Over the years, I have had many debates with parents and experts about “spying” on a child’s internet usage and social media activities. Some people feel that spying will break the trust in the relationship and cause the child to be resentful. Let me very clear about my stance: I do not spy; I am very upfront with my daughter about my monitoring of her technology habits. When I was younger my parent’s policy was “my house, my business,” and I now appreciate that rule. Please understand, I am not judging anyone’s parenting style or house rules– I am speaking only from my experience. Knowing that my parents were openly watching made me think twice about my decisions, made me feel as if they cared, and ultimately saved me from many unnecessary heartaches.
Periodically I review the cell phone bill to monitor texting and phone usage, as well as review the browser history on her computer. Last year, I typed my daughter’s name in a search engine only to find her on YouTube singing as if she was auditioning for American Idol. Although we had previous discussions about internet usage, she felt that it did not apply if she were going to be a superstar. Needless to say we revisited the social media conversation and the expectations. I compare the monitoring to being a supervisor; you expect your employees to do the right thing, however from time to time you still inspect their work. With our children we must “inspect what we expect.”
As the parent you have every right to be very open and upfront about your expectations and actions as it relates to your child’s internet and social media interactions. While some experts are still debating over “spying” and a child’s right to privacy, they forget that some of the information the child discloses is public, which means the only person in the dark is the parent! Maybe I’m crazy, but I would rather have my child temporarily upset with me for monitoring her activity than reacting to a situation that could have been avoided.
I am not a huge fan of monitoring software, however it depends on your individual situation and experiences. Instead of spending money on software, here are a few easy things you can do today for free to monitor your child’s internet usage:
1. Place your home computer in a common area. Often times when your child has less privacy they are less likely to do something they don’t want you to see. I have found having the computer in the living room or kitchen, opens up communication and sharing.
2. Review your browser history. Periodically perform a check on your browser history to find out where your child is spending time on the web. Many children are aware of this tactic and will erase the history. If you check the browser history and it’s clear, you may want to explore further.
3. Set-up Google alerts for your child’s name or alias. Set up the alerts to come to your email and if things are posted on the Internet, you will be the first to know.
4. Implement technology time-outs. When my daughter walks in the house from school, she understands that her cell phone should be turned off. I don’t take the phone from her, but the expectation has been discussed and set. If her friends want to speak with her they know to call the home phone, if she wants to use the internet she can access our home computer in the common area, and I can’t imagine her sitting in the house texting all day. The cell phone rule is a little more relaxed on the weekend and still gives her the freedom she needs.
5. Talk to your children. Never underestimate the power of communication. I ask my daughter about her day, what’s going on in her world, and usually will slip in a conversation about social media or Internet usage. It’s amazing how my daughter opens up when I am interested in what’s important to her, listen without interruption, and encourage open conversation. Lastly, it’s important that these conversations become a normal way of life as this will make the way easier when and if an issue arises.
I do believe that children have a right to some privacy, however if someone is bullying my child or a predator is reaching out to her on her social media pages – it is my business! Back in the day, my mom was my mom…not my “girl” or my friend and I appreciate that. If my daughter grows up and says the same, I will count that as a success!