Parents, Stop Teenage Privacy Now

Dear Parents of Teenagers,

I love students.

I have known tens of thousands of them, perhaps I know yours.
I have worked with them for a decade and a half, across all demographics.
I have traveled with them, laughed with them, grieved with them, served alongside them, and prayed with them.
I have walked their hallways and sat in their classrooms.
I like to think I know well, them and the world they live in.

And Moms and Dads, I’m here to tell you that you need to take away their privacy—now.

I imagine that you (and certainly the teens reading this), hear that and think, “Well, that’s a pretty terrible thing to say!” 

OK, then I will be terrible and right.

There was a time, when teenagers could have privacy, and by that I mean, they could have one room where we could get away from the world, where they could shut the door, put on some music, open-up a notebook, and write the things that were on their hearts—a piece of themselves that was theirs alone.

But that time and that place is long gone.

Now, when teenagers walk into that room and close the door, they are no longer alone (in fact, many of them aren’t capable of solitary existence.) Now, when they walk into their rooms, they are not getting away from the world, they are walking into it and to the most dangerous, threatening, frightening parts of it. They are inviting that world into their sacred, personal space.

Thanks to their phones, teenagers can in seconds reach the kinds of people and places that our parents could have only had nightmares about.

They can reveal their most intimate secrets to total strangers.
They can get drugs and guns, and find sex and term papers.
They can threaten suicide to thousands.
They can bully and be bullied.
They can gamble using your credit cards.
They can buy and sell everything imaginable.
They can give out photos of their bodies that can be shared, and never returned.
They can see the most vile, violent and damaging images on the planet.

And all of it is password-protected.

You see, the world has changed and so have the rules.
Technology is simply moving too fast for students to be left in it alone.
They can’t handle it.
(Heck, neither can most adults but that’s another topic for another day.)
You need to be out in that dangerous water with them, as if they were newborns in a raging ocean, teeming with sharks.

“But my kids are trustworthy”, I hear you saying.

That really isn’t the issue, is it?
Trusting their kids, was never, ever the full story for parents, was it?
I know it wasn’t for my parents.

As a teenager, when I used to hang out with friends, my mom and dad knew them, knew where they lived, who their parents were, and what those parents believed. They knew where we were going, how we would get there ,and when we would get back. (Sure, it was privacy, but it was informed privacy.)

On social media platforms, your kids probably have a few hundred “Friends” that they don’t even really know, who have regular, ’round the clock access to them. Do you really want to give them private time with that many strangers?

Moms and Dads, simply put: If you are a parent of a preteen or teen and you do not have access to every text, every device, every password and every site that your kids do, you are being negligent at best. You are a willing accomplice to everything they do and see and experience.

OK, so maybe it isn’t privacy that teenagers shouldn’t have or can’t handle, but technology privacy.

Do teenagers need and deserve a place all their own? Absolutely.

Let them get away from the world. Let them go into their rooms, let them close the door, turn-up the music, and grab a notebook to write the things on their hearts, for only their eyes to see.

But if the notebook of choice is not spiral-bound, but battery-powered—get the password.

24 thoughts on “Parents, Stop Teenage Privacy Now

  1. This is 100% accurate. There are so many other reasons for monitoring the amount of time spent w technology as well. Kids desire meaningful relationships yet w technology and the amount of time spent this does not happen. Kids are more depressed now days because of this fact. Kids do not learn empathy because of this fact. It’s tough but we have to crack down on use of technology and the amount of time spent as well. It’s simply parenting.

  2. Very true. Like my daddy used to tell me, “It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, it’s the other people I worry about.” It’s hard when both parents work and come home exhausted, but that’s when we’ve got to give it all we’ve got. They are only little for a little while.

  3. So, I think there is a balance to this. I mean, yes, parents need to protect their kids from harmful things, but flipping out cause their daughter had an innocent conversation with a boy is just not fair. I don’t see anything wrong with parents having the passwords to their kids’ internet as long as the parents know when to lay down the law and when not to make mountains out of molehills.

  4. Though I can really understand why you are stating this, I first of all think this is all to black/white stated. Yes, technology changed the way kids grow up. But the problems raised with this new technology aren’t solved by taking away their privacy. These dangers already existed, it’s just that they seem to be dropped right into your living room. I think the remedy for these problems rests in good communication and trust, and in explaining what you think is the right way of dealing with this technology. I do think it is very important to actively get to know the technology your children deal with.

    Secondly, you talk about taking away the privacy of “teens”. I don’t think you will have the same rules for your 12-years old and your 18-years old kid. So who are these “teens” you are talking about? Are they the children making the transition from primary school to high school? Or are they those preparing for college? Or do you want to apply the same rule to all of them?

    The “old” way of privacy, by scribbling in your notebook, is something teens I know still do. But they also use the new technology, creating a new way of privacy. They type down their feelings and thoughts in a word-doc. They write stories on their laptop, late at night, for no-one but their selves. And if they do have internet access, sometimes they will have a heart-to-heart conversation with their best friend via Facebook.

    Besides, I think controlling your teens (technological)privacy doesn’t right away make you a good parent. Why? Because taking away the technological privacy does indeed help you to protect your teen, but it also creates a very unequal, fragile situation. Your teenage years are a time of growing up, developing your own ideas. It is a period where you start to doubt your parents decisions for the first time.
    My laptop (and online behavior) doesn’t contain anything my parents wouldn’t want, but still I do not want them to be able to read everything what is on it. My personal thoughts will stay mine, till I decide to share them. My parents trust me because they know me. As long as you pay attention to your communication and keep talking to them, creating an open atmosphere, there is no need for checking and controlling. A teen does not only deserve his/her privacy, I think he/she needs it to be able to grow. If my parents would have taken away my technological privacy, they would have taken away that piece of the”old”way of privacy you talked about.

    I do not want to imply there are no dangers with this new technology, it’s just not all that bad.

    • Being a parent, I don’t know whose side to be on. It helps to hear from teens…it really helps. Keep participating in discussions. thanks!

  5. As a person who has worked with HS students as both a teacher and a counselor, I agree with everything you said, John. Our school district has brought in a speaker from the FBI Cybercrime unit several times. One additional suggestion he gave is when kids go to bed, all of their electronics are left in the kitchen to charge overnight. They are then not tempted to check out new websites and are less likely to become a victim of men trolling the internet at night. This is a house rule he used with his own children until they moved out.

  6. This is exactly correct. My kids must give us passwords and let us follow them on all social media in order to keep their phones. We got some complaints at first, but we also have rules about curfew and knowing who they are with when out of the house. They also must remember that when applying to college and jobs this information is public. Basically they must think before posting anything!
    Even with all the monitoring they still make stupid mistakes. We discuss the mistakes, teach them why they need to stay safe and hopefully they learn. This is parenting in general and with technology.

  7. If my teen doesn’t know the dangers of the world by the time they’re a teen then I have failed ad a parent.

    If you had a son would you have those same feelings?

    Europeans let their 16+ children roam free during the summer, so what is the age you are most concerned about? 13-15?

    I talk to my child regularly about what is acceptable behavior in terms of privacy and physical boundaries. She knows there are people who she gets a “feeling” about and I encourage her to respect that feeling no matter who it is. Just leave.

    We interact with strangers all the time. We’ve traveled the world together as mother and daughter with packs on our backs. I think it more dangerous to not trust then to trust.

    I also have had her in karate since age 4 because I recognize that the world has inequities. She will know how to defend herself.

    As I learned in an early education class, talk to kids early and often about age appropriate matters involving their bodies and safety then you’ll have a child who will feel comfortable talking to you when they have questions.

    What about TV? Horrible depictions of the human experience exist there. When I was a child we snuck in Porno type books and passed them around our girl clique. We all survived and thrived. We shot Bb guns, heard about abuse, knew which male teachers to avoid, and rode without helmets.

    I want to propose that our way of living is actually safer these days but also maturity zapping. Kids are not allowed to have open space. They need to learn.

    But I admit I’m on the fringe. My 7yr old child cooks dinner once a week and breakfast. She burned her arm once but now is way more careful. I’ve sent her into stores in Brazil to buy her own ice cream using hand signals.

    There is a lot of ugliness in the world but Stranger Danger should be put to rest. Teach your child what to do when Uncle Joe knocks on their bedroom door and says inappropriate things.

  8. Honestly you look like an old creep and I don’t buy for a second that you can relate to teens. If was a teen I’d laugh at you for being an old white man who thinks he knows sh*t, when you’ve just been given that sense of entitlement your whole life. Keep your 2 cents to yourself and let parents make their own decisions. Nothing you said here is genius in any way. It’s the obvious words of an old man who is out-of-touch.

    • Your language, your mocking and your foolishness gives you away. This article wasn’t written for you.

      I found John’s words not only to be eerily accurate but caring. He is speaking out as a warning of concern and care for today’s parents and their kids. You, on the other hand, choose to lash out in bitter rudeness. You can disagree with the article, but please delete this hostile response as it doesn’t prove a point and is only offensive and hateful.

  9. It’s a fine line, I think.

    When I was a teen, I managed to procure myself a laptop and kept things extremely secret from my parents. Turns out, though … that’s what helped me escape extreme fundamentalism. I get it, not everyone has that experience. But, I agree with another commenter who says this is too black and white. I think you should know your child and judge accordingly.

    Also, it is SO EASY to hide things from your parents, even if they are tech savvy. Like … if my parents did everything you say to do, I still could have hidden everything from them. Easy. Just hide your tracks and no one knows. So I think instilling the right values in them is more important than policing, because controlling just doesn’t work on a technical level.

  10. Great article and I agree mostly. The only thing I would add as a mom of three kids ages 20, 18, and 14 is be very careful how you invade that privacy. No matter how many passwords you demand, they will find another outlet you don’t know about. Instead be the kind of patent they can discuss the sites they visit and the things they read and see with, without judgement at the forefront. Once they trust you to listen they will trust your advice on what not to do and where not to go and even share their activity with you willingly. You will be able to have amazing discussions on what safe people do and see and following instincts and spotting red flags. You want your kids to trust you and see you as their guidepost, not their dictator. I know so many parents who freak out at a cuss word used in a text or a “bad” sing on their iTunes list that they end up shutting the door to communication. If your kid knows you are gonna check their texts by randomly demanding they turn over their phone you can bet they will be deleting them as soon as they get and send them.

  11. I agree with everything you said, John. As a Mom who has experienced the dangers of technology with her kids, I feel overwhelmed by the assault we are under with what is attempting to come into our homes.

    I do think it needs to go farther than what you said here. Since we live in a technological age, we also have tech savvy teens. Getting a password isn’t enough. Here are my suggestions after my husband and I learned the hard way that just banning devices from bedrooms and knowing passwords wasn’t enough:
    1. Block incognito viewing from devices.
    2. Admin and parental block passwords that your kids do not know and all parent devices need password entry (if your phone and ipad or laptop are in the home, they are susceptible to being picked up by your teen).
    3. Get the best parental block you can and block not only adult content but any other sites on any devices your children use. For example, most parent safety blocks won’t block you tube or Google image search. These are full of terrible things your children can see. TEST your search engines. Make sure your block is actually blocking.
    4. No devices leave the home (where they can pick up other’s wifi) Or disable internet if travelling with ipads or kindles. I agree with you above, no devices behind closed doors either.
    5. If given a phone, it is a phone with no internet capability or internet disabled on it.
    6. Make sure you see a list of how many text messages are sent or received on your child’s phone (some phone companies do this). Then make sure your children know not to delete texts or they will lose the phone. If the phone statement says 25 texts are there – you should be able to read 25 texts.
    7. Follow all history for the internet on at least a weekly basis and disable ability for teen to erase history.
    8. Kids can access porn and the internet through the television. Have a block on your tv. Xfinity allows us to put up a time block where the tv cannot be used between midnight and 6 a.m. We also have a password for any television show or movie rated over PG-13.

    I know that eventually my children will be adults and need more freedom. But every study (both Christian and secular) agrees that pre-teens and teens lack impulse control, good judgement and are MANY more times susceptible to addictive and destructive behaviors.

    The steps I suggest above are just the beginning. I agree with some of the comments, that good communication is key. But God forbid you are having a discussion AFTER the fact. I don’t want to be having a discussion with them about something AFTER they have it embedded in their minds because they stumbled across it on the internet. We are dealing with that now and I am telling you it is terrifying and heartbreaking. Our child and our home will never be the same. Good communication -yes. But better walls around our homes and good defenses around our kids’ devices is an absolute necessity.

  12. ]As a counterpoint:

    If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (Romans 7:7-8).

    This is the hot stove principle: Tell a child not to touch the hot stove, and the forbidden act suddenly seems all the more attractive; the biblical motto of the harlot reiterates this conceit: “Stolen water is sweet and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17).

    In a real sense, those who embrace Christian values can find pornography all the more appealing merely because it is demonstrably forbidden by their commitment to God.

  13. I’m torn here. As a parent, I want the right to see everything my kids do online. But … I can’t be with them 24-hour a day in real life or online. If I have done my job properly, I have to loosen the umbilical strings a little and show I trust them to an extent, and respect their privacy. It’s not that I have anything to hide, but I wouldn’t want them to see every conversation I have online; nor should I be privy to every conversation they have. BUT – I should know what they are up to and monitor it, which I do. My mother read my diary when I was a teenager and I was doing nothing wrong, but it was full of the usual teenage hopes and dreams – and fears – and she made fun of them and shared them with others. I felt violated, and I never trusted her with anything again. I don’t want my kids to ever feel that way. Instead there is an open door policy, I randomly check on what they are up to, we talk about what they are doing. Yes I have asked to see what the eldest is doing (he’s the only one active online and then it’s snapchat only) and before he shows me I stop … if he’s having a private chat with a friend, that’s okay. He knows nothing is truly private online and if anyone is going to find it I will. But I resist the urge to snoop. I do check what websites they visit and how many calls they receive etc, but that’s it. I give them the respect they deserve but they know if the trust is broken, new rules will be set. They also know they can talk to me about anything. I’ve been to the cybersafety lectures and seen how quickly kids are groomed and we talk about that stuff regularly. It’s scary for sure, but so is the rest of the world, and kids can’t be wrapped up in cotton wool or they will never learn responsibility or how to protect themselves from predators.

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  15. I just had Grand Jury Duty. I indicted someone for crimes involving a minor which would make you sick, which I very much doubt they will ever be able to get a conviction on, because of issues surrounding password access to devices and accounts: even with a court order it’s difficult to get access to accounts, and devices can be wiped clean remotely long months before it’s possible to gain access to a device.

    I’m sorry. Get your kids’ passwords. Review their browser history. Be nosy. Explain why, and use the time to teach them about internet safety, security, and etiquette.

    And stop quibbling with his conclusion because you know the situation is more complex than he explicitly stated. He knows that, too. It was implied. Minimal reasoning skills were required to get there, and your argument is actually based on an assumption that he is correct.

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