Wednesday, September 15, 2010


I was recently with some mom-friends when one of them mentioned her adolescent son was starting to get text messages from girls. "Oh, it was harmless though. I went back later and read them all and it was just silly talk."

This casual admission of invading her son's privacy made me, umm, queasy. I know, I know, everyone does this. Now that we can peek into our children's lives via electronic media it's easy to do but I'm not sure that makes it right.

I grew up in a house where personal privacy was highly regarded. I could have left my diary (had I kept one) open on my bed-stand and my mother would have walked by and gently closed it without looking. I extend the same courtesy to my own children.

I have wrestled with this thing since I see so many of my peers peering and see that some even consider cyber-spying to be good parenting. I'm not so sure.

So in an effort to help myself understand this a little better, I offer the following points of consideration:

1. First, ask yourself why you are spying. Do you have some reason to be generally concerned for your child's safety (drugs, abusive relationship, bullying) or are you simply spying because you can--or because it is entertaining or because it makes you feel like you have a little control as they grow up and more out of your control. That's not nice. Would you like your spouse or your children to hack into your email just for fun or just to see what you are up to? Probably not.

2. Try to think of the cyber-communication in terms of something you already understand and have established boundaries for--for example, texting is a little like a phone call--it's direct communication from one person to another, not intended for anyone else to see/hear. Would you ever pick up the receiver in the other room and listen in? E-mail is similar and is like a letter --would you ever open your child's mail? I hope not as that is a federal offense.

3. If you do decide to spy, alert your kids first. It's only fair to give your kids a head's up. Simply declare that going forward you reserve the right to peek in on their Facebook account (or whatever) from time to time. Facebook is a little more like a public space and therefore it is not as invasive as spying on emails or texts. It is said Facebook is like the mall--although that said, would you go to the mall and follow your kid around eavesdropping on his conversations?

So there you have it. Some food for thought as we navigate these new high-tech media-crazy times. To quote The Onion, "Now the only thing keeping you from spying on your kid is having a life of your own!"


  1. Wow, good food for thought! I am guilty of looking at Ben's facebook just out of voyeurism, though I've been excusing it as "keeping tabs on him and his choices of online friends" (which all parenting groups and friends seem to suggest is absolutely vital and totally appropriate.) Ben knows I look at his fb page and claims he doesn't care (mostly he just forgets to log off so it's just there on the screen or it's what comes up when I go to see my facebook.) But it does lead to me knowing more than he would otherwise share with me about his friendships, crushes, etc.

  2. Amy, I'm totally guilty of that too. Same son forgets to logout and he knows I can look at it if he does that...but then in writing this I had to ask myself why I was doing that. I won't anymore because it's just none of my beeswax as they used to say!