Home Blog Articles Responsible Parenting or Invading Privacy? Should Parents Demand Access to their Teen’s Social Media Accounts?

Responsible Parenting or Invading Privacy? Should Parents Demand Access to their Teen’s Social Media Accounts?

by Kate Borsato

Most parents on this planet (long before Snaps and Tweets were a thing) have been curious about what the heck their kids are up to. Remember the days of hiding your journal, stashing notes away and desperately hoping your mom didn’t find them? We never had to worry about our parents snooping through our social media accounts…thank goodness!

Well today, the curiosity is almost unbearable for parents as social media platforms collect, curate, and guard (albeit not so securely) details about your child’s life – their secrets, relationships, conflicts, feelings, decisions…mistakes.

Just imagine if all those details of your teenage years were documented? #dodgedthatbullet 

It’s not surprising, then, that some parents demand access to teen’s social media accounts. But is this the right thing to do?

Should parents demand access to their teens social media accounts

You have the responsibility to know what your child is doing and how their behaviors are impacting them.  But does this mean that you have the right to demand access to your teen’s social media accounts?

My answer:  No, It doesn’t. At least not under normal circumstance (more on the exceptions later…). Now let me tell you why.

First, let’s get really honest about what you”re afraid of with your teen using social media. Most parents worry that their child is:

  • Posting inappropriate pictures of their bodies or “sexting”
  • Having group chats with strangers
  • Getting into pornography
  • Engage in online bullying or otherwise being unkind
  • Meeting up with people in real life who they met online
  • Feeling crappy about themselves
  • Losing perspective and spending way too much time online
  • Exposed to horrifically offensive and unhealthy content

Sound familiar? Good, because it should. These fears are the realities of many families today so no wonder you’re concerned they’ll become yours! (And if you’re concerned about social media addiction, you can learn more here).

Question: Does demanding access to your teen’s social media accounts prevent these things from happening?

The short answer: Nope, not really.

Kids are so tech savvy, more so than most adults. So it wouldn’t be that surprising for them to find a way around you. Maybe they create secret accounts, use an alias, block certain content from appearing on your social feeds (yes, they can do that), block you from seeing their ‘Stories’ or have accounts with platforms that you just simply don’t know about.

The Real Problem With Demanding Access to your Teen’s Social Media Accounts

What’s even more important to consider is that when you demand access to your child’s social media accounts, you are positioning yourself against them (rather than beside them).

Eventually, a dynamic is created where your child feels more inclined to lie, hide things, and avoid communicating, which all result in more conflict and less connection.

Not what you want, is it?

If maintaining a positive relationship with your child is important to you, then you need to make parenting decisions that position you beside your child, rather than against them. So in other words, the two of you together will tackle the challenges of navigating social media rather than your child focusing on keeping secrets and getting away with mischief.

Essentially, this suggests that there is this thing out there somewhere that you two will manage together. YOU are not the problem. Your CHILD is not the problem. The problem resides in how you use technology. When you approach the issue side-by-side, you are much more likely to solve problems in a healthy and connecting way. 

So if you can’t snoop, then what do you do?

Thinking broadly, your job is to help your child develop good decision-making skills so that they can go on to live fulfilling and healthy lives. This directly applies to social media:

[bctt tweet=”Rather than controlling how teens engage with social media, parents need to teach them how to make appropriate decisions.” username=”kateborsato”]

You do this through enhancing your relationship with your child and by helping them develop a sense of responsibility.

Here are 6 Strategies to Promote Positive Social Media Behaviour Without Snooping in Your Teen’s Accounts:

1.Have regular check ins about social media.

Because social media is part of everyday life, it needs to be part of everyday discussion too. It’s completely reasonable to ask about new “friends” or “followers”, just like you would ask about in-person connections. Demonstrate that you are open and interested in their online world. Even if you have judgements about it, keep them to yourself as much as you can. Your child won’t share any information with you if you embarrass or shame them for loving social media. 

2. Review their privacy settings together.

One of the conditions of your teen having social media accounts should be that privacy settings are age-appropriate and safe. Have a conversation with your child about the possible risks of social media, and review the settings together. Consider creating “private accounts” where followers/friends have to be approved before they can view your son or daughter’s profile.

Also know that protecting your child from being “found” online only solves a small part of the problem. Even if your child has a private account, think of all the content that they are freely able to view? (sometimes without asking for it!) It’s frightening to face this fact: by participating in social media, your child will likely be exposed to images and videos that are incredibly inappropriate, violating, and harmful. (And remember, you don’t have to accept this. You could join other parents and refuse to allow your kids to have social accounts). 

3. Take interest in online activities yourself.

This gives you first-hand knowledge of what the online world is all about, keeps you current, and also might provide a peek into what your child is doing online. You may be able to see who your child engages with, what their online behaviour is like, and who their friends are. Is this snooping? It could be getting close, depending on how YOU behave. My advice is to befriend your child on social media but don’t be a stalker. Don’t comment on their photos more than anyone else would, try to give them space but keep an eye out.

4. Share about your own experiences on social media.

Most of us can relate to the positive feelings we get when we receive a wave of birthday messages, “likes”, and comments. It feels good! And, we also know what it feels like when we don’t get that reinforcement. You CAN relate to your child, even if the popular platforms are different between generations. Consider talking to them about what you find challenging with social media, what you love about it, and what you could do without. Ever made any mistakes?  Why not share these as well…afterall, it’s often quite validating for a teen to recognize the “human-ness” of their parents…that you make mistakes too. 

5. Create a contract or “conditions of use.”

I always remind parents that social media is a privilege for their child, not a right. Teens are not owed social media … it’s not a basic need (despite what they might currently think). So with that, your child needs to earn the right to use these platforms, and must use them responsibility. Ask yourself: What social media behaviour do I expect from my child, and how can I convey these as “terms of use”?  

For example, you might decide that sexual, unkind, or disrespectful behaviours are not allowed and result in “social media grounding” of some kind. Maybe you have a cut-off time in the evenings where phones go away until the following day? While all families will vary with what they deem appropriate and normal, you must decide what your limits are and enforce these limits with your child.

6. Establish tech etiquette.

Part of good parenting today involves teaching youth how to be respectful digital citizens.  Just because it’s normal to see people with their heads down on their phones almost constantly does not mean this is acceptable. Parents need to take it upon themselves to teach their children how to include social media and technology into their lives in a positive way that also allows them to function well in society. This means developing in-person social skills, balancing on and off-line realities, and knowing how to set limits with their tech use.

Tech-etiquette is all about digital manners. Consider making a list for your home that includes things like: never write anything you’d be embarrassed for others to see, don’t walk around starting at your phone, and prioritize in person conversation above digital ones.

Looking for more ideas?

Here’s a “tech-etiquette for teens” printable that will get you on your way. Click anywhere on the button below to receive the file. 

demand access to teen's social media accounts

Situations That May Require Parents to  Demand Access to Teen’s Social Media Accounts

So what about the exceptions? And yes, there are always exceptions.

First of all, you don’t have to allow your teen to have social media accounts in the first place!

Yes, I’m serious!!  Many parents are putting their foot down and simply saying “no!” Consider this carefully, and make sure you realize that this is a possibility for your family: you don’t have to give in to the pressure of allowing social media in your lives (if you’re interested in learning more about this suggestion, check out this powerful article from a mom/writer who takes a strong stance against social media for youth).

Now, lets talk about when to monitor your child’s social media behaviour more closely.  While I usually focus on teaching responsible decision making skills, there are situations where you may want to more directly access their accounts.

For example, if you are concerned about your teens mental health (maybe they have suddenly withdrawn, seem depressed, and you are concerned about their well-being) then you’ll want to dig a little deeper.

Sadly, online bullying and negative social media behaviour has lead to devastating outcomes for many youth, including suicide. It’s imperative that you maintain regular conversations with your child about social media so that you can easily detect when something has shifted or become problematic. 

If your child isn’t willing to give you access, you could ask their friends, family, or others who might have a sense of what is going on for them. Remember, this kind of “snooping” should only be taken if you have concerns rather than just out of regular curiosity (otherwise you risk unnecessarily damaging trust in your relationship).

You may also need to remove social media privileges if they aren’t willing to talk with you about what is happening.

Other behaviours like sexting or chatting with strangers would also warrant you to monitor more closely (or removing priviledges). Again, focusing on aligning yourself with your child rather than against them is key. So for example, if you find them sexting, consider having a genuine conversation about this, how you can actually understand the desire to do this (try to drum up some empathy here) but that you are concerned because of x, y, and z.

You don’t want to shame them or become overly angry. This kind of behaviour clearly demonstrates that they need some guidance and support with how they are behaving online and they need to be able to trust you.

Another situation that would absolutely call for more vigilance is with younger teens or children who want social media accounts. While 13 is technically the minimum age to use most platforms, there are literally millions of “underage” users, so let’s not fool ourselves by thinking that an age minimum will keep pre-teens away.

In the name of being prepared and responding to what kids are actually doing (rather than what we hope they are doing), I think there are some situations where young accounts can work well.  For example, I have come across many social accounts for young people where their profile clearly states something like “MOM-MANAGED ACCOUNT.” I think this is fabulous for a few reasons. Firstly, anyone who views this account realizes immediately that mom and child are on a team, working together, and nothing will get to that child without mom seeing it too.

Secondly, when a parent is monitoring an account, they can teach their child how to engage in a positive way. Rather than children learning through trial-by-error (and potentially making costly mistakes), parents can talk through different actions and help their child decide how to engage. Gradually, parents can dial back their involvement as their child gets older and demonstrates responsibility.

Generally, I don’t advocate for pre-teen social media use, but given that it’s happening, parents need to get involved as early as possible and help guide their kiddos through the mine-field. And, I strongly believe that children should never be left to browse the internet or social platforms unsupervised! You might trust your child, but you certainly cannot trust the hoards of people out there who post horrifically offensive content.

Final Thoughts

The palpable curiosity about what your child is doing online is unavoidable! But curiosity doesn’t always have to lead you to snoop through your child’s social accounts. There are much better (and more connecting) ways to encourage your child to be a responsible digital citizen.

The consistent message from researchers and parenting experts is that communication is essential and usually trumps any specific parenting tool you could use. The ongoing connection, conversation, and relationship with your child is what will help them to make healthy decisions online. While snooping through their socials might be interesting (and likely shocking) it doesn’t actually solve any problems and certainly doesn’t teach them anything about respectful online behaviour.

Instead, invest your energy in creating a positive, open, and trusting relationship so that your child will come to you when they most need it. And, consider whether social media even deserves a place in your home and in your child’s developing mind.

As always, YOU get to establish YOUR expectations around social media use. It’s your child’s job to meet these expectations if they plan on ‘snapping’ any time soon.

P.S.  Wondering what I’m talking about when I say “snapping?” You might want to brush up on your social media knowledge so that you can keep up with your teen. Learn more about the popular platforms (and when to be concerned).

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