This is a question I have been thinking about for months and I am genuinely not sure what the right answer is. I have two very different teenage sons. One is sensible and I trust that whilst he isn’t perfect, he talks to me. I think that on the whole, I can trust him to be independent without me sticking my nose into his business. My other son has just hit the teens with a vengeance and with that has come an introduction to social media. He was later starting than his brother as in all honesty, we kind of knew it would be a rocky road with him and put it off for as long as possible.
I want to be able to trust him, I really do. But I can’t.
He has no filters. He says what he thinks without any consideration for anyone’s feelings or the possible consequences. He has always been the same. So I knew that the same rules would apply on social media. Sadly I was right. He is also quite immature and doesn’t think things through. What he might see as harmless ‘banter’ could be seen quite differently by someone else or their parents.
So, I check his phone. Not all the time but every couple of days, I will check in and scan through his messages on Instagram and see what he has been saying.
He knows that I check. I am very open with him about it. I talk to him about the consequences of his comments and when I haven’t been happy with some of the things he has said, I sit him down and explain to him why.
But he doesn’t like it. He tells me that it is an invasion of his privacy and that he has rights. It is and he does but I am trying to save him from himself and at the same time, teach him that he needs to think before he posts. I regularly tell him that when I have seen an improvement in his online behaviour, I will stop. So far, that hasn’t worked, but I will keep trying.
As always, I have chatted to other parents about this and the reaction has been divided. One of my friends was utterly appalled that I was checking and totally agreed that I was invading his privacy. She likened it to reading a diary. She said that I needed to let him learn to be independent and if that meant allowing him to make wrong choices, he would learn from them. She added that my method of trying to protect him obviously wasn’t working and that how would he ever grow up if I kept ‘mollycoddling’ him.
Others agreed that I was doing the right thing checking in and monitoring the situation. They said that maybe I should just take the phone and his independence away or not allow him to continue using social media.
Another parent told me how she had intercepted some messages from random men to her slightly older teenage daughter. She was relieved that she had been able to stop her daughter from going off to meet someone she had never met before. Like me, she had mixed feelings about checking the phone but was very glad she had trusted her instincts.
That is another important aspect of why we probably should check teenager’s phones from time to time, with so much of their time spent online and with so many dangers lurking, we might trust our teenagers but we can’t always trust everyone else.
I do feel guilty when I am checking through private conversations. But for now, at least, I am going to continue as I know that I need to protect my son from himself. Taking the phone away isn’t the best option as actually it is essential for me to keep track of him and his whereabouts every day. We have discussed taking him off social media too but I know that he would simply open more accounts behind our back and it would be an endless battle. So I will keep checking and I will keep talking to him and I hope that eventually, there will come a time when I can trust him and leave his accounts in peace.
What would you do? Would you check and monitor or would you let him carry on and potentially learn his lesson the hard way?