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?
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.