Monitoring Your Children Online?

We were at a dinner party on Friday night and the conversation turned to My Space and IM.  Both an integral part of growing up today.  The question being, do you know what your kids are doing online?  Do you know who they are talking to?  Do you know what they are looking at?

The people who we were talking to were all for monitoring your kids online.  They basically said, you should.  There are a lot of crazy people out there, and you never know.  Playing devil’s advocate, my question is do you know who your kids are really talking to at school?  Are they peering at your dirty magazines under the bed?  Do you really know what they are doing at all times? 

The answer is simple, no.  My thoughts on this matter are no different than sex, drugs and rock and roll.  Have an open dialog with your kids about what are the do’s and don’ts of online behavior.  Know who you are talking to.  Do you recognize that IM address?  What type of conversations are you having?  Don’t decide to meet with someone you meet on line no matter what.  The basic essentials.

If you can’t have an honest and open relationship with your kids, than you are not going to have a trusting relationship with them as adults.  All relationships have a starting point.  Theirs started with you when they came into the world.  What kind of relationship are you going to have with them at 2, 6, 12, 16, 22 etc.  If it a constant challenge and always changing but the basic fundamentals of trust and honesty must be there. You have to be available. Foundations must be built. 

Let’s say you choose to monitor your kids on line.  2 years go by, they have no idea that you are watching them on line.  You start when they are 11.  Now they are 13.  All of a sudden, you see that they are having a correspondence with someone that sends up a warning signal.  Ok.  You sit down and have the conversation with your kid about what you read, saw, etc.  I can’t imagine that the first question they are going to ask is "how long have you been monitoring my life on the Internet"?  Oh, the last 2 years.  Any feelings of trust that your kid has towards you will be tossed out the window.   Want to talk about rebellion?  I don’t think I’d ever have the same relationship with my parents again.  It would take me quite a long time to get past it.  Looking out for me?  No. Not trusting me. Yes. 

I have written about this before when it comes to alcohol, sex or drugs.  To think that your kids won’t  experiment, you are only fooling yourself.  If you give your kids the tools to go out in the world and make decisions based on smart information, most of the time they will make the right choices based on the information they have.  Trust them to be smart.  It is like coaching.  If you teach a kid how to shoot a lay up properly, when they hit the courts, it is amazing how it just clicks. 

Smart parents, smart kids.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Mens Rea

    This is an area where I “think” I agree with you. It makes sense and is generally consistent with how I was raised. I did not have too much of a rebellious streak in me as my parents and I had a dialog going. Not that were peers per se, but rather they were my parents and I respected them.

    Now that I am a parent of two boys, it makes me a bit more wary. Not because of the “bad stuff” out there but the instantaneous aspect of it. When we were teens it was a carefully orchestrated event to go to a party. Nowadays it is a few emails or text messages. It is the same reason I don’t always like email in business. I makes you move too quickly. My grandfather gave me some very wonderful advice: hasten slowly. I get that now. My apprehension is that net somehow comes between the id and the superego so that you never process what you are about to do in the same way as we did in the analog world.

    I have gone to myspace and was amazed at the detail that is there. Like I was a voyeur who stumbled upon someone’s diary. Facinating, yet disturbing at the same time.

    My kids are 5 and 2 and so until they are around 10ish I will monitor their usage, not becauce of what they will consciously do, but rather to make sure that my kids are protected. After that, I probably will be hands off. But I am going to take the next 5+ years to instil the basic rules of the internet so that they they are unconscious actions (akin to how I still look both ways even today!).

    Great post. Thought provoking!

  2. Charlie

    That doesn’t mean that you can’t offer/ask to share in their experience.

    Kids need their independence, after all it is [Their]Space… but I think participation, with the consent of the kid, isn’t out of the question. Don’t go on to “monitor”, but maybe go on to share music, communicate, etc. I think there’s a cool way to be a MySpace parent w/o seeming like a lurker. Its like a bedroom. You shouldn’t snoop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t knock on the door every once in a while with a cookie to stop in and chat…

  3. jon

    This is a conversation between the “don’t ask, don’t tell” school of parenting and the “trust but verify” group. I fall into the latter. I trust my kids to make good choices and have seen them do it. But they are kids and there are influences “out there” which are better avoided or at least modulated. Myspace is a personal bugaboo with me. I recall the sign-up asks “are you 18 or older?”. Wonder why? All that information is public. I want to know my children’s friends. One good way to do that is to see their myspace sites. The kid who says their favorite thing to drink is Smirnoff and their friend’s posts remark about how much fun it was to get drunk with that kid last weekend and can’t wait until next weekend to do the same should raise some flags. Kids will experiment and that is to be expected — but getting drunk or stoned every weekend at the tender age of 14 is not. What is the encore? AA at 16? I don’t consider that behavior appropriate or “normal”. We all grew up with friends who abused themselves with this kind of bahavior. Some of them ended up dead, others partners at investment banks. I don’t like that bet. Not watching out for it is just putting your head in the sand.

  4. ken jo

    my favorite part of this stupid and naive post is “smart parents, smart kids.” nice hummble pat on the back you’re giving yoruself. i think the size of the bubble you live in is only slightly smaller then your ego!

  5. Tony Alva

    I was a rotten kid who would stop at nothing to temp fate. It wasn’t because my parents were bad and we didn’t have an open dialog, it was because I was a willful risk-taking teenager who wanted to push the limits. Not just my parents, but anybody’s limits. In many ways, I am truly lucky to be alive. If the internet were available to me then, I would have certainly been going to sites I had no business visiting, or doing things online of an unscrupulous nature to be sure.

    Be glad that you have such great kids. You ARE good parents, but recognize that you are lucky too. It’s a kid by kid call. If your kid is trustworthy in all other aspects of their lives, than you should be able to trust them online. If they’re stealing from your pocketbook, sneaking around with the wrong crowd, lying to you about other things, etc… I wouldn’t have any qualms about monitoring their internet use at all. A parent’s first priority is to protect their kids even if it’s from their kids’ own self destructive behavior.

    Good post.