A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that the vast majority of parents in the United States are very concerned with the what their children do online and how their behavior could be monitored by others through web history, social media activity, phone calls and even text messages of their kids (source).
Should parents check their child’s phone? Yes, parents should check their child’s phone use and monitor their internet activity. Above all else, it is the fundamental duty of any responsible parents to protect their children from potential harm. In today’s world checking a child’s phone is a massive part of that responsibility. The research on this topic continues to tell us this is true.
Why Should Parents Track Their Children’s Phone Use
The vast majority of people advocating for the monitoring of children’s technology use (mostly phones) are those who would have been involved in the combating of Internet crimes or those who were involved in significant technological innovations themselves.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are well-known advocates for parental monitoring of technology used by children.
The reality is that an overwhelming amount of time that children spend on their mobile phones is in fact online, so addressing the subject in its entirety from this point on makes total sense.
The online behavior of your children and the monitoring thereof is what we need to evaluate here.
Among the many who have investigated this matter at length is Detective Richard Wistocki, a man who has dealt with Internet crimes for more than two decades (source).
He, along with others, is of the contention that parents should not trust their children to be able to manage online threats.
He does not think your children’s technology use should be trusted either. That might prove to be a matter for debate among psychologists and social workers.
However, parents owe it to themselves to at the very least examine the merits of the arguments that he makes.
Chief among those arguments is that all parents are responsible for their children, whether they like to hear it or not.
A parent’s most important responsibility is ensuring the safety of the child.
There is the distinct possibility that if you are not the one monitoring your child’s online behavior – whether that be on instagram, twitter, Facebook, youtube or snapchat – somebody else with sinister motives could be.
Children are curious and it is not always easy for them to assess pending danger until it is too late.
Most parents might be ill-equipped to detect that kind of danger too because they never grew up with that technology but they are at the very least in a better position to make a meaningful assessment of potentially shady characters.
During many of his talks, Wistocki regularly explains that the average Internet predator has more than 200 victims in their lifetime.
He argues that this alone should be sufficient reason for parents to have a proper handle on what it is that their children are doing online.
He also contends that if those predators are exploiting your children, they are doing it to dozens more at the very same time. They have no limits.
So, suddenly that conversation evolves from just being a subject about two parents and their children to being about dozens of parents and their children.
Sometimes, all it takes is one vigilant parent intervening to protect the lives of many other children.
In his experience, so many of these dangers are presented while children are in their bedrooms, seemingly quiet and at night.
Parents take for granted that their children are asleep but for all we know – such is the addiction to technology in the 21st century – children are busy in the multitude of chat platforms that are available online.
A practical example of what can go horribly wrong during these late night typing sessions on the mobile phone could be that of a child who played a form of “truth or dare” in one of those chat rooms under some form of peer pressure.
Peer pressure is a reality, especially for children in their teens.
For whatever reason, your child then decides to do something foolish that is recorded by other members of that group.
That moment then becomes a source of embarrassment, and might always be available somewhere online.
That event – which could make your child’s life much more difficult – remains a secret from the parent because children are not always adequately equipped to deal with the potential shame and disappointment that will linger over that conversation were it to be had with a parent.
It then becomes a vicious cycle that is very difficult to snap.
More often than not, that happens because the parents were too trusting and the children were too embarrassed to disclose what was clearly a safety concern.
Neither party is being completely honest and transparent about the likely risks of spending so much time online.
Many will argue that the best way to avoid this kind of online danger is to prevent it and monitoring your child’s online behavior is a credible way of realizing that objective.
A study conducted by Susan M. Solecki of Drexel University actually expands on the threats that online predators pose.
Solecki’s research reveals that increased media exposure also increases the potential for harm in children (source).
Citing the American Academy of Pediatrics, Solecki determines that it is in everybody’s best interests to educate parents on how to monitor and limit the mobile phone usage of their children (source).
She explains that it is about protection. The biggest danger seems to be that parents themselves simply aren’t adequately equipped to protect their children from the predators circling online.
She says they generally do not have a sufficient understanding of the risks posed, adding that they also don’t have the technical grasp required to mitigate the risks posed online.
Trusting your child just isn’t enough.
Privacy And Healthy Boundaries – Consequences For Snooping On Your Teens
Before we can determine the severity of the consequences – if any – that come with the territory when snooping on your child, it is important for parents and their children to wrap their heads around what snooping actually is.
Snooping, in this context, is essentially the monitoring of your child’s online and phone behavior without telling them that you are monitoring them.
If a parent is snooping, the activity is already a clandestine operation.
That in itself creates a trust deficit between the child and the parent that could prove difficult to erase.
I acknowledge that there are those among us who do not feel like they need any form of permission to protect their children. I am one of those parents. I believe It is exceedingly difficult to argue against that logic.
However, I also believe that puts the responsibility to be transparent with my kids on me.
I tell them up front. I don’t tell them every little thing I do, but I do tell them there are things I need to be aware of to protect them. I don’t ask. I tell them.
Kindly. Gently. Firmly.
I also make myself aware of the other side of this discussion because I want to be a well-informed parent.
You should be well-informed too. From there you can make your own decision about what is best for your family.
Psychologist Lisa Damour, during a recent speaking engagement, told Americans that there was compelling evidence to suggest that snooping had an adverse effect on the relationship between parent and child.
This is your classic case of weighing up the pros against the cons (source).
Something that parents need to always be cognizant of is the fact that teenagers will want privacy – and that would be in isolation.
Some children want that privacy because they are involved in some or other nefarious activities and we accept that.
However, the experts believe that most teenagers – because of the phase they are in at a particular phase of their human development – want privacy for the sake of privacy. It is both a right and to some degree, it is an expectation.
There is a commonly held view that snooping on your children has a considerable amount more to do with the parent than it actually has to do with the child. It is a view which carries with it considerable merit.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with parents asking their children what they have been up to on their phones or online.
There is also nothing wrong with monitoring that activity.
Lisa Damour cites what she believes is compelling evidence that teenagers and children have no qualms about sharing information with their parents – particularly when it relates to safety.
This is obviously not always the case but children are likely to be open with their parents about various aspects of their personal lives if they are gently asked about them.
This has a considerable amount to do with that trust deficit that we spoke about.
If you believe the relationship with your child could be in a better place, check out the article I wrote on parenting techniques. It’s filled with simple ideas to connect with your child
It is important to remember that secrecy does not mean your children have been involved in some form of wrongdoing.
Snooping on your children, whether that be on their computers or their phones should not be the first tactic you use, unless you really think it is necessary.
As important as it is for parents to understand that trust is an important part of this equation, the onus is also on parents to ensure that children are clear on that message too.
Solecki’s study at Drexel explored parental monitoring of adolescent mobile phone use.
In that thesis, she concluded that about 40 percent of children reported their parents had no idea what it was they got up to on their mobile phones.
In addition to that, no clear boundaries had been set on mobile phone activity and there was seemingly little to no interest in the online safety of the children in question.
In many of those cases, the children had been exposed to some form of cyberbullying or other danger.
However, that should not be an excuse to snoop on your children. If anything, it should serve as encouragement to try and build a greater level of trust in the relationship – to the extent that you know your child understands what danger looks like and will report it to you.
In addition to this, there are legal ramifications to be taken into account.
While you might feel it okay to snoop on your child, there is every possibility that the parents of the teenager your child is communicating with on the phone (or online) will not be comfortable with your snooping.
The consequences for that could be quite tricky if the situation is not well handled.
Can A Parent Take Their Child’s Phone?
Yes, a parent can take their child’s phone.
There are no other protections out in the world that is as in tune with a child’s need than those provided by the parent.
Sometimes the government tries to put some protections in place, but they rarely come close to providing the level of quality and personalization that a parent can.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act came into effect at the turn of the century.
This particular piece of legislation deals specifically with the United States but there are countries throughout the world which have variations of it (source).
While the intentions of the legislation might be noble, shortcomings have been identified.
Among those shortcomings is the potential constitutional hazard posed by that legislation. However, the chief concern is that the legislation does not adequately protect children online.
Some sources have highlighted what they believe are loopholes that actually encourage age fraud and allow for website owners to bypass the burden of obtaining parental consent for children under the age of 13, who use their platforms.
The reality that parents are faced with here is that law enforcement simply does not have the capacity to tackle online predators alone.
At some point, parents are required to intervene. That is almost always the case actually.
If that means taking your child’s phone, then so be it.
How Parents Can Track Their Child’s Text Messages and Cell Phone Usage
The very thought of monitoring your child’s mobile phone activity – and invading his/her privacy – is daunting enough.
It is a complicated affair that could have long term consequences for everybody involved.
However, when you finally come to terms with how you will tell them that you need to monitor their online interactions, there is also the not so small matter of continually evolving technology.
This is not at all a conclusion drawn on a scientific study but it’s fair to say there is a certain age range in one’s existence when technology just becomes frightening for many people.
Parents so often find that just when they have managed to wrap their heads around a certain technological development, something else comes along which mitigates the impact of what it is that they are trying to achieve.
We are going to try and keep parents up to date with some of the best Apps available for the monitoring of your children.
1- A popular option available for parents is something called Kids Place.
The App allows parents to, among other things, schedule and limit the time a child spends using a certain App.
This takes into consideration that there are peak periods for predatory activity on mobile phones and tablets.
Parents are able to determine when those dangerous periods are and mitigate the threats posed by using a specific App.
In addition to this parents will also have control over the Apps that children are able to access.
What that means is that only parent-approved Apps are visible and accessible to the user.
It is one thing to approve certain Apps for your child’s use but making sure the child does not have access to more dangerous Apps is a whole new ball game.
That is why Kids Place also has an option to stop the download of an In-App purchase if features have not been approved by parents.
Perhaps the best part about Kids Place though, is that it also functions perfectly adequately without an Internet connection.
2- Famisafe is another popular and outstanding option for parents wishing to protect their children.
Like most Apps of this kind, Famisafe helps prevent cyberbullying from taking place, it specializes in location tracking, it also blocks undesirable Apps, it conducts some effective web filtering and most importantly it allows for certain controls on screen time.
3- Then there is the Norton Family Lifelock.
A critical feature of the Norton Family Lifelock is that it provides tools to parents which allow them to monitor what their children are doing online.
It also flags unsafe behavior, which provides the ideal platform for parent and child to start a conversation.
Like some of the other available products online, it also gives parents the appropriate tools to help keep track of their children’s movements.
The child’s location can be tracked on both Android and iOS devices.
4 – Circle offers similar services and is worth a good look.
Although these products are great tools to help parents mitigate the risks of what can happen to kids online, nothing is more powerful than the parent’s relationship with the child.
Communication is key. In order to communicate effectively, the parent should be well grounded in their philosophy about why they think monitoring their child’s internet activity is necessary.
If you want to know more about the risks kids face when online, I wrote an article on the topic here.