Q: I want to trust my children with their phones and social media, but I also want to make sure they’re not getting in over their heads. My daughter says I’m controlling and don’t trust her. I’m not sure what to do.
A: Let’s pretend that you take your daughter to the mall because one of her favorite bands is making an appearance to sign autographs. The mall is packed with people, but your daughter will be “embarrassed” if you stay with her. What would you do?
Your answer to that will probably be the same as your answer to this question. You would never throw her into that chaotic mess alone; you’d wade through the crowd with her to be sure she’s OK.
I hear this question a lot because parents want to trust their kids. They want to think that their kids will do the right things, and most of the time, they will. But sometimes that puts too much responsibility on them. There are a lot of positives that come from smart phones and online access (and for many tweens and teens, their social life “would be ovvvvvvvver” without them). But the internet and social media also offer new ways to make kids vulnerable to predators and inappropriate interactions with peers (for example, online bullying).
That’s why parents should have access to their kids’ social outlets. And if the kids refuse to allow that, they shouldn’t have access to social media.
There’s another reason for parents to monitor their kids’ online access – because no matter what they say, deep down, most kids really want you to do it. They crave rules and boundaries from parents, even if they’d never admit that. Your expectations serve as proof to your kids that you still love them enough to protect them and to make them do the right things. Even teens realize that they don’t know everything, and they still need you to be in charge (at least, on the big issues). Parental boundaries create a box of sorts for your kids, and when they understand where those boundaries are, children of all ages – yes, even tweens and teens – can feel safe exploring inside that box, knowing that you’ll keep them safe.
One last thing: Some parents don’t like the feeling of “stalking” their children online, but you don’t have to watch their accounts 24 hours a day. Just tell the kids that you will be checking their accounts, and then make sure to do it every now and then. The fact that you’ve done it before, and that you might randomly do it again, will give your kids pause when they’re tempted to try something online that they shouldn’t.
(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in family therapy at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington, Ohio. He’s a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program, and he’s also the family therapy columnist for Columbus Parent magazine. For an appointment with Carl, call 614-477-5565.)