24 Jul
Does a 14-year-old Deserve Some Online Privacy?

Dear Mouthy Housewives,

I’m currently taking care of my best friend’s 14-year-old daughter. My friend had to leave town for 3 months for work and she felt comfortable enough to leave her daughter with me. Her daughter likes me, and they both come over often.

The day my friend dropped her off, she gave me a piece of paper with all her daughter’s accounts and passwords, including for Facebook and Gmail. I was even more surprised when she asked me to check the girl’s Facebook and e-mail accounts and report back weekly.  My friend won’t have a good Internet connection during her trip.

I asked the daughter if she had willingly handed over her account information, and she said yes. She also said that she had been more or less forced to friend her teachers and friends’ parents and give them full access, so that they could keep tabs on her.

This disturbs me quite a bit. I’ve had accounts hacked, and I’ve also been forced to help friends through crisis when they were betrayed by authority figures they thought they could trust. I don’t think this philosophy of “it takes a village to raise a child and pillage her sense of privacy” is healthy.  If anything, it seems to have destroyed any respect for this girl’s privacy. Should I say something to my friend? Should I comply with her requests and do something I’m really uncomfortable doing?

Signed,

I Don’t Want To Be Your Daughter’s Friend on Facebook

______________________________

Dear I Don’t Want To be Your Daughter’s Friend on Facebook,

Hold on one minute, you’re willing to take care of kids for THREE MONTHS?! Oh this is just fabulous. Please immediately email me your address. I can have my children there by 5 pm. Of course, they will need dinner. Pizza is fine. None of them are old enough to be on Facebook or Gmail so you’ll have no moral crisis. I’ll pick them up in three months!

Okay, maybe this is something you only do for your very best friend ever and I am just wishing that I had bonded with you years earlier. You really are an incredible person to take care of your friend’s daughter for such a lengthy time.

I completely understand your dilemma and this is something that really should have been discussed long before she dropped her daughter at your front door. You are under no obligation to check this girl’s online accounts.

It is absolutely an invasion of privacy for this young girl who if she is smart created a different secret email address to communicate with her friends. As a 14-year-old (pre-email, pre-texing and pre-dinosaurs), I can only cringe thinking of my mother listening in to my calls to my friends. She would have heard a lot about Chuck, his hunky orange glow tan and my desperate desires to get him to notice me.

This is your best friend so you need to be completely honest in a very kind way. Let her know that her daughter is in safe hands and that you understand her desire to keep tabs on her.  But you just don’t feel comfortable logging on to her accounts and monitoring her online activity.  But that you will absolutely be watching over and taking care of her.

You might also want to share your own experiences and suggest that it may not be entirely appropriate for her to be forced to friend teachers and family friends.

In the end, it’s up to each parent to decide how they want to handle their children’s online activity. It’s a whole new world that parents are trying to navigate and there are no simple answers.  I think your friend is coming from a good place. But she can’t control and monitor her daughter’s every move. She has to have some trust. In her daughter. And you.

Good luck,

Kelcey, TMH

16 Responses to “Does a 14-year-old Deserve Some Online Privacy?”

07.24.12#1

Comment by Desperate Dietwives.

I absolutely agree with Kelcey.
Just talk to the girl and tell her that you have faith in her good sense and are not going to check her accounts.

It will be harder to discuss the thing with the mother, especially if she is very far away. Maybe you could not report to her weekly on her daughter’s on line activities, and when she asks you about them just explain her your perplexities and tell her she should have discussed the thing with you long before.

It will be a nice change for the girl not to be so strictly controlled, and to know that there is an adult who completely trusts her, poor thing!!!

07.24.12#2

Comment by StephanieG.

Our 8-year old (who acts like a grownup) has her own cell phone and email account. We have passwords for both, and she understands that at any time, for any reason, her Dad and I can access her personal information.

We’ve decided that unless there appears to be something inappropriate going on, then we will honor her privacy. But if it seems at all to us that she’s into something she shouldn’t be in, then I will be up in her business in a heartbeat.

She is very young to have access to all of this technology, but at least having grown up with the knowledge of all access parental knowledge, it won’t be as shocking to her if we need to exercise it later on.

I would NEVER snoop through her texts, emails, or read her diary unless I thought there might be a problem. And I would certainly never review her online presence on a semi-regular basis and report back to anyone on her private life.

07.24.12#3

Comment by suburbancorrespondent.

The analogy between phone calls and Internet use is a bad one. The reason parents monitor Internet use is to drive home the fact to the teen that the Internet is ALWAYS a public place, not a private one. I tell my teens that, if they want privacy, they should speak on the phone – we do not monitor their phone calls.

We don’t monitor their Internet use in order to spy on their every word (really, none of us want to relive our teen years in that much detail!); we monitor Internet use so that the teen develops the habit of being constantly aware that the Internet is a public place and that everything they type on the Internet can be used in a court of law (read The New Yorker article on the trial of that Princeton student if you have any doubts). We regularly glance over their content (Facebook, email) and point out to them what belongs on the Internet and what doesn’t. Essentially, we are training them how to use the Internet as an adult, much as we ride beside them in the car while they have their driver’s permits. We treat their phone texts the same way (primarily because anyone can forward or copy and paste a text to Facebook).

Yes, a teen can set up a false account – but most parents are savvy enough to detect it. If you approach the whole issue as a learning/training experience that prepares the teen to be on his/her own, you can usually secure a decent amount of cooperation. There is always the chance that the teen sneaks off to the library or a friend’s house to use the Internet unmonitored – true. But that still severely limits the amount of time that the teen can get him/herself in trouble. And, of course, as the teen demonstrates more and more responsibility and maturity in his/her Internet activity, the monitoring decreases accordingly.

Of course, it is foolish to think you can keep a teen off the Internet or be aware of everything he/she is thinking/doing (and who would want to?); but it is equally foolish to let him loose on it without proper guidance and supervision. To posit it as a question of respecting privacy misses the point that the Internet is anything but private, a point that teens often do not understand on their own.

And, yes, I DO feel strongly about this subject – why do you ask?

bkamosher Reply:

Wow, you worded it perfectly!

suburbancorrespondent Reply:

I would like to add that it is unreasonable to expect a friend to do any extensive monitoring of your own teen’s accounts. I would probably just check to make sure that the friend has reasonable rules (off the Internet by 10, so they aren’t up all night; no porn sites, etc) and check up on my teen’s accounts when I got home.

Also, diaries are of course off limits, because they are PRIVATE (unlike the Internet). That rule falls by the wayside, of course, if your teen is in serious trouble.

Megan Reply:

Agreed!

rojopaul Reply:

WHAT SHE SAID! Awesome.

07.24.12#4

Comment by bkamosher.

I think it’s great to want to trust our children, but the internet is a scary place, and I’d rather check in on my child then find her in a ditch, kidnapped by some pedophile!

07.24.12#5

Comment by Plano Mom.

I like what suburbanc said. I would add that in Plano, teachers are strictly forbidden from friending parents or students. For my two, they are encouraged to friend adults that they know and like. I am also friends with my kids. I don’t stalk them, but I do check on them from time to time. I too have their passwords, and am ashamed to admit I used it once on my oldest when I really was just ticked off and had no real reason to suspect anything. For my youngest, his adult or older friends keep him in check – when he says something that needs a comment, he is told by them, in a way that usually elicits an apology or a delete. They are also very helpful in my effort to teach him that you may sneak something by Mom occasionally, but that success is definitely random. Why risk getting caught on something big? Oh and one other thing. Usually the worst punishment on visiting porn sites is a loooong discussion where you reveal just how unrealistic it all is and how damaging it can be to relationships. If its your boy, mom does the talking. Girls get dad. Oh, and everyone is curious. Get a decent antivirus program.

suburbancorrespondent Reply:

Ha! We have the same policy re porn sites! We don’t have Internet filters at home; we just explain to the boys that if we find a questionable site, we’ll be glad to sit down and peruse it with them. Imagine the trauma: “Gosh, your dad and I never do that!” “What’s that in her mouth?” “Is that physically possible, even?”

Plano Mom Reply:

Exactly! My Mom had a no censorship policy. I can’t tell you how many books and magazines I just didn’t bother with because it wasn’t worth “the talk.”

07.24.12#6

Comment by Steph.

I agree with Kelcey that it is asking too much to monitor someone else’s child’s internet activity. I loathe the task of monitoring my own children on the internet.

07.24.12#7

Comment by N and Em's mom.

Ditto with what suburban… says. Facebook is not private. Weekly checking in seems extreme. Maybe a compromise and more healthy solution would be to sit down with her for 5 minutes periodically when she is on facebook and chat about what people post. You can’t judge how meaningful anything is without a conversation.

07.26.12#8

Comment by Kitty.

While it’s true that the Internet isn’t and probably never will be truly private, some functions, like e-mail, are meant to be private. You don’t send someone a personal e-mail and expect it to be plastered all over reddit by Monday. Such things do happen, and that’s why you have conversations with your children about what you can and can’t put your faith in the Internet to do. That’s not an excuse to play Big Brother.

sisterfunkhaus Reply:

Big brother? Try caring parent. My friends whose parents trusted them and never checked up on them were the ones who did crazy things and got into all kinds of trouble. Those of us who had parents who checked up on us and did not create the expectation that we have complete trust and privacy, raised kids who stayed on the straight and narrow for the most part. As a teacher, I can say that I see this pattern with students as well. Overly trusting parents tend to be very naive about their kids’behavior. My mom may have checked up on me, but she always answered my questions, never left me hanging or ignorant about anything, and we were very close. I was very truthful with her and was not afraid to come to her about things. I can’t imagine a better mom. She was absolutely not Big Brother. She was my mother, and she acted like a mother instead of trying to be my buddy.

09.18.12#9

Comment by I Know You're 18 Years Old, But I Still Need To Know Your Facebook Password | The Mouthy Housewives.

[…] This seems like a big no-brainer to me because, hello, your brother is 18-years-old. Eighteen! And therefore he’s legally considered an adult. He can vote, he can go to war, he can serve on jury duty and he’ll now be tried as an adult the next time he knocks over a liquor store. Plus, he can finally get into NC-17 movies by himself. Yay for boobies and violence! But the most important thing is that he can do all of those things, and more, without the help of his dear, sweet mommy. (And he’s not 14 any longer.) […]

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