I believe teens, and especially children, are not yet equipped with a full range of social skills or perspectives. They can’t always make complex decisions and sometimes shifting the agreed privacy arrangements is the best course of action.
I am aware there are incredibly bad ways of breaching my children’s privacy that erode trust and create enormous distress, and that isn’t my strategy. What I believe is a beneficial approach involves renegotiating their privacy, doing it openly and clearly, and jointly bringing things up for follow-up and action.
My friend’s teen daughter was experiencing horrendous bullying—both cyber and face-to-face—which was resulting in self-harm and action needed to be taken. What my friend did was lock down her smartphone, restricting access and contact, and effectively shutting off a major stream of the cyberbullying. Other firm steps were taken in conjunction with other parents in her peer group, and the school was notified. This was done clearly, openly and with clear reasoning behind the decision.
Unsurprisingly, there was a histrionic tantrum, but within 24 hours, she approached her mum and said the peace and quiet it brought was amazing, and she felt she could start to rebuild her happiness. After time, benefits to the phone were restored in stages. Because this was approached clearly and openly, she felt she had a voice in the process, which is key to maintaining trust.
Parents need to parent their teenagers, and while bringing things up can be challenging, it’s where solutions can be found.
Lake Macquarie, New South Wales
I think I agree with most other cyber safety experts when I say it’s imperative to know what my children are doing online. But this doesn’t mean I have to “spy” on them. In fact, spying on them or unnecessarily invading their privacy is the perfect recipe for a terrible relationship between my children and I.
While I need to know if my children are having problems online, that doesn’t mean I need to see every conversation they’re having with their friends. Who has time for that anyway?
I own Children and Technology, which is all about keeping children safe online, which is why, when it comes to keeping my own children safe on the internet, the first step I take is to keep the lines of communication between us as open as possible, understanding that most children don’t tell their parents if they’re being bullied online, even if the parents think they will.
I also installed a parental control app very openly with my children—not one that spies on them or allows me to see innocent conversations, but one that will alert me in real time if a potential problem arises. This is incredibly useful as it allows me to open up crucial conversations with my children at the right time, and to work through difficult situations together with them.
I believe as long as you’re there to support your child no matter what in every way, and your child understands this, and you choose the right parental control product, your child will be far less likely to suffer from cyberbullying, without the need to snoop around their online activities.