I’m Not Going to Spy on My Children and Call It Parenting

PHOTO: Some parents are more watchful than others when it comes to monitoring media. Getty Images
Some parents are more watchful than others when it comes to monitoring media.

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Babble.com. It has been reprinted here with permission. The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of both ABC News and Babble.)

Pop quiz. You have ten seconds to answer: If you stumbled upon your child’s diary, would you read it?

Let’s kick things up a notch. If you could monitor their texts, would you? Because you can.

In what’s being billed as “exciting news for parents” you can now helicopter parent like never before! The child safety website TeenSafe has launched a new version of their app, “which not only lets you view your child’s Facebook and Instagram activity, but also lets you read the text messages they send and receive on their Android or iPhone. Better still, you can even read text messages that have been DELETED on the phone!”

More from Babble:

It Takes Guts Not to Be a Helicopter Parent

Does a Teen Have a Right to Their Privacy?

The Case Against Sheltering Our Kids Too Much

Does that excite you? Being able to read deleted messages? Because it disgusts me. This is the direction we parents have decided we want to take? Intense daily monitoring of social media and text messages? HowLifeWorks.com praises how easy it is to snoop:

"The information gets downloaded to your private login page where you can read all the iPhone or Android text messages your child has sent and received. You can also view their phone call logs, phone contacts and web browsing history, as well as Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp activity. TeenSafe also uses the phone’s GPS to track its location on a map. And nothing shows up on your child’s phone …”

My kids aren’t teenagers yet so I have a lot to learn about parenting an older child, but like all of us, I was a teenager myself not so very long ago. And I can’t help but think that if you feel the need to monitor your teen’s life to this extent then maybe you have bigger things to worry about than what they’re texting. If you get to a point in parenthood where an app like this sounds reasonable, where you feel like 24-hour surveillance is necessary, maybe you need to figure out a better way to communicate with your child.

Not only that, but why put your relationship with your child at risk like this? If you see something on their phone that you don’t approve of, which you probably will, you’re likely to bring it up with them. Which would then let them know that you’ve essentially become a jail warden who monitors their every communication. Don’t our children deserve more respect and trust than that? An app like this will only create tension, justifiable anger, and a teenager who feels like their only choice is to become super sneaky in order to maintain basic levels of privacy. I just don’t see the point of scrutiny this intense. Hopefully, at this stage in the game, your kid is well aware of Internet predators so the only thing you’re truly monitoring is their interaction with friends. And guess what? What they say and do with their friends is their business. They are human beings who deserve a certain level of privacy, especially during such a crucial time in life when they’re trying on different personalities as they figure out who they want to be. Rest assured, your meddling will backfire on you and your effort to be a vigilant parent will blow up in your face.

Remember when you were a teen just trying to figure out who you were? You probably developed one personality around your friends that felt like the real you and then you went home and behaved differently in front of your family because you would be, like, totally embarrassed if they saw “the real you.” And it’s not that the “real you” necessarily got up to anything inappropriate, it’s just that you developed a special relationship with your friends, ways of communicating with each other that was your business. That’s the way it was in the privacy of my friends’ rooms when I was growing up. We were bawdy, we cursed, we discussed sex ... and I can’t fathom someone’s mom standing outside the door listening to our conversation — which is basically the 20th century version of monitoring texts.

But what about teens who are exhibiting high-risk behavior? Specifically, what if you think your kid is doing drugs? Ask them before spying on them. Sure, they will probably lie, but the hope is that you’ve been working hard as a parent to establish an open, honest relationship with your children. You have to go into the teen years acknowledging (if not accepting) that teens experiment. It doesn’t mean we need to monitor their every move or justify every extreme we go to in the name of keeping them safe. At some point we have to let go; at some point we have to tell ourselves that we raised them well and trust that they’ll make good decisions.

If your child is drinking in excess, using drugs, being bullied ... you’re going to know about it without invading their privacy. There are significant behavioral signs that are not easy for them to mask if you’re paying attention. By spying on their every move, you’re creating an environment of distrust and disrespect. There will always be a better way than spying, whether it’s open communication, quizzing your kid, or even (in extreme cases) calling the police anonymously if you suspect illegal, potentially life-threatening action. I’m aware of several parents who have called the police on their own children when they thought it might save their lives. But the constant ongoing monitoring will only bring up other issues that will cloud your relationship with your child and make them hesitant to come to you for help when they’re finally ready to accept it.

A friend of mine tells me her parents intensely monitored her and it was awful.

“I know my mom used to read my diary and my dad would always go through my garbage when I would clean my room in case I ‘threw out something important.’ AKA, they were stalkers and I hated it.”

Who would like being stalked?

Maybe if we respect our children and their decisions and constantly let them know that we wouldn’t feel the need to stalk them and embarrass them with our ridiculous need to know every single thing that goes on in their lives.