Scenario: Your 13-year-old daughter comes home from school, runs crying up to her bedroom with cell phone in hand.
- Go up and talk to your daughter but don’t ask to see the message on the phone.
- Demand to see the messages on the phone.
- Go back to making dinner and pretend nothing happened.
Happily for me, I’m still years away from having to make that decision. My oldest is only 6, and he does not have cell phone or even Internet connectivity.
But eventually, I, like many parents, will face unhappy technology scenarios and subsequent “values” decisions. The key question in my mind: how intrusive of privacy should parents be when it comes to technology?
Consider the latest social/legal conundrum facing authorities and parents in Greensburg, Pa. There, three teenage girls sent nude photos of themselves via cell phone to teenage boys, reports The New York Times.
The girls were charged with disseminating child pornography, while the boys were charged with possessing child pornography. Apparently, about 20 percent of teens send nude photos of themselves, reports the Times.
Some kids are coerced, while other send willingly. Either way, parents are often unaware of the behavior, reports the Times.
Experts worry that electronic messaging is a gateway for future abusers:
“Controlling behavior, unwarranted behavior, behavior where you say ‘no more’ and then there’s a continuation of that behavior, can easily turn into abuse,” said Esta Soler, the president of the (Family Violence Prevention Fund), which is supported by government agencies like the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, and corporations like Verizon.
Schools and parents have become somewhat aware of electronic bullying because of widely publicized cases like that of Megan Meier, the Missouri teenager who committed suicide after being taunted on MySpace. But Ms. Soler said abuse within teenage romantic relationships, particularly through digital mediums, was “a huge and basically unaddressed problem in this country.”
So does parent responsibility trump your child’s right to privacy? I realize that opinions on this matter run the full gamut and I don’t see a one-size fits all solution.
- At what age should parents stop monitoring a child’s email and browsing habits?
- Boys will be boys. Sooner or later, I can imagine a hormone-loaded teenager asking for his girlfriend’s nude photos. If checking your child’s email might keep him or her out of legal trouble, does that make invading their privacy justified?
- If a parent does find a boy requesting naked photos from your daughter, how would you handle it?
- Did the authorities in Pennsylvania, who charged the girls and boys for exchanging photos, do the right thing or go too far?
- How would you handle electronic bullying of your child?
For myself, I expect the answer will flow from how my relationship evolves with my children. I want my kids to think for themselves and feel that my wife and me, trust them.
At the same time, I’ve learned all to well over the years how powerful predatory adults and teens can be. Can I afford not to spy on my daughter’s digital communications? And if I do, will that make her more secretive and prone to disobey in stealth?
Boy, I’m sure glad I have a few more years before facing this one.