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Is it okay to snoop on your child online?

In light of ongoing technological advancements, parents are continually faced with the challenge of how to manage their child's use of the internet and social media. Frequent worries related to internet predators, release of private information, cyberbullying, etc. often plague a parents mind. From the child's perspective, this idea of monitoring social media can feel like an invasion of privacy.

So how does a parent navigate this very new and challenging parenting mystery?

  1. Transparency
    There is no need to hide your intentions. If you are going to ask for passwords, tell your child. If you are going to require the child friend you on Facebook, tell your child. Children appreciate honesty. As is often the case, many children resist this concept and a conflict may arise. Reminding them of your role as parent: to provide guidance, ensure safety and promote learning/development helps your child better understand the motives behind the rules.

  2. Discuss the risks
    I recommend discussing the risks of social media and the internet as early as possible. Children are exposed to the internet and social media at a very young age; therefore, being cognizant of their developmental level is also very important. Fear tactics do not often have the support of research. Rather, it is suggested that parents highlight the concept that despite their child's ability/willingness to follow internet rules, not all who use the internet or social media do follow the rules which can put the child at risk.

  3. Listen/Validate
    Understandably, having more rules around social media and internet usage may upset your child, especially if this is a change in rules. Take the time to listen to why social media and the internet is important to them. Reflect your understanding of those concepts (i.e. "I hear that for you Snapchat is one of the best ways you stay in touch with your friends.").  Validation does not mean you have to change the rules. After your child has had time to speak about their feelings, you can offer a gentle reminder as to the reasons you feel it is important to monitor more closely.

  4. Set clear boundaries/rules
    When it comes to monitoring social media, it is not the time to be vague. Your child needs specificity in order to better understand the reasoning behind such monitoring. Keep in mind your child's past behaviors. If you feel as though you have established a high level of trust with you child and there have not been concerns related to internet usage, less monitoring is probably needed. If internet usage has historically been a problem and led to unhealthy behaviors, more oversight may be needed. I also encourage parents to include their child in the development of the rules.

  5. Give yourself permission
    Many parents will partially agree that monitoring social media feels like an invasion of privacy. I encourage parents to remember that the information being shared via the internet is far from private. Parents benefit from giving themselves permission to monitor social media and are most successful in doing so when they also place focus on not abusing their power. Remember, if you intend on setting a rule, inform your child. If you did not inform them that you were going to read their private Facebook messages, don't read them until you have talked about it. This level of honesty in the parent-child relationship promotes positive communication and trust.  

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