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Should Parents Read Their Kids' Messages?

In the maze of parenting, many controversial topics pop up. One of them is whether parents should read their kids' text messages. Is it an intrusion into their privacy or a necessary step for safety?

Stefanie Parth
1/19/2024 • 5 min
Mother and daughter are sitting on the couch, mom is trying to see what her daughter is doing on her smartphone

Imagine your kid laughing over something on their smartphone in the next room. You wonder what's so funny. Is it just harmless fun with friends, or something you should know about? In our connected world, these are questions parents face on a regular basis.

So, should parents peek into their kids' messages? Are you neglecting your duties if you don't? Or is it the same as reading your kid's diary? Let's explore this controversial question.

Should You Read Your Kid's Text Messages?

Let's be clear from the start: in the world of digital parenting, there's no one-size-fits-all solution, so there's no simple yes or no answer to this question. Whether and how often you should read your kid's messages depends on a range of different factors.

Let's explore which ones might apply to you and your kid, and then look at how to handle the issue. Here are three important aspects to consider:

1. Age matters

For younger kids (up to about 12 years), it may be appropriate to look at their messages together, especially with their first smartphone. The aim is to protect your kid and teach them how to navigate the internet safely. While doing this, it's important to have open, age-appropriate conversations with them, explaining why you're involved and what you're looking for.

It's trickier with teens because they want more freedom. They need their space and privacy to become independent and responsible. If you decide to check your teen's messages, it's equally crucial to have an open conversation with them and clearly explain your reasons.

2. Consider your kid's history

If your kid has been responsible with their phone, you can be more relaxed. However, if you've noticed signs of rule-breaking or risky behavior in the past, cautious guidance might be necessary. It's crucial not to undermine trust but to support your kid in their development.

3. Watch for red flags

Has your kid's behavior changed? Are they withdrawing or acting differently? If there are specific concerns, such as cyberbullying or contact with strangers, you need to take action. As always, open communication is key. FYI: Here's what you can do if your kid is being bullied.

Any decision to read your kid's messages should be carefully considered and based on your kid's needs. The goal? To strike a healthy balance between protecting them and respecting their growing independence.

Open Communication is Essential

Before you consider reading your kid's messages, open communication is vital:

Start the conversation: Take time to have a calm discussion. You might say, "I've noticed you spend a lot of time on your phone. I want to make sure everything is okay. Can we look at your messages together?" This shows your interest and concern without being controlling.

Build trust: Explain to your kid that this isn't about spying, it's about keeping them safe. Emphasize that you trust their judgment. "It's important for you to know that I trust you. I'm just concerned about your safety, and I want us to talk openly about it." It's important that your kid understands that you respect their privacy and that they can always come to you without fear of harsh consequences, such as having their phone taken away.

Never act behind their back: Make it clear that you would never look at their phone without their knowledge. "I promise I will always talk to you before looking at your phone. Open communication is important to me."

Dealing With What You Find

Be prepared to find things in your kid's messages that may concern you:

React to inappropriate content: Stay calm if you find problematic messages. You might say, "I've seen these messages and I'm concerned. Let's talk about why this could be problematic."

Don't sweat the small stuff: It's important to distinguish between serious issues and typical kid or teen behavior. Not every inappropriate word requires a discussion.

Exercise moderate control: Constant monitoring isn’t necessary. Explain that occasional checks are necessary to maintain a healthy level of supervision. For example, "I'm not going to check in all the time, but I'd like to check in once in a while to make sure you're safe." In most cases, just knowing that you might read the messages will likely make your kid think twice before sending a message.

By following these principles, you show your kid that you respect them and value their privacy, while also caring for their safety.

Ohana's Approach

At Ohana, we believe that strengthening the parent-child relationship is essential in the digital age. That's why we've consciously decided against offering a feature that allows parents to read their kids' messages. We think such a feature, though well-intentioned, could ultimately tempt parents to violate their kids' privacy without their knowledge. This approach can undermine parent-child trust and do more harm than good in the long run.

Instead, we encourage parents to explore digital media together with their kids, emphasizing the importance of privacy and independence.

Finding a Balance

Ultimately, there's no blanket answer to whether you should read your kid's messages. It's a balance between independence and safety, and each family has to find its own way. What's clear is that we all love our kids and want the best for them – even if that means making tough choices. But don't worry, you got this one, too.