Spying or Parenting? How Much CAN You Check Up On Your Kids–And How?

CNN posted an article today asking if it’s OK to “spy” on your kids’ texts and posts to social media.

Photo via Shutterstock.com Used with permission

Photo via Shutterstock.com Used with permission

I’ve heard this question before and it always strikes me as odd.  Generally speaking, I agree with the parent in the article who said, “It isn’t spying.  It’s parenting.”  But more than that, I think that we need to cultivate the kind of relationships in our families that make talking about and sharing our lives a natural thing.  As a parent, why would I assume that my kid–even my teen–didn’t want to share something with me?  Why would I assume that was “normal.”  Open communication is the primary sign of a healthy relationship–ANY healthy relationship, including the relationship between parents and children.  If your kids are not telling you things, then that, dear reader, is a problem that needs to be solved.

When Needing Space is Normal

Granted, everyone needs time to process certain things on their own.  Sometimes we’re not immediately ready to talk about everything that happens to us.  That’s fine.  But even that should be dealt with openly.  “I’m having a hard time with this situation at school, but I just need some time to think it through before we talk about it.” is a perfectly reasonable thing for a kid to say, but it still ought to be said.  That’s how people in healthy relationships talk about healthy boundaries.

Returning to the article.  I do think parents need to know their kids passwords and should feel free to read texts and posts to social media.  But that’s not enough.  If you don’t have the kind of relationship with your kids that makes talking about what they’re texting, to whom they’re texting, and what’s happening on Facebook seem like a perfectly natural thing, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Parents:  Exercise Rights–But Build Relationships

The upshot?  Parents have the right to know what their kids are talking about and to whom they are talking.  Parents shouldn’t feel bashful about expecting to know their kids passwords and exercising the right to read texts and social media posts–or listen in on conversations on the rare occasions their teens actually deign talk to other people.  But parents shouldn’t think that this is enough.  If your kids aren’t coming to you to share what they texted or posted with their friends.  If you are having to make a special effort to find out for yourself what your kids are doing on digital and social media.  Especially if you feel that reading your kids’ texts or posts is “spying”  then Houston, we have a problem.   Secretiveness and withholding is not the sign of a healthy, normal relationship between any group of people–not even parents and children.  If your kids aren’t sharing what they’re texting and posting (or responding well to casual questions from you) as a natural part of their conversations with you about what’s going on in their lives, then that is a sign that something has caused a breakdown in trust.  Perhaps you need to work on your reactions to what they share.  Perhaps you need to adopt a more helpful attitude toward their needs and concerns.  Perhaps they need to be encouraged that it is good and healthy to open up.  Or perhaps there is some other issue.  But there is an issue and it needs to be addressed.

In Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote that parents need to, “lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self, and they cultivate in them respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live life as a gift.”  Smart parents expect open communication and do everything they can to facilitate generous sharing within the family with both what happens in the real world and the digital world.

For more help creating greater openness and connection with your kids check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids!