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Teen Privacy

by Mark Gregston

Our world has changed since we were kids.  But our fear of protecting our kids from all that’s bad in the world, is not a good enough reason for us as parents to invade our teens’ privacy. 

You can’t treat an eighteen-year-old as you do your twelve-year-old, but the reverse is true, too.  When your child is twelve, parents should be looking and monitoring everything that goes in or out from your child’s phone and social media platforms.  But as your child matures and grows, everyone needs to adopt and develop what I call the “privilege of privacy,” which I remind parents comes from this Scripture: To him who much is given, much is required

Healthy Boundaries 

From middle school through high school, you and your teen need to understand that the road to privacy is a process.  When your children are in middle school, parents should have all the passwords to their computers, phones, and other electronic devices, and they should be “friends” with their kids on social media platforms. 

The young teen’s bedroom is for sleeping, so there should be no computers or phones with them at nighttime.  Growing kids need rest and rejuvenation, and if there’s the opportunity for your child to get online, they will.  And the constant bombardment and stimulation from their phones and computers will mean that they won’t be as well-rested as they should be, and that’s definitely going to cause other problems down the road. 

Monitor the photos that your young teen posts.  We live in a sexually charged world and if your child is posting pictures of themselves on the internet that are not appropriate, you need to stop it as soon as possible.  I live in a home setting with thirty-five girls, and most of them will tell you that they started posting pictures online at a young age as a way of seeking affirmation, so nip it in the bud quickly. 

And then lastly, if you find out that your young teen has created a secret or private account, it’s important that you address the dishonesty and deceit right away because those two things destroy relationships. 

Healthy Freedoms 

For older teens, it’s important that you, as parents, mature right along with your teen.  Social media platforms should be monitored and privileges should grow as your child does.  When your teen turns sixteen, they should have the freedom to create passwords and logins to their computers and social platforms that you don’t know or have access to without their permission. 

As parents, we know that there will always be dangers of online societies, but just like the dangers that come with letting a sixteen-year-old have the keys to the family car, we can teach our kids to navigate the social media waters with finesse and skill, that shelters them from the dangers. 

Healthy Communication 

Paige, one of our students here at Heartlight, got involved with a boy in middle school who repeatedly asked her to share inappropriate photos of herself and then bullied her until she complied.  As Paige shared her story with us, she reminded me that it is important for parents to monitor their kids’ social media posts and texts, but it’s equally important that parents have an open line of communication with their kids. 

After the photos she sent the boy were leaked to the school and posted online, she became depressed and suicidal.  And it didn’t help that the photos created not only some social and relational issues that she and her family had to deal with.  The leaked photos caused some legal issues, not just for the boy, but for her as well, which put more of a strain on the relationship she had with her parents and siblings.  At the time, Paige didn’t think anyone cared about her, but looking back now, she can clearly see how her parents were supportive of her the whole time, even when she couldn’t see it. 

Now, after hearing her story, you may be inclined to tighten the reigns in your family, but it’s important to know there’s a fine balance between being protective and being controlling.  As your children age, it’s time for you, mom and dads, to know the difference.  Healthy communication between parents and children needs to age and grow, just as you and your children grow.  Being over-controlling or a helicopter parent will not create the healthy relationship you want.  It will only cause your teen to pull away and not want to talk to you. 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … Teens need privacy!  And it’s easy to give them that when they are doing everything correctly and in a respectful way.  But just because they make some mistakes along the way, doesn’t mean you have to take away their privacy!  They’re adolescents and they’re going to make some mistakes—just like we all do.  And so, it’s important that you instill a great sense of responsibility in their lives as you put in the effort to maintain an open and thriving relationship.  You must work to keep communication lines open and that’s not going to happen on its own.  And just remember, your investigating and snooping, and excessive worrying will only damage the relationship further.  But your pursuit of connecting and building bonds with your teen will eliminate your desire to snoop and pry into the privacy of your teen’s life. 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.