Teens and Privacy

Parent Q&A

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  • Do/Would you read your child's texts?

    (12 replies)

    I recently had a huge to-do with my family about reading our kids' texts. They have flip phone only so no instagram, etc. They text, of course. I have always maintained that children have no right to expect privacy and that parents have a responsibility to know what is going on in their lives whether kids decide to talk or not. My daughter (13) still shares all, but my son (15) is silent about anything but what's on UTube today. He usually deletes his texts anyway, but once in a while he leaves his phone unattended by accident. They are both good kids with OK grades and no serious drama. They and my husband feel strongly that reading texts breaks trust and makes them less likely to open up. They think texts should only be read if there are "warning signs" that something is going on that needs adult intervention. I think that is often too late.

    What do you think?

    As a parent of 2 in middle school and high school, I absolutely believe it is necessary for parents to check their kids things. There are so many things that they are probably not saying  that they are experiencing in their lives and at school. I don't think being a good kid has anything to do with knowing and understanding and possibly needing to address some issues or concerns that may arise. When we gave our kids their phones and anything that we give them for that matter it is with the expected belief that your things could be gone through. There are so many things being presented to our kids that to them may seem harmless and no big deal and yet it is. I don't advocate going thorough their items constantly but as a parent I believe sometimes it's necessary. I'm curious as to why your son is deleteing his texts if he is just communicating with his friends innocently .. Anyhow.. my two cents

    I think that maintaining good communications with your child requires that they trust you. 15 year olds are often taciturn; that is not a reason to snoop. Neither I nor my spouse ever, nor would we ever, read our child's texts, diary, etc. I felt she was entitled to privacy, and I she has often told us that our trust was a major factor in her willingness to talk to us as an adolescent (she just turned 21). I also felt that if I read her texts I was invading the privacy of the people with whom she was texting. One may feel that their child does not have an expectation of privacy, but does that extend to anyone they know, whether or not those persons are minors? (And before responding that you have the right to know with whom your child is communicating, I note that this does not address the question of the privacy of others.)

    Teens (including 13s) are entitled to privacy, unless there is a real reason to believe something life threatening is going on. I understand the impulse to want to know everything (especially with taciturn boys), but your job as a parent of teens is to support them becoming independent, self sufficient adults. I believe you will have a closer relationship with those adults if you don't pry so much now and invade their space that they are dying to make the break. Spend time with your kids doing things they want to do with you. You might find your son shares more spontaneously when you don't try to force it. Especially, in the car where he's sitting next to you rather than facing you - try it.

    Behind all privacy discussions are the question of whether the person had an expectation of privacy. My position on reading kids' text is that it reinforces the idea that no one should ever text anything that they wouldn't want their parents, teachers, or ??? to read. Filtering their on-line engagement through this prism will protect them. So, while I rarely read my kids' social media accounts (several adults are friends on Instagram and would inform me if they saw anything troubling) or phones, it is my official position that I can. If I gave them any reason to believe that their accounts or phones were personal, then they would have a reason to object. There is too much potentially harmful on-line and on phones for me to be completely hands-off. If they want absolute privacy, I'll get them a journal. I mention stories or news articles about adults having problems with things that they shared digitally with an expectation of privacy as well as those about young people having problems arising from social media, screenshots of private communications, etc. I grant you, this is a lower standard than believing I have a right/responsibility to know what's going on in their lives -- I'm sure there's plenty I don't know -- and most of what I know is because they tell me or I figure it out the way parents have for generations, because kids aren't as discrete as they think they are. 

    Wow. Expecting to read all their texts to friends? I've always been a pretty tuff mom, but that seems to go way too far in my opinion. That is their private space. But...I they leave their phone unattended and you happen to see a text now and then......that's fine in my opinion.

    I worked as a teacher with a male teacher who was caught in an FBI sting luring teenage girls to motels for sex. Parents need to always know what’s going on. You have to be aware. 

    No, I would not read my child's texts because I believe as they're approaching adulthood, they deserve to have some control over their lives. When I was in high school oh so long ago, before the internet, my boyfriend at the time would write me snail mail letters and my Dad would open them up and read them. It was a huge invasion of privacy and he used a similar excuse you are using, that as the adult he can do as he pleased. I had to tell my bf at the time to let me know ahead of time if he wrote me something and then for the next couple of days I would be vigilant and keep an eye out for the mailman so I can snag my letter first. By reading his texts without permission, you cultivate resentment and distrust. 

    In our family we tell our kids that we will periodically review texts, etc. and we do, although I plan to taper this off as they get older.  We want our kids to develop a sense of the non-private character of texts/emails/posts.  All it takes is a forward and everyone will see it, so it's really not private.  We encourage them to use phone calls/facetime/face-to-face conversations and journaling for true privacy and we don't invade their privacy in those spaces.  The bottom line is, nothing on the internet is really private, and they might as well learn that as early as possible.  Just read the news if you want proof.

    I think it is fine to read their texts as long as you are honest about it. Just tell them that you read them. And then it is up to them to monitor what they and their friends text.

    It is only an invasion of privacy if they expect that it is a private space. 

    Yes, read your child's text messages, especially if you have a child you are concerned about.  My oldest daughter was a difficult and somewhat wild kid, that was before cell phones but I read her diary.  I didn't scold her for what I read but it helped me to direct my conversations with her to help her through what she was going through.  When I read, she had sex,  I took her to Kaiser and put her on birth control immediately.   I would never tell a kid that I was doing this because what benefit would there be.   This is not an invasion of privacy, it's good parenting!!!!!  Also,  know their friends.  I often got information about my daughter through her friends.  I never disclosed to her that her friends told me but it helped me to guide her.  She is a 32 year old successful woman.  She has expressed to me that all that I did was necessary and she's grateful I stayed on top of her.

    If there is an atmosphere of general trust and good faith behavior, such that no one has any reason to hide anything, then it seems like it would not be an issue and they wouldn't care if you read their messages. However, if they know you are reading their messages and have reason to want to hide the activity, they will do everything they can to conceal and cover their tracks. It all depends on the kid. When my kids got computers and phones, we told them that as parents we had the right to total access.  Even so, they changed passwords and concealed their activities and were angry when we wanted to exercise some level of access.  Both kids were definitely engaging in questionable behaviors (my daughter sending and receiving nude photos and my son accessing porn or downloading first person shooter apps, explicit music, etc).  I tried implementing rules and limits, and wanted to use parental controls, but in those days, they didn't exist or were difficult to manage. My son figured out how to highjack and bypass them all.  My husband decided he didn't want to deal with monitoring and thought we should be more "trusting", even with evidence that there was reason not to trust. I eventually gave up and decided that if something bad happened, they would have hard lessons to learn. One summer when my daughter was 18, I was aware of some of her activities because I saw mirrored text messages coming through on an iPad. I never revealed this to her because I didn't want her to lie to me and then make changes so that I would lose access to the information.  I figured it was better to know something than nothing and then find ways to bring up cautionary discussions in general ways so as to impart some parental advice.  Over the years, I have read some of their diaries, which my husband is adamantly against.  While I am not proud of doing this, there is a very strong draw to do it because of my desire to know and understand what is going on in their lives, how they are feeling in ways that they would never tell me.  And as long as what they are writing about is not life threatening or seriously dangerous, I will not act on the information.  It would have been nice if we could had developed better communication when they were younger - would their behavior been different?  If their behavior had been the same, I am not sure they would have shared more.  I really struggled with how to have a good communicative relationship with them and be an authoritative parent who set limits for strong willed adolescents.  When I was a teen in the '70s, I lied to my parents about what I was doing, because I knew they would have freaked out, never accepted my feelings or desires. When my parents did learn of certain behaviors they objected to, their authoritarian approach created a bigger chasm in the relationship.  Parenting is difficult, personal histories, family relationships and dynamics are complicated, and everyone is different.  You do the best you can with the skills and tools you have, given the unique situation. Is it naive to believe that modern cultural attitudes and technology seem to have made parenting more difficult?

    I don't read my daughter texts (16 years old) but she talks a lot (although, I am sure, not about everything...) and I know her closest friends who are good kids.  I would do though if I feel I need to (doubts about her putting herself in danger) but I would never claim it as I right. I would not tell her if I had to read her texts and I would use the info otherwise. 

    Good luck! Parenting 2 teenagers is not easy...

  • Discovered a fake ID in son's wallet

    (9 replies)

    I'm wondering how people have handled high school kids getting fake id. I find myself in the horns of a dilemma because, for no reason, I looked in my son's wallet and saw that he had a fake id tucked in behind his driver's license. My partner and i have been discussing how to handle this (and he checked computer browser history and found a series of searches for things related and a big cash withdrawal from his bank account which normally barely gets touched), and he decided to basically offer amnesty and not accuse our son directly or make him feel the need to lie. He told him all the reasons we were upset about hearing word that lots of kids have fake id's and that if he had one he could give it over to us, no questions asked, but that if we found out from others that he had one, we were taking his real driver's license, not giving him access to our cars, and taking him off insurance. Total backfire in that the son has not given them to us and is basically calling our bluff. Part of the dilemma is the privacy issue of looking in his wallet, the browser etc, but I am of the mind that he's in our household and unless it is a private journal, things like a wallet are fair game. I assume that just about all high school seniors with the means are doing this, it's so easy to get them online and with cash (and apparently, they often send 2 for the price so that if one gets confiscated there's a backup) but I'm hesitant to bring it up with his friends parents for fear that it gets back to my son that I was stirring things up. Any thoughts about this?

    My parents found my fake ID when I was a senior and just took it. When I looked in my hiding spot and saw it was gone I knew I was busted. I did not think "oh, my parents invaded my privacy" I thought... "uh oh... I'm in so much trouble." I walked around with my tail between my legs for a few days while they let me suffer without saying a word. Then I was grounded from using the car for a while and from going out with my friends. I could only go to and from school and work. 2 things were accomplished... I realized I was still being parented at the age of 17 which is a good thing. And then I got better at hiding my illicit materials. Of course this was the 1980's... but its also the kind of parent I am now in the 2000's. 

    Oh Boy. I remember those days. Meaning- I remember when I had my own fake ID.

    How you handle it really depends on your kid. You mentioned that he's calling your bluff, which to me means you need to follow through on your threats. Privacy is not an issue when he's living in your house, and it's hard because at this age our kids are making their own decisions in a lot of ways. You didn't mention his age. One thing for him to think about is if he's 17 and he's caught, say on a Friday night, he could go to Juvenile Hall, and they don't need to let you see your son. He could be there all weekend without access to a lawyer or you. If he's 18 then he can be arrested and booked, and it will be on his record. Ultimately if he's drinking and driving (or with someone else who is) they are a threat to their community. These are things I wish my parents had spoken with me about. I would also be concerned about the large cash withdrawal. How is he doing overall? Does he have goals? Stay focused? Get good grades? Challenge himself? A fake ID with a respectful and hardworking kid is one thing; failing and dropping out is another. I would look at the big picture and have an honest discussion with your son. He is, or is soon to be, an adult. Best of Luck.

    I'd leave it alone. Your son is a high school senior; he is probably only going to be around for a few more months before leaving for college, and if you confiscate his fake ID he'll just get another one (and do a better job of hiding it from you, especially since you will have demonstrated how little you respect his privacy). If you take his drivers' license you are potentially putting him in danger should a situation arise in which his operating a car means not riding with a drunk driver, or dealing with a life-threatening situation. If you don't want him operating your family vehicles then deny his access and take him off your insurance, but consider attaching that consequence to a situation in which he is driving under the influence or otherwise operating the car in an unsafe or illegal manner. Having a fake ID doesn't mean he is using the car in a dangerous way and I'm not sure what is to be gained by treating this as a cause/ effect situation.

    Also consider the number of venues that are over-21 because they serve alcohol, but that offer shows that are not age-specific. Perhaps your son simply wants access to concerts or shows that would otherwise be unavailable to him. And while it is, of course, more likely that he got the fake ID so he could drink, examine your feelings about this - do you not want him to drink because it is illegal, or for other reasons? (Personally, I find it bizarre that we allow teens to drive at 16 but not drink until 21; this seems really backwards to me.)

    Our (19 year old) daughter's best friend is coming to visit from France over winter break. They do not have a minimum drinking age, though one must be 18 to purchase alcohol. I've told my daughter to remind her friend that she won't be legal to drink while visiting us. It strikes me as absurd that my daughter and her friend are seen as responsible enough to drink in the friend's country, but not here. I would certainly understand if they decided to get fake IDs, and I definitely won't be asking questions about it.

    Finally, you didn't ask but I must say that I am always puzzled by the parents who have invaded their children's privacy, learned something they didn't want to know, and then don't know what to do about it. I say this because you first acknowledge that you were snooping, then by the end of your query suggest that anything other than a journal is fair game. I would suggest that you need to lay out some clear parameters about privacy in your household.

    I have to admit I chuckled a little reading your post, because our kids sure know how to keep us honest. A friend said to me once, "being a parent is all about eating crow." This is a good example, and I totally empathize. We have to be smart and honest and on our game all the damn time, and one off day, we are left holding all the crow.

    So, your son called your bluff, and left you in a tough position. I am of the thinking that you have to be direct and honest. It seems to me that you should talk to him directly about the fake ID, telling him your concerns and asking for an explanation, and in order to do so, you are going to have to eat some crow. If you believe that looking in his wallet is part of your right as a parent, then you have be straight with him about that. "I looked in your wallet and saw your fake ID." And expect blow back, as--if he is like my teen--he will be incensed and argumentative. Stick with your guns: if you believe that taking care of him means knowing what he is doing, hold that line. Yes, it sucks feeling like you have no privacy, but that's how it goes while he is in your care (as you suggested in your post).

    I don't think you should talk with his friends' parents, I think you should talk to him. You want him to be honest and direct, you have to be too. You said your partner did not want your son to have to lie, so you decided to lie to him. Down that road is only more deceit, or confusion, or mistrust, or misunderstanding, or other things that lead not to resolution and trust.

    Talking to him now about the ID also means admitting you lied ("we knew you had a fake ID and were dishonest about it, hoping you would confess. That was a mistake" ... good lesson for him, parents make mistakes) and dealing with your threat (whether you really want to take his license and revoke his insurance).

    I don't know what the appropriate response or consequence will be, but I don't think you can figure that out until you talk with him openly. Maybe you give a big consequence like revoking the license, maybe you take it away for a limited time with some conditions, maybe you call amnesty since you all were deceitful too. You will know better once you talk with him. One thing that sometimes works in our house: ask him what he thinks the consequence should be. It is surprising how often teens come up with a good one, rather than just letting themselves off the hook, as you might expect.

    Just talk to him about the whole thing. Then go back to reading BPN so you can feel good about the other bullets you've dodged.

    -- Your compatriot in the mine field

    I feel for you because this is not any easy issue for any parent, and I can't say I have an answer for you. You didn't say how old he is, and if he's under 18 years old.  Last summer I was able to read my 18 yr old daughter's (HS graduate) text messages through an iPad that has the text app that shows everything that she is texting on her phone. Lots of party planning and seems that she and many of her friends had fake IDs. I don't know if they are using it to purchase alcohol or just to go to bars.  Regarding confronting him about finding it, guess it depends on your parental philosophy. You don't have to say you looked in the wallet, and if he is under 18 and you would normally have access to the bank statement, you could inquire what the money was spent on. I have no special insight, but I think that especially for older teens, if you confront them and threaten action, the result is a break down of communication and they will lie to do what they can to get away and it drives you apart.  That was my own experience as a risk taking teen 40 years ago with my own parents.  I never confronted my daughter specifically about the fake ID or other things I read about on the text messages.  Instead every time she was headed out the door, I chose to have conversations about drinking, pot smoking, designated drivers, and the risks (even if you are a designated driver, if you got stopped, someone might be sick and then standing by the road when the cop pulls over to find out if everything is ok), , her personal responsibility, and the possible outcomes of making stupid decisions that would affect her future. Of course, if something actually happened, there would be consequences, both natural and imposed.  Also, when my daughter was still applying to colleges and wanted to go to some senior parties, I did mention the risk of colleges withdrawing their acceptances if she were arrested for underage drinking.  At least if the communication is open, I can get a better sense of how good her judgement is, and while I would prefer there was no alcohol or use of fake IDs, at least she is somewhat open.  Regarding other parents, maybe you could have a conversation as a theoretical of "I have heard some kids are doing this" to see what they say. Good luck.

    I would confront him about it, as well as tell your parent friends. I strongly respect teen privacy, and faced a difficult decision about searchin my son's room (16 at the time),  and to let him know that I did it and why. With fake IDs, teens don't realize how much trouble they can get into. Sure, not everyone get's caught, but many do, and the penalties are stiff. Check this site: https://www.abc.ca.gov/teencorner.html

    In a nutshell, possibilities include stiff fines, community service, drivers license suspension if there is a car involved and any license is consumed (a major insurance headache in addition to the suspension). And if you use, or even intend to use the ID, there are potential felony charges: http://www.shouselaw.com/driverslicense-fraud.html 

    I don't think many teens understand this, and I think this is a time when attempting to set limits outweighs privacy. 

    Good luck with your decision.

    Well, you made the threat (and good for you), now you have to carry through with it.  Call his bluff right back, and take away the fake ID, the drivers license and the car.  Fake IDs are illegal for a reason.  He won't be happy about it, but as long as he lives in your house and on your dime, you have the right and responsibility to monitor his activities and possessions, especially illegal ones.

    I can't remember exactly why we did what we did when we found our now 20yo had a fake id, when he was a senior, but we did not take it away. Or actually I think I took it and then later gave it back. I'm kind of surprised at myself but it's worked out fine. I guess I thought it wouldn't work as an id, that he wouldn't be able to drink with it but it turned out that he did use it a few times. He told us about using it, to go to a club somewhere and to buy beer to celebrate a sports win. Anyway he's been a responsible kid who doesn't drink much or get into trouble. I have the kind of relationship where I would just say hey I saw you have a fake id, what are you going to use it for? He would get mad about the spying and I would say well but you did something you weren't supposed to do and here's a big lecture about drinking and driving, and drinking and sex, and why drinking is bad. I'm sure I'm wrong and you should take it away and ground them and so on but I didn't and he'll be 21 soon, knock wood so far so good. So just writing to say that raising teens is a lot of guesswork and luck, but staying connected seems to have worked well. Good luck, you should probably take it away...

    ???? It is a criminal act, so yeah, I'd take away his real license AND car privileges AND allowance AND tell his friends' parents to check their kids' wallets and browsers too! No debate, and if my husband had a different idea about how to handle it, and implemented his way without talking to me first, then I'd have a problem with him TOO!  Look up what the fine is for having a fake ID, charge him that out of his savings, and then whatever the time element of the criminal penalty is, implement that at home with grounding/no allowance/whatever for that period of time.

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Hi, My ten and a half year old daughter started her period a few months ago. She has some breast development and body hair. She refuses to discuss wearing a bra, doesn't want me to talk to her AT ALL about her periods, and won't let me wash her hair/be in the room when she changes clothing, etc.

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Teen's Privacy vs. What I Need to Know

May 2004

Re: What are these tiny baggies I found in my son's bag?

This newsletter is more helpful than anything out there to us parents raising teens! I learn things that I otherwise wouldn't know or even want to know about and feel better prepared to deal with them or avoid them. This is the same approach I take to finding out about my kid's life, issue or potential problems. I actively seek out information that I might not want to know even if it means snooping. Yes I will even read my daughter's IM messages and interestingly enough even though I often confront her about her messages ( ''I was high on double dose of Midol cramps medicine today'') she continually leaves those IMs on the open computer screen as if she wants me to read them. Others might dissagree but I feel it is my responsibility to know what my kids have under their beds or in their closets or in their computers. If the parents of those two Columbine boys snooped around their closets maybe they wouldn't be able to stockpile their weapons and kills so many innocent kids. Maybe by finding marijuana baggies one can prevent a kid to become a dealer or a user or save a girl's life by discovering she is taking large doses of Tylenol. Better safe than sorry, better a snoop than a naive, clueless parent. Snooping Mom

In response to the email from Rebecca to the mom who found suspicious baggies in her son's backpack while he is far away at college: I disagree. I feel that when our children go away to college, the boundaries around these possessions change a bit. THis young man is far away at college. He is an adult. He has moved out, and does not live there now. It is not the same. He is only using this room to store stuff. Many parents redo and reuse their kids' rooms and things when they are away. That's the least parents can do when they are paying for their college. If this was something intimate and personal, he would have taken it with him. It is not snooping, it's seeing what has been left in your house and using what is sitting there unused. Their rooms and their stuff are not shrines when they leave. Anonymous