The Note That Opened My Eyes: My Children and Privacy in the Modern Age

As I put my 2nd-grade son’s snack in his backpack, I noticed an unusually large number of loose pages crammed inside. I began pulling them out and looking through the pages to see what should be kept and what should be tossed. 

One piece of paper stopped me in my tracks. My son had written an apology note to one of his friends. 

 boundaries, cellphones, family, internet, journals, kids' privacy, parents going through kids' rooms, privacy, relationships, rules about cellphones, rules about computer use, screen time, secrets, technologyApology note? I never heard about any incident for which apology was necessary. Then, along with the note to his friend, I also found an apology note to his teacher for the same incident. Why hadn’t the teacher or my son told me about this?

As my son approached, I shoved the notes back in his bag. Wanting to see if he would show me the notes, I watched as he leafed through the papers, opened the pages that bore the apologies, crumpled them up and threw them in the trash. All without a word to his mother. 

He had no intention of telling me about it.

There was a moment of shell-shock when I realized my young son was at the point where he was capable of (and wanting to) keep things from his parents. Even now, it’s hard to accept that there are parts of his life which I know nothing about.

Of course, my son is his own person, but his emerging independence left me with tinges of fear, sadness, and worry. What if something really important happened and he felt he didn’t need to tell me about it?  

After he left for school a few moments later, I went to the garbage and retrieved the notes. I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but I felt I needed to. 

It was the first time I had to think about how much of my children’s privacy I should “invade,” not only to guide him through life but to also protect them in this modern technology driven age. On the flip side of that, I also had to decide how much of my children’s privacy I should respect.

Since then, I’ve made some intentional decisions and commitments towards establishing boundaries in the protection of my child’s privacy.  Of course, these decisions are dynamic. Modifications will be made as I grow as a parent and my child grows in maturity. 

Boundaries Are Best Established in Relationship

 boundaries, cellphones, family, internet, journals, kids' privacy, parents going through kids' rooms, privacy, relationships, rules about cellphones, rules about computer use, screen time, secrets, technologyIn my work as a minister, I see what can go wrong when relationships are out of whack. As a result, healthy familial relationships are a priority. And, the first building block in any relationship is trust. Building trust with my child through communication, active responsiveness and following through will create the sort of environment where my child can feel safe in bringing any concerns to my attention. It’s only when my child trusts me that I stand a chance of creating boundaries around his or her privacy while keeping them safe from outside negative (or abusive) exposures. 

Technology is a Blessing and a Curse

It is unrealistic to expect my child will not engage with technology, but boundaries can help guide that usage. 

  • My children will not be given a cell phone until the time is right; maybe that will be 13 years boundaries, cellphones, family, internet, journals, kids' privacy, parents going through kids' rooms, privacy, relationships, rules about cellphones, rules about computer use, screen time, secrets, technology old or maybe that will be 16. Or, maybe I’ll change my mind as they get older, but I think parental discretion is absolutely necessary.
  • Phones will be monitored with a GPS tracking app. Of course, kids will somehow work around this, but I’ve talked to other parents who have had success with this sort of app. I’m of the mindset that if I can trust my child with a cell phone, they should be able to accept the fact that I will be able to know where they are. 
  • No cell phones in bedrooms. Period. We have the same rule for TVs. 
  • Parent’s have full access to the phone at all times (including text messages).
  • Consequences will be established.  
  • Computers will be used in common spaces only.

For some parents, these may seem strict, but children/teenagers are far too susceptible to manipulation. It’s not that I don’t trust my kids…I don’t trust those who may want to take advantage of my kids – including their peers. 

Social Media

Like technology, social media is a blessing and a curse. In terms of social media:

  • Accounts will be private – no friending or allowing followers they don’t know.
  • Parents will have passwords and full access to accounts.
  • In terms of photos, I hope, as a family, we’ll have conversations about what it means to present ourselves to the world in a meaningful way. To us, that means pictures that are not self-aggrandizing or sexual in nature, but rather represent us as we truly are.

And Personal Spaces

 boundaries, cellphones, family, internet, journals, kids' privacy, parents going through kids' rooms, privacy, relationships, rules about cellphones, rules about computer use, screen time, secrets, technologyAny space is up for grabs for a parent to investigate, but I hate the idea of looking through my children’s rooms or going through their stuff.  My parents NEVER went through my room and always respected my privacy; however, I don’t think that’s possible in this day and age. We live in a culture of relative secrecy where we can create a false appearance of open honesty (think social media) while harboring a very different reality. Kids easily catch on to this and can live a secret life without parents being aware. Hopefully, our home will always be a safe place for my kids to be their real selves.

One exception is a diary or a journal. That’s one space that will be off-limits to parents unless there is an indication of self-harm or harm to others.

Of course, perfection is not my claim, and I certainly don’t have all the answers.  This is all preparatory, as I’m a few years away from having to face these issues head on. How about you more experienced parents? What sort of boundaries have you established to protect your child, but also allow for their privacy?

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3 Responses to The Note That Opened My Eyes: My Children and Privacy in the Modern Age

  1. Jen May 22, 2017 at 11:05 pm #

    I love this! As a mom to 17, 16 & 11 year old, I agree on most counts. I will say that we started our oldest on “dumb phones” once they were being dropped off at friend’s houses or staying at after school activities (for us that was 7th grade). Smart phones came in high school, and were purchased by the kids.
    Once we started with social media, their accounts were on my phone only and ONLY I had the password. Once we established some trust and I was aware of what was being posted, they were allowed the app on their device. They have their own passwords, but I have them all.
    Phones were turned it at night up until recently. My job as a mom is to train them for the future, so when they leave home, i want them to have already learned how to self-regulate their phone usage. (I’ve got one turning 18 in two months, so keep in mind, I’m close to the end!)
    A couple things that I’ve had trouble navigating are friends with smart phones…I never felt right about taking up another child’s phone for the night, if their parents don’t. Their parent wants their child to have a phone for a reason, just like I’d want my kid to be able to contact me while at a friend’s house at 2am. But that also put my kids in some weird late night video-chats I would have preferred not to have happened.
    Also…texts & nearly everything can be deleted. Reading texts is absolutely useless, because of the ease of editing. Don’t rely on reading texts to check up on your kids.
    Number one, build & keep a good relationship with your kids. They are going to screw up & do stupid things. They WILL make poor decisions. I tell my kids that I won’t judge them for their mistakes, but I just need them to be up front & honest with me about them. So far, so good.
    Secondly, i firmly believe that the late start to social media is a huge reason my kids are trustworthy & making good decisions. The more time you can give them to know themselves & what they believe in, the better. But with that said, their generation is very connected via social media, so denying it altogether is denying an opportunity to teach & train your child for the world they face!

  2. Mell May 26, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    I have a new baby and social media use is already a hot topic. I’d love to hear how other families manage their baby’s online presence. Being totally off isn’t an option for us, but I’m not comfortable with an anything goes approach. I feel like it is my job to protect his online presence until he is responsible enough to manage it on his own. Any suggestions?

  3. Elizabeth June 20, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    We have given our 14 year old daughter an old iPhone without a line. It still has internet access and wifi, so she can begin using social media. I love that she feels like she has some more independence and can communicate with her peers. I love the fact that I have access to her social networking accounts and can monitor her posts. This has brought up some wonderful conversations. Some that i did not know we needed to have until the subjects came up. I love that I can take the phone away to give her time to reflect on her actions and behavior as needed without paying for a cellphone contract that isn’t being used. There are some downsides, she still doesn’t have a working phone to call me if she needs too, but she is never alone. There is always a friend who has a cellphone she can borrow to get ahold of me. Another disadvantage is I don’t think it has a gps, because she does not have internet access all of the time, but so far she has not wandered very far. Only 5 blocks away to grandmas and grandpas house. I guess what I’m trying to say is eventually we will help our daughter purchase a phone contract when we feel she is responsible enough to have one. I think that each parent needs to do what they feels is best for their child. I don’t feel pressured to keep up with the “Jones.”