Is it a good idea to read your kids’ text messages?


Do you worry about who your child is texting? Are you worried that they have bad friends, or will be bullied or negatively influenced through texts or online?


Do you worry about online predators? Sexting? Data security?


You may worry about these issues if your child has a smartphone, or has asked for one. Most of us as parents do worry about these issues when we consider letting our children have the use of a smartphone.


These days, most of our kids have smartphones. A phone can be an important tool for kids to have, but how much do we monitor their use? It is best to outline these expectations for smartphone use with our kids before getting them a phone, so that there won't be conflict later on.


If you are clear about your expectations up front, and talk to your child about internet safety and being responsible online, you shouldn't have to be reading your child's text messages as they become teens, unless a problem comes up.


Internet Usage for Small Children

When your kids are small, they may want to use a phone or tablet to play games and watch videos.


It is important to monitor their use closely, as it is easy for them to start to watch videos that may be too scary for their age group, or start clicking on a bunch of ad's and accidentally buy something from the GooglePlay store. These are both pitfalls we have experienced with our 5-year-old.


She likes to watch YouTube videos, and we let her watch kids content. However, when she was watching videos on my account, she started watching some scary videos that were too mature for her age group.


To prevent this from happening, you can download the YouTube Kids app like we did, and input your child's age. That way, the app will screen out ad's and tailor videos to your child's age.


I have no issues with my daughter watching Peppa Pig, Blippi, Ryan's World, or other kids programs. But on the adult version of the app it is too easy for her to get into videos that are geared toward older kids and teens.


When your kids are little and watching videos or playing games, you can watch and play with them, so that you will be aware of the content that they are consuming. This allows you to be in the loop of what they like, let them have fun, and stay involved.


Teach Internet Safety

As your child gets older and nears their teen years, they may ask for a device of their own, or to use apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat or Text Messaging with their friends.


Or they may want to play games like Minecraft online with their friends.


Then, it is time to teach them in a more nuanced way about internet safety before giving them access to a device similar to what adults have.


Before you give your child or teen a smartphone, it is important to teach them about internet safety, so that they won't end up doing something inappropriate before they know better.


Not everyone out there on the internet is trustworthy, and it is important for your child or teen to know this.


Some internet safety basics include:

  • Not opening suspicious emails or clicking on links from unknown sources

  • Not posting personal information such as home phone number or address

  • Making sure any online content they are posting is appropriate

  • Following Terms of Service on websites like Facebook or Instagram

  • Posting only photos that are appropriate - ie. no sexting

  • Only click on links from trusted sources

  • Don't give out personal information to people that you meet online

A good rule for kids to follow when they are online is to know that their internet history is with them for life. So if they post something questionable now, it could be available to colleges and employers later on.


Have kids think, would I want my grandmother to see this?


If not, it probably isn't something that they should be posting online.


According to Kids Health, it is important for kids to know that,

online access also comes with risks, like inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators. Using apps and websites where kids interact, predators may pose as a child or teen looking to make a new friend. They might prod the child to exchange personal information, such as address and phone number, or encourage kids to call them, seeing their phone number via caller ID.

Letting kids know about predators isn't really a tactic you should use to 'scare' them, but to let them know about possible risks on the internet.


When my daughter was in Middle School, her computer class taught internet safety in the first module, before they learned anything else about the internet. That way, the students would make responsible choices with their internet usage at school.


The class taught her about data privacy, and how easily it is for information you send on your phone to be forwarded to others without your consent.


Kids Health Provides some additional basic tips to teach your kids about internet safety:

Follow the family rules, and those set by the Internet service provider.
Never post or trade personal pictures.
Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location.
Use only a screen name and don't share passwords (other than with parents).
Never agree to get together in person with anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision.
Never respond to a threatening email, message, post, or text.
Always tell a parent or other trusted adult about any communication or conversation that was scary or hurtful.

If you have regular communication with your child about their online activities, it can help you monitor their use without having to spy on their activity.


Once you have taught your child how to use the internet safely, you will be able to have reassurance that they are using the internet in a responsible manner.


Consequences of Inappropriate Online Behavior

Inappropriate messages can be in the form of sexting, bullying, or asking your child to divulge personal information to the sender.


You can let your child know that doing inappropriate things online, like sexting, can have lifetime consequences. They could get into trouble with their school, or with the law. If you let them know the pitfalls, they are less likely to engage in this risky and dangerous behavior.


Be sure to let them know to tell you or another trusted adult, like a teacher or counselor at school, if they have received an inappropriate message. Make sure they know that they should not respond to these messages under any circumstances, as it may cause the behavior on the part of the other person to escalate.


If your child comes to you and lets you know they have received an inappropriate online message through chat or text, be sure that you don't respond in an angry manner. This may cause your child to clam up in the future.


Let your child know that they have done the right thing with coming to you, and block the sender of the messages.


Then, depending on the seriousness of the message and the contents, you may want to talk to the child's school, the parents of the other child sending the messages, or in the case that the sender is an adult, the legal authorities.


Be sure to save the original messages, so that you can show them to the authorities. This way, there is documentation for them to follow if an investigation of the messages is going to occur. You can also take screenshots and save them on your own device.


Trust and Privacy

Even though the internet can be a dangerous place, and the thought of predators talking to your child online can be frightening, it is important to trust your child enough to give them privacy online and with their phones.


If you don't feel you can trust your child enough to stay out of their phones (unless they come to show you a disturbing message!) then you shouldn't be giving them the device in the first place.


Just because other parents give their child a device of their own at a certain age, does not mean that YOU have to give one to your child. Only you and your partner can decide what is right for your family.


According to How to (adult)

Reading a child's text messages sends a clear message that you don't trust your child. It's understandable if you read your child's texts because you have a reason not to trust him. However, if your child follows the rules you have set for him, acts respectfully and maintains his usual academic performance, you can send a negative message if you read his texts, according to child behavioral psychologist James Lehman in an article on the Empowering Parents website Empowering Parents: Teens and Privacy...Goto Source
The message: "You haven't given me a reason, but I don't trust you."

Empowering your teen through giving them your trust can make a big impact on your relationship with them. Teens are more likely to open up with you and be honest with you if you show that you trust them. Trust inspires trust.


If you are worried about giving your child a smartphone, it is important to ask yourself the reason why.


Has your child shown you a reason not to trust them in the past? If they have been dishonest, or getting into trouble at school or at home, it is probably best to deal with those issues prior to getting your child their own smartphone.


On the other hand, if your child has shown themself to be trustworthy, you may want to ask yourself where your distrust is coming from. If it is general distrust about the internet, strangers, or just a general unease, it might be a good idea to delve deeper into these thoughts or beliefs.


Do some additional research about internet safety, or talk to your child's teachers or counselors about internet safety courses and resources. This way, you will be able to teach your child in depth about internet safety before giving them a device.


If this doesn't calm your fears, you may be suffering from anxiety, and need to talk to a therapist about these issues, since they aren't based on your child's behavior.


Conclusion

When children are young, it is important to monitor their internet usage closely.


However as they get older and grow into their teenage years, they will likely want their own smartphone.


Before you give your child a device, it is important to talk to them about internet safety as well as your expectations for using the device.


Then, you should be able to trust your child to come to you if they receive any inappropriate messages, instead of feeling like you need to spy on them, as this can corrode trust in your relationship with your teen.


Let me know what you think in the comments! How do you keep your child or teen safe online?


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