens due to their parents monitoring their phone activity. One 17-year-old said that her mother uses her own text against her to ridicule her mental health issues.

“My mum goes through my phone (although she hasn’t for almost a year) and because of this I don’t trust my mum at all. At first it wasn’t that big of a deal, but as I got older I started to get depressed. She read everything on my phone. My poems and texts about my depression and wanting to die. Then she ridiculed me for not telling her. I’ve never forgave her for this. But she thinks that we have a good relationship. I love my mum, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t trust her.”

 

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My eldest is only 10 and doesn’t have a phone yet, but we will probably start considering getting her one in the next year or so, and I’ve started thinking about what sort of kid-with-phone parent I want to be. When she gets a phone, there will be rules. She won’t be allowed to have social media until she reaches the age prescribed by the platforms themselves, and if we catch wind of her participating in any kind of bullying, the phone will be confiscated. But I won’t be physically going through her messages or using an app to spy.

In order to develop a strong, trusting relationship, we need to give her the chance to build our trust and more importantly, we need to give her a reason to trust us. I would consider anyone going through my phone and my messages to be a violation of my privacy and my trust. I don’t have anything to hide on there, but if someone – say, my husband – was to read my messages to friends, he would lack the context behind those conversations and would, at best, be a little bit confused and bewildered.

I’m relying on my memories of being a teenager, and what I needed then to guide me through raising my own kids when they hit that stage in the not-too-distant future. And what I remember most is that it was a time for developing my identity as an individual, separate to my parents. I had my own friends, and – gasp – my own secrets. My parents didn’t have an app tracking my exact GPS location every second of the day. I made mistakes, certainly, but that’s how we break through from childhood to adulthood.

Sometimes they won’t like you or the things you do as a parent, and they will hopefully be able to turn to their friends for support or to vent just like you did when you were growing up. Unlike your whispered conversation on the corded family landline, this will probably be in text form via that little screen that connects them to the world. They won’t be doing it to hurt your feelings, because they’re not intending for you to see it. I doubt you will want to see it either, so best not to look. At worst, they won’t reach out because they’re afraid of you seeing it.

As for the big issues; I believe that if you give your child space and understanding, they will come to you for help or advice if they need it. But you might be surprised by the problems they solve without you ever knowing about it.

How do you navigate keeping your teen or tween safe while giving them privacy? Tell us in a comment below.

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