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Friday, May 27, 2016

How Much Privacy Does My Teen Deserve?

By Megan S. Willman

My son doesn’t understand my suspicion when he huddles in the corner of the car making sure I don’t see his phone screen. I assure him that these middle-aged eyes are focused on the road and can’t read from that far away, but he steadfastly protects the privacy of a conversation consisting of “K” and “CU.” I get it, though. Privacy matters to all of us, and as parents of teenagers, we are navigating tricky waters. We need household guidelines concerning electronic privacy (phones/social media) as well as personal privacy (bedrooms). But how do we decide what those expectations should be?

Our boys got phones when they turned 13. We have their passcodes, check the phones periodically, and “follow” their social media activity. As for their bedrooms, I enter often to bring in laundry. We don’t lock doors in our home, but I always knock first, and I expect them to do the same for me. They know that I will not go through their things, unless there is some reason to believe that they have put themselves at risk.

My friends are basically on the same page. We have talked with our kids about expectations and grant them privileges based on the level of responsibility that each shows. We demonstrate our respect for them by beginning from a place of trust. Still, we all wonder if we’re doing the right thing.

Terri White, director of Student Services at St. Francis High School, agrees that “Privacy around phones and social media is a privilege. At the base of teenage privacy is the trust between parents and their children.” However, she asserts, “Physical privacy is more than a privilege. It is important to the emotional well-being of children and teens.” Terri provided me with a list of guidelines for each area:

Social Media/Cell Phone
· Parents unite! Know where you stand before you talk to your teen.
· Educate yourself by checking sites like, and
· Know your child. Parents usually know when a child is ready for a cell phone.
· Ignore the claim that ‘Everyone I know has a phone except me.’ You decide when the time is right.
· Recognize that phones and social media are a huge part of a teen’s social life and his/her sense of belonging and connectedness.
· Provide clear expectations. Sample “contracts” are available online.
· Be a good role model with your own electronic practices.
· Follow your teen on social media but do it silently. Don’t embarrass your child with your comments. Talk about any issues in person.

· Teens should have a designated space in your home.
· Knock. Show that you respect that space.
· “Snoop” only if you feel he’s at risk. You want to trust your teen, but he needs to trust you, too.
· Teens have the right to have certain secrets from their parents. It’s good for them and us!
· Let her know from an early age that her privacy will be violated if you ever think that she is at risk.


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