Should You Spy on Your Kid’s Phone?

So, Jeff, I want to talk to you about this really interesting conversation that I saw online. And it started with somebody writing, “If you’re a parent and you go through your teenager’s phone, you’re a bad parent.” And I was like, ooh, wow, this is going to be a good conversation. So I jumped in and it’s an interesting dilemma that we have in this day and age, because there is something to what this person’s saying, right? It’s like, if you give your kids a phone and your kids start to do lots of things with a phone that maybe you would not approve of and suddenly you, because in lots of ways you can kind of grab the phone, spy on your kids. And so there was a conversation that was going on in this forum where most people of course were agreeing with what this person’s saying. Yeah, privacy don’t invade your kids’ privacy. Then of course, some people were like, wait, they’re your kids. You need to know what’s going on with them.

And what I was kind of engaging in and I’m curious what your thoughts are is I just think when you give your kids a technology where they could be private, it’s computer or phone, I think it’s actually important to when you give that to your children, say, “And I am going to be checking what you do with this phone. Nothing you do with this phone is private.” It’s sort of like the terms and service that you might sign when you go to a website. Hey, this information is not private. It is going to be shared. I am going to be checking in. And so be aware of that. And then regularly doing that, like checking on, checking the history, making sure that your kids know that there are things that I’m going to be doing to make sure that … you can give it, give some privacy, your kids, but man, if you’re not going to do that, then let them know upfront. And that’s kind of how we’ve done it. But yeah, Jeff, any thoughts about how to deal with technology privacy and kids? Because this is going to be a big topic.

Yeah. Totally. Totally. I mean, I think, yeah, you said it all. I think it’s the main thing is expectations, right? Like just expectations. I know another family who’s solid and their kids are older and teenagers and like yeah, every kid gets a contract, like a legitimate, here’s the terms of this agreement. Here’s what I expect from you. If any of these are violated, here’s the probation, here’s the longer one. And here’s the kind of final straw. And it just says it. And what’s great too, is I feel like you even see that in business, you see that in marriage, like if the expectations are set, it actually tends to create less conflict and fighting because it’s just like, everyone just is more of a just submitting to the external reality of the rules. It’s not like, I’m not mad against you. I’m just like, this is what we all signed up for. And so I think that is big.

But I think I’ll say two more things. I think the one is yes, the seed of the idea that’s here is on the one side, well, there’s two sides here that I’m wrestling with or that I think just both have to be true. The first one is another way I would put it is your kid doesn’t have a phone. You have a phone that you probably bought. That you own, that you pay for, that they are renting. And just like a house, that’s my house. I’m the one that comes in and says, if I want to change the fridge or change the oven. I’m the one that says you’re getting evicted. It’s just like all, it’s not your house. You’re renting. And I make all the rules and I own this asset, but I want it to serve you right now and that’s why you have it. And so I think that’s a philosophy that should be true.

And then lastly, on the other side of the conversation, I do think the seed of the truth that’s here is that the worst possible thing a parent could usually do is treat a 17 year old like a seven year old. And that includes emotionally, with friends, socially, their dreams, their hopes and privacy, not in the sense of that we have secrets, no family should have secrets, but privacy, in the sense of I’m not micromanaging your life because I have discipled you in a way where I trust you. And so that’s the issue is it’s a trust issue. Is the way that you’re snooping in your kid’s phone or whatever showing a certain amount of trust.

But again, it gets back to expectations because you totally should be able to look, if you said, this is like, I actually have a hard time with this as a 30 year old. So I don’t believe you can steward this well, and that’s not a trust issue. That’s a brain development issue. That’s a new innovation issue. That’s a technology issue. It’s expectations and communication again. So if there’s this, you get to this context where you’re kind of snooping and it’s secretive and you’re like looking, and then they’re upset and all these things, to me that just usually shows like, oh, there was probably a battle that was lost like five years ago. You know what I mean? For lack of a better term, and that’s kind of the heart of this. And so just getting super intense about it is not going to solve it either. So I don’t know if that fully rounds it off, but that’s kind of how I see all the sides of it.

Yeah, totally agree that your job, when you have a teenager, the most important thing is to have that child’s heart. And if you create a situation with their phone, with their friends, with their privacy, where it’s eroding their trust in you and their desire to share with you and that you create a sneaking atmosphere and that’s what I think is really dangerous about this. It’s not that you don’t have every right to violate your kids’ privacy quote, unquote, it’s that if you do that in a way that they weren’t expecting, you could be creating a culture in your family of sneaking and so that’s the kind of thing you have to be really careful about. You want to have your child’s heart.

And I think the way you said it is the best way to do that when it comes to a phone and say, “This is my phone. Hey, I’d love for you to be able to use this. By the way, because it’s mine, I’m going to check in on it. The apps that are on it are going to be approved or disapproved by me. This is going to be a constant conversation. This is not a license for you to do whatever you want with this, et cetera.” So having those expectations, writing them out in a contract, which we’ve done as well, I think is really, really helpful.

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