Should I Read My Kid’s Texts?
This week I sat down to research and compile a list of the best apps for protecting our kids on their cell phones when I came upon an article entitled, “5 Best Apps for Spying on Your Teen.”
This title didn’t sit well with me.
Now, who of us hasn’t read our kid’s texts? I know I have, and I’ve found out a lot of valuable information that I wouldn’t have discovered if I hadn’t.
Reading my kid’s texts has left me feeling proud, horrified, validated, and more anxious than before I started.
I’ve felt proud when they’ve shown such maturity and wisdom in their responses when their friends have texted them with their problems.
I’ve been surprised and laughed out loud at their wit and humor.
I’ve had the wool yanked from my eyes and seen through my rose-colored glasses what was really going on.
My gut instincts have been validated.
“Yep, that kid’s trouble.”
“Yep, they weren’t telling the truth.”
“Yep, I need to say no to that sleepover.”
“Yep, there’s drinking going on.”
We have a laundry list of valid reasons for reading our kid’s texts…
“It’s my right as the parent; I’m paying for the darn thing.”
“There’s cyber-bullying, and it’s a scary world out there. It’s my job to protect my child and to keep them safe.”
“If they’re drinking, doing drugs, or looking at pornography, I need to know about it.”
“At the very least, I want to know if they’ve arrived safely at their destination.”
“God forbid how guilty I’d feel if I didn’t know they were being cyber-bullied, sexting, doing drugs, or a creepy person was talking to them!”
Monitoring our kid’s cell phones is just part of being a good parent in a digital age, right?
Not so fast.
I’m here to challenge us not to answer yes so quickly.
Now, lest you start pointing your finger at me and lecturing me about all the dangers, let me just say, I’m fully aware the struggle is real!
While I’m an advocate of being proactive to protect our kids, I want us to examine our reasons a little further before we download our monitoring apps and read our kid’s texts.
Every time I hear about a mom that is reading her kid’s texts nightly, I have a strong reaction.
I’ve been that mom, and I regret it.
Yes, you’re hearing me right – if you’re reading their texts every night, I’m challenging you to stop it.
With my oldest, texting hadn’t been invented. MySpace was the thing at the time.
I was scared (freaking out better describes it). My teen was hanging with the “wrong” crowd, and I didn’t know what to do.
I wanted to know what was going on so I could protect my kid from bad things happening.
So, I downloaded an app (it was called a program at the time with a DVD to download), and I was sent daily emails that shared every comment and conversation.
My choice to download that program was not a good thing. In fact, it caused greater distress and problems.
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about this topic is I’ve experienced the damage it does to our relationships when we parent from a place of fear and anxiety.
When fear is in the driver’s seat, ultimately it’s not going to steer you in the right direction.
Reading my daughter’s texts didn’t protect her or keep bad things from happening. In fact, it hurt my relationship with my daughter.
The more I read my daughter’s conversations, the more my over-the-top my reactions became, the more over-the-top my reactions became, the less my teen wanted to talk to me, and the more suspicious I became.
My fear got worse, and the distance between us became greater.
Here are 5 questions to ask yourself as you wonder if you should read your tween or teen’s texts.
Are you putting your relationship first?
I never thought about this back in my teen’s MySpace day.
When an adolescent gets the message that you’re infringing on their privacy and overly involved in their life, it will cause a rift in your relationship.
One of the most important things we can ask ourselves as parents are what I’m doing conducive to creating a closer relationship.
I’m not saying we are to be our kid’s friends….what I’m challenging us to think about is this; what are the consequences of potentially damaging the trust in your relationship?
More than anything else, parenting is about relationship. After coaching moms for over a decade, I’ve learned that many of the parenting issues we struggle with stem from a disconnect in the relationship. When we focus on our relationship first, we increase the chances that our kids will listen to what we have to say.
Are you checking your kid’s texts because you’re driven by fear or do you have valid reasons?
I remember, as a teen, stretching the hallway phone cord as far as I could to get the phone into my room and shutting the door. If my mom would have listened in to my conversations as a teen, I’m sure she would have probably gone nuts and not let me go out of the house.
There’s just some stuff that is better for us not to know about.
Much of our teen’s conversations are innocent talk fueled by the fact that they’re trying to figure out who they are.
Our teens need space.
We’re a generation of parents that are way overly involved and into our kid’s business because we are parenting by fear.
We need to know the difference between parenting by fear and being a responsible parent.
What does it mean to be a responsible parent when it comes to our kid’s cell phones?
How much monitoring is too much? Where do we draw the line?
We need to be aware of when we’re reacting rather than being proactive. We need to talk about the tough topics and our expectations and rules surrounding their smartphones.
I like what Josh Shipp says, “What we need to do is empower our kids to make good decisions with this new gadget—to help them understand that a cell phone, like all privileges, is a responsibility.”
We should stay informed about the apps that we don’t want on our kid’s phones.
We should make sure our kids have safety settings on their accounts so bad content is blocked.
And it is within our right to periodically check to see what apps they have on their phones, we just don’t want to get crazy about it.
Discuss the dangers, cyberbullying, sexting, and the misuse of texting and internet access.
A cell phone contract can be a great tool to be intentional in discussing our rules and talk about being responsible.
What’s the message we’re sending our kids when we read their texts?
The most damaging message I was sending my teen was, “I don’t trust you,” and ”You’re bad,” when I was constantly reacting out of my fear.
I can’t stress enough the power we have in our kid’s lives over who they grow up to believe they are.
When we believe in our kid’s ability to make good decisions, chances are they will.
I still catch myself when I’m saying something that is not sending my youngest, also a teen, the message that I believe in her and trust her to make good decisions.
I tell her often, “I believe that you have that wisdom inside of you to make good decisions. I trust you to do that.”
Try it. There is a change in their whole demeanor. You can see them taking it in and standing a little taller.
Are we looking for information because our kid isn’t communicative?
Being less communicative is part of being a teen. As moms, this is unsettling.
I’ve found myself peeking at texts not out of a place of concern, rather, I want to know what’s going on because they tell me so little.
I’ve had moms share how they read their teen’s texts because they’re concerned about their social life and if they have any friends, which only leads them to ask their teen unhelpful questions. They’ve decided to stop it, and so have I.
It’s difficult, but we need to resist doing this.
I implore us not to go right to reading their texts because we’re parenting out of fear and bypassing the most important things. Let’s not allow fear to get in the way of building stronger relationships with our teens.
Let’s instead be proactive to stay informed, set up house rules, and be discerning about what it means to keep them safe in our digital world.
More importantly, let’s talk to our kids and build stronger relationships with them first. Let’s have important discussions and find opportunities to connect, so we know how they’re doing.
Let’s take them out to lunch and carve out intentional time.