Back in the old days when I was a teenager, there weren’t many ways to keep track of your teen without actually seeing them or talking to them on the (landline) telephone. Once they were out of your sight, you had to trust that they were doing what they said they would. Nowadays, parents can gain more in-depth information about their teen’s private life than ever before. They can keep in almost constant communication with teens via texting. There are products to track a teen’s location, driving speed, and even the keystrokes on their computer. And now the question arises: Parents can track their teen, but should they?
Families have answered this question in different ways, with some believing that their teen’s right to privacy outweighs the benefits of keeping closer tabs on them, while others believe that given the trouble teens can get into, it’s better to know as much as possible. Here are a few tips to consider (and possibly disagree with!)
Remember that trust is powerful. Teens are learning how to step away from a dependent role, think for themselves, and make their own decisions. Showing trust in your teen and their judgment shows a lot of respect for them. Discuss the available options to you with your teen, going over the pros and cons. If there are areas in which you’re choosing to trust them, tell them how they’ve earned this trust. It’s great for a teen’s self-esteem to hear how they’re succeeding, and if you do choose to track your teen…
Tell your teen what you’re monitoring. Yes, it means that it would be easier for them to evade you, but it’s also the respectful thing to do. It is very alienating for a teen to discover that their private communications have been intercepted without their knowledge. Also, this discovery is likely to lead to more secretive behavior. Tell them why you’re keeping track of certain things. It could be from a time they have lied to you or broken the rules in the past, or it could be just that you’ve read the statistics and you’re worried.
Respect their academic time. (I’m putting this one in for a teacher friend of mine!) If your teen is at school, try not to text them unless it’s a topic where, in the old days, you might have picked up the phone and called the school to speak to them. It can be distracting for teens, and anxiety-provoking if they feel they have to update you on grades and other academic matters immediately. Usually, it can wait until they come home.
Consider what would have the most impact. Worried about your teen’s safety? The number one cause of teen deaths worldwide is traffic accidents. You might consider options for being able to access where, when, and most importantly how fast your teen has been driving. There are also options to disable texting on your teen’s phone while they are driving (the drawback is that it is based on speed, and so also disabled when someone else is driving, they are on a bus, etc.) These steps are also not as personal as, say, reading your teen’s email.
Don’t trust too much in the technology. You can have a GPS function in your teen’s cell phone, but the phone still needs to be on and powered. You can track your teen’s car data, but they may go out driving unsafely with friends. You can track your teen’s keystrokes and read their texts, but you can’t keep tabs on every way they could communicate with someone you wouldn’t approve of. No matter how closely you watch your teen, if they want to do something sub rosa, they are going to find a way. Technology never substitutes for lots of discussion, education, and a clear message on your values.
What technologies have you employed for your teen’s safety- or given a pass on? I’d love to hear what you think!