Online Privacy – How Much Does Your Teenager Have And Is It Too Much?

We’re so conscious of our teenagers’ demands for privacy there’s a danger we’re taking it too far. Perhaps it’s time they had less.

online privacy

This morning, I had the frustrating experience of plugging in my laptop charger and finding it wouldn’t work. My teenage daughter was about to leave the house, so I asked if I could borrow her machine instead. “Sure. I’ll just switch it on and make sure I’m signed out of everything,” she said.

Would I have taken the opportunity to sneak a look at her Facebook messages or would I have respected her privacy? Honestly, I don’t know. But the fact I didn’t have the choice wasn’t lost on me.

When I was in my teens, ‘privacy’ meant shutting my bedroom door and demanding my stepfather knocked before he came in.

It was piles of notebooks stashed under the bed, secret journals where I poured my heart out, doodled ‘Mrs Rebecca Myers’ in fancy letters (convinced that would be my name one day) and, let’s be honest, wrote some pretty awful angst-ridden poetry.

A dark online world

All innocent stuff, when you think about it.

Now, our kids can have whole other lives we know nothing about. They have virtual friends all around the world. They can share their darkest secrets and unwittingly make themselves vulnerable to the worst kind of predator.

For all we know, they could be mercilessly bullying a classmate – or be bullied in turn. They can choose to share one, just one, ill-advised photograph of themselves and before they know it, it’s been seen by millions of strangers.

And, thanks to password protection, all this can happen under our noses without us realising.

It’s difficult, as they get older, to demand access to their online worlds. When my kids were younger, I insisted I had the passwords to their email and social media accounts, and any other site that required a sign-in. Nor would I let them use Facebook or any other platform unless they were old enough.

Monitor their activity

I was shocked a few days ago to receive a Facebook friend request from the six-year-old son of an acquaintance. I was even more shocked to learn he had the account with their knowledge (I asked) and his parents don’t check very often just what he’s doing on there.

This genuinely horrified me. There is so much content that I find upsetting or disturbing as an adult – what effect will it have on a young child? Or, of course, on an impressionable teenager.

But once your child reaches 16, 17 or certainly 18, how do you persuade them to let you know what they’re doing? You can explain all you like about staying safe on the internet. They’ll likely laugh at you and tell you they’re fine, they know all about it.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. A physical analogy is good. Explain to your child that you wouldn’t let them out of the house alone to get into a car with four other people you’ve never met, to go a location you’ve never heard of. By not monitoring their internet activity, that’s pretty much what you’re doing.

My daughter is 19. Legally, she’s an adult. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about her. While she’s a reasonably open book, I know there are parts of her virtual world I know nothing about. I do find it reassuring that she’s not especially secretive and doesn’t make any real effort to stop me seeing what’s on her screen if I walk past.

It’s a bit late for me to start insisting she share her passwords and demanding access to her private messages. But if your kids are younger, I’d ask you to make sure you can see exactly what they’re up to.

There’s nothing wrong with physical privacy. Every teenager needs some. But online? I’d argue we need an ‘access all areas’ pass.

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