How Much Should We Spy on Our Teens?

How much should you spy on your teen? How can you set ground rules so you don't have to spy in the first place? Check out our parenting tips!

How much should you spy on your teen?  The word ‘spying’ has a negative connotation to it, no? There’s a line between monitoring and spying, and as parents it’s hard to know when to cross that line. Not to mention, often what our teens see as “spying” we simply see as “parenting.”  I have yet to deal with issue head on but it is looming in the near future (sooner than I would like to think about). When I think about spying on my teen, I wonder what might make me do so and how often would I do this. 

Related: 5 Things You Need to Know About Your Teens’ Friends

How much should you spy on your teen?

I remember when I was a teen.  My mom respected my privacy in the sense that she never went snooping in my room and through my things (at least as far as I know, I might have to ask her now).  Of course when I was growing up we didn’t have all the technology and smart phones we do these days. So spying on me would have just really meant going through the things in my room and searching for whatever hiding spots I had for my journal or something.

For my own children though, growing up in an age where they will be carrying cell phones and social media accounts, there are rules and boundaries I will expect them to abide by.  It is when they violate the rules that the spying will commence.  But here is where I plan to be open with my kids.  If you set ground rules early, you hopefully won’t need to spy on your teen. 

Good ground rules help avoid the need to spy on your teen

I will know your passwords: If you are going to have a social media account, you must know that I will have your passwords.  Not for the purpose of spying on you but for the purpose of keeping you safe.  The world wide web is a big scary place, especially for parents.  You need to understand that what you put on there will stay there.  If you violate social media by posting inappropriate content, you will no longer have social media (or anything that allows you to use social media).

That cell phone you have is a loaner: Let’s make this clear; that phone you carry around as an extension of your hand, is a loaner from me.  I let you use it so I can get in contact with you and vise versa.  You can also use it to text your friends and listen to music and yes of course, use all your social media accounts (to which I have the passwords remember).  As long as you use said loaner phone appropriately (this includes photos, sent, received and taken), I will not have to go through it.

Your room is also on loan to you: Although I do not make you pay rent, your room is on loan to you.  In return for a nice place to sleep, you are to keep it neat and clean. If it starts to smell like a bio hazard zone or look like a tornado ripped through it, we’re going to have problems! 

When is it time to consider spying on your teen?

If your teen is following all your rules and giving you every indication that they’re well-adjusted, happy, healthy kids, then there really isn’t a need to go into spy mode. However, if you start to notice certain behavior changes, invading your child’s privacy may be in order. These include:

  • Signs of drug or alcohol use
  • Complete behavior changes beyond the normal teen angst (suddenly withdrawing from family and friends, uncharacteristic bursts of extreme anger, depression)
  • Signs that your daughter is pregnant. Teen pregnancy is serious. Many girls are afraid to tell their parents, but without support and proper medical care, they are setting themselves up for major health issues. Obviously, if you see signs that your son has gotten a girl pregnant, you’ll want to step in there too, but moms of pregnant girls are more likely to see signs first.

I do not plan on spying on my teen without cause or reason.  We all want to feel like we are trusted right?  It is about mutual respect.  Of course I am the adult, but my job also as an adult is to teach my children how to give respect.  And in my opinion, one way to do that is by my own actions.  If you show me that you can follow the rules and be trusted, then I will respect your privacy, until you give me a reason not to.  

This does not mean that I will not be curious about what is going on in my children’s lives and wondering if there are things they are not telling me, but I am hoping that by then I have established the lines of communication early on, so they feel comfortable enough to come to me with struggles, issues and things that might make me feel uncomfortable knowing about them.  If I have done my job fairly correctly, then there should be no reason for my children to hide things from me or for me to spy on them.

What are your thoughts on when it’s appropriate to spy on your teens?  I do not yet have teens, so I do not claim to be anywhere remotely close to an expert.  Share your thoughts, stories and experiences with us in the comment section below!

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