British Columbia·Point of View

Kids and privacy: Should you dig online for details?

Its hard to have privacy in a digital world. But how much should you know when your kids are online?

Do you have to friend your child on Facebook to find out what they're up to?

Kids want privacy, but is anything private online? (iStockphoto)

This story is part of Amy Bell's column Parental Guidance that airs on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition.

I live with my family of four in a house with only one bathroom, so I know all about wanting privacy. As my kids have grown older, I'm often left wondering what goes on in their heads. And in their lives. And especially on their devices. 

With my 12 year old daughter, we've entered a time where she craves independence and time with her friends — and wants to document it all on her phone. 

So, how do we give our kids the space and privacy they crave, while also making sure they don't post anything that will live online forever or start chatting to a 50-year-old man who pretends to be a 12-year-old girl named @Daisy15 online? 

Set rules and set them soon ...

Julie Romanowski, a Vancouver based parent, early childhood educator and parenting coach, stresses how important it is to set rules and expectations before you put any device in their hands.  

"Put down up front on paper what it is that you'll be doing, so it's not a surprise." says Romanowski. " As soon as we throw something at our kids, and they're not expecting it ... [they go] into stress/survival mode and it doesn't end well."

Romanowski suggests making sure your kids know that it's your phone and not their's — you're just allowing them to use it.

Insist on doing random checks of all devices. And even if you use an alias, so their friends don't know mom or dad is watching, they have to let you follow them on all social media accounts.  If you do find something that concerns you, make sure you talk to them about it right away and explain why you're concerned.

Sometimes, they aren't even mature enough to fully grasp the seriousness of the situation and need your guidance. 

Will kids try and outwit their parents? You bet! There are apps and websites dedicated to helping children hide their online activities. But if we provide reasonable limits and establish trust, hopefully, they won't be tempted to go too far in their penchant for privacy. 

Nothing is truly private once it's posted...

We're raising our children in a social experiment where we don't know how the digital world will ultimately impact them. 

Regardless of how comfortable I am with my kids being online — or growing up for that matter — it's important to accept that this is the new order. This is the reality our children are coming of age in, and it's better to adapt and respect that.

While I spent hours chatting on the phone or whispering secrets in the safety of a friend's bedroom, online is where most children now connect and navigate the choppy waters of puberty and friendship.

But they need to know that nothing is truly private, once it's posted, and some things are best discussed and explored offline. So try and provide them with opportunities to have that at home. Diaries and knocking on their doors before entering can help give them a sense of control and autonomy.

Is it hard to navigate this new world?  Yes — but so is raising a preteen with only one bathroom.


Amy Bell is a digital contributor to CBC. She can be heard weekdays on The Early Edition as the traffic and weather reporter and parenting columnist.


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