Friday, March 19, 2010

How Much Privacy is a Teen Entitled To?

I am suddenly finding myself completely at odds with myself over something. A while back I mentioned that I monitor Kevin's email. I am seriously reconsidering this decision now.

A few days ago, out of the blue, Kevin asked me if I read his email. He knows I have his password, but my impression is that he's trusted all along that I'm not actually reading his stuff. It never occurred to me that he would come right out and ask me; I guess I assumed this would remain my little covert operation of keeping tabs on him, and he'd never be the wiser. So his question caught me off guard, and I kind of stumbled for a moment and then blurted out, "No! Of course not." Ugh. And in all honesty, I've been feeling really crummy about the lie ever since.

My logic has been as follows: if he knows I'm monitoring his email, he'll censor himself, or maybe even open up an email account for himself that I don't know about.

Obviously, I never thought this whole thing all the way through. So, what exactly do I do if I do read something in his outgoing or incoming email that concerns me? I can't exactly say something upfront about it without letting on that I've been reading, which would almost certainly (a) force him underground, and (b) cause a lot of damage to whatever trust he has in me.

The truth is, I have no reason not to trust him. He's a good kid. And I'm not just saying that. He really is. He doesn't get into trouble, he's got a very strong sense of right and wrong, he works hard and does very well in school. He gives me no cause for concern. So why do I feel this need to monitor his email? Because I can, because it's so easy to? Is that a good enough reason? Maybe I should be giving him the benefit of the doubt until/unless he shows me that he needs to be monitored? Or if, as a parent, you wait until they give you cause for concern, is it then already too late?

Nothing I've read in any of his email over the last few months has sent up any red flags. There are only a handful of people he exchanges emails with: his grandma, a neighborhood friend, and a couple of friends from school. He's gotten some forwards of religious hooey that I'd love to discuss with/dispute for him, but I guess if I want to be true to my assertion that I want my kids to make up their own minds about such things, then I have to let him make up his own mind. He and a friend from school have alluded to an interest in girls - very innocent, silly stuff, completely age-appropriate. And despite both Michael and I trying to talk to Kevin about girls, he has made it clear that that topic is not one he's willing to talk about with us. So what right do I have to pry when there's been no cause for concern?

Also, I've realized that it's foolish to think that I'm going to glean any real information from his emails. He communicates with his friends much more face-to-face at school and on the phone than he does via email, and I certainly can't monitor all of that.

I am very curious how other parents of teens feel about all of this and handle it with their own kids. And what about other forms of electronic communication? I know plenty of middle-schoolers who have free reign over texting. Kevin has a cell phone, but we made it clear from the beginning that it's not for socialization - it's to communicate with us, period. He's not allowed to give his number out to anyone, he's not allowed to text anyone except us, and we can monitor all of his phone activity online (I never have, but I could). I just don't see the need for a kid this young to be using a cell phone for socialization - but that's me. And then there's Facebook. Not that Kevin has ever shown any interest in FB (yet . . . or maybe it's more of girl thing?), but I have friends with kids his age who do have FB accounts. That's something I hope doesn't come up in our house for a long time yet.

I dunno . . . I just feel guilty all of a sudden. There's a part of me that feels like, he's a child, and as long as he's a child, everything he does is my business. But I also know that he's at the age when he is growing more toward adulthood, and he needs to discover for himself who he is, who he wants to be, and there are areas of his life, even at 13, that belong only to him, and rightly so.


diane rene said...

such a hard subject really. my 18 year old started on the computer around 12 and I had access to all her emails, etc. when she first got a myspace account, I demanded to have her password, tho I only used it once. I created my own account and she actually "friended" me.
FB I had first, then she jumped on it when it became cool for teenagers to have a FB account @@
With her, I have never had much reason to tap into my resources. there was curiosity, sure, and I would look at her myspace pictures and leave mom-ish comments like, 'you are beautiful, why the need to flip off the camera?'
I strongly believe in the need-to-know. my daughter has been honest with me about most things since she entered the monsterhood of the teenage years, so I am one that gives the benefit of the doubt. I have friends with kids the same age and I tell myself, "I would be checking THAT child's emails and profiles DAILY", but fortunately I haven't felt that way about mine.
I have a 10 year old entering the scene of FB and internet stuff. she has a cell phone because, well honestly, I caved when I was driving the 18 year old (pre license) to and from school and I was paranoid I would be late to pick her sisters from school on time. NO TEXTING ALLOWED - to me, to friends, to anyone. I doubt I will have to monitor her much, but we'll see.
the youngest, 6 years old now, I will have to become a spy. she hasn't reached the age to play, but oh I can already tell it's gonna be a busy game! all my thoughts on teenage privacy will be thrown out the window because I already know this one is watching and learning.

Mer said...

I don't have any teenagers yet, but I've always felt a good way to deal with the privacy issue is they're entitled to it for as long as they earn it, but once they do something to break the trust/get in trouble/whatever you want to call it, that privacy is no longer a privelege and is something that will have to be earned again over time. I think just reminding him periodically that you do have his password and will check up on him if you feel it necessary or if he breaks your trust will probably be enough to keep him thinking twice about the correspondence he has with his friends.

You're a great mom, Lisa.