Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Invasion of privacy vs. good parenting

This issue is becoming more and more popular and I'm not entirely sure why.  People are arguing that it is an invasion of privacy to read texts on your kids' phones, check out their Facebook/MySpace pages, check out their call logs on the cells.  Since when?!?!  I am their parent; I provide these technological gizmos; and it's my job to help them use them in a somewhat responsible manner.  Now, I'm advocating helicopter parenting here, or sneaking around in secret reading your kids' diary, just common sense and a little parental monitoring to keep our kids safe. 

Here's how things work in my house, perhaps you'll find something that will help you decide how things will work in yours. 

CELL PHONES: I have 4 kids (ages 11-14).  These 4 kids share 2 cell phones.  When I gave them the cell phones they had unlimited texting and very limited minutes for calling.  They knew from the time I gave them the phones that at any minute I might ask to see those phones.  I do this maybe once every couple months... at completely random times.  I will simply say, "Text check time... give me your phone."  They hand over the phone and I read through the texts on there.  What I'm looking for are red flags to dangerous situations or major issues.  I'm not monitoring their language (which is usually worse than a sailor's), or making judgements on the humerous forwards they receive and send, or limiting their ability to be themselves in their texts.  If I see something that concerns me, we'll talk about it... for example, why it might not be a good idea for one of my daughters to send a majorly sexual themed forward to a bunch of boys.  I don't get mad... we just talk.  I also update their contact list for my records.  Yes, I keep a list of all their friends' numbers.  If they are ever missing, I will have a great database to look for them...  I don't use these numbers for any other reason.  My kids don't consider this an invasion of their privacy... it is simple one of the things that they have to do in order to use their phone.  I also require them to charge their phones in my room overnight and they are not allowed to take them to school without special permission.  They complain about it once in a while... "We're the only kids that don't get to have a phone in school!", or "But my friends don't start texting until after midnight!".  I can tell you, when I was in school (before cell phones) I was not allowed to use the phone after curfew or leave class to go make a phone call.  It's common sense.  They don't need 24/7 access to this technological tool.

SOCIAL NETWORKS: Then there's online social networks... Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.  I have them all myself and don't think there is anything inherently wrong with them.  There are many people (adults and kids alike) who misuse them and put themselves in danger every day.  It's my opinion that kids need to be taught how to properly use this technology for fun without putting themselves at risk before they leave the safety net of living at home.  My kids are allowed a Facebook page age 14 and (if all goes well) a MySpace page at age 16.  The rules are that I must be added as a friend immediately and I must be given the password (they are allowed to change this without telling me when they turn 18).  I check their pages in the same way I check their cell phones.  I do this right in front of them and we discuss anything that might be of concern.  For example, photos of the girls and their friends that are completely innocent (and adorable), might not be appropriate for the internet.  I teach them to view the photos they post online through the eyes of a 40-year-old pedifile.  I don't care how private you set your profile, this is just plain common sense... and yet it's something they can't really be taught anywhere else.  I caught the kids trying to start MySpace pages early and made sure the grounding was enough to deter them from trying it again.  To them, it just isn't worth the risk... especially since they know I'm periodically monitoring these sites.  But I didn't just yell and ground them.  We discussed in detail why they shouldn't be doing this and in the end, they agreed (or al least... they said they did... lol!).

CREATIVE PUNISHMENTS: My favorite "punishment" is for them to prepare for a debate against me on the issue.  In this debate, I take the kid side and they take the parental side.  In effect, they are trying to convince me (and their siblings... our audience) of why the behavior is not appropriate.  They are grounded until they win the debate.  If they do enough research and convince themselves that something is "wrong", they are much more likely not to go sneaking around to do it and they are armed with arguements to defend themselves against peer pressure.  It's a pretty effective method when dealing with difficult issues.  I also give them option to change house rules in this same way.  They let me know ahead of time and we debate the issue.  If they can convince me the rule should be changed, I will consider it. 

My ultimate job as a parent is to prepare them for the world.  How can they function in the world if I control every aspect of their life and don't let them think for themselves?  It's just not possible.  My kids will fail... they will make mistakes (some that they regret more than others)... they will stumble through obstacles they don't fully understand... and all the while, I will support them and provide a life raft for them to hold on to when the water gets a bit too choppy.  In the end, hopefully they will succeed at becoming the best version of their own individuality and live the lives they were meant to live.

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