Q My husband and I have allowed our 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to email and instant message their friends on their computers, which are in their respective rooms. This is allowed only after homework and chores are done. They have both told me they don’t like me hanging around when they’re online and don’t want me to read their mail. As if to confirm my fears, one of my son’s female classmates recently sent him a very inappropriate email. We are beginning to think that we’ve opened a can of worms by allowing our children this privilege. On the other hand, we don’t want to micromanage them. What would you suggest?
A I agree, you’ve opened a can of worms, and, as such, the saying “How can you keep ’em down on the farm now that they’ve seen Paris?” certainly applies. I’ll just bet, although I’m obviously speculating, that since you implemented the homework-and-chores rule, that the kids are doing neither homework nor chores up to previous par.
If you haven’t already guessed, I am an aging fuddy-duddy where children and the Internet are concerned: To wit, I don’t approve of children, whether their ages are expressed in one or two digits, having access to the Internet without adult supervision. Furthermore, I see no need for children to have access to email and instant messaging capabilities, even with supervision. Quite simply, even the best of kids can’t be trusted not to get caught up in some of the highly inappropriate stuff that goes on between and concerning children on the Internet.
And to a teenager who responds “How are we going to demonstrate that we can be trusted unless you trust us?” I’d say, “I was a teenager once, and I remember saying the same thing to my parents, and that very experience leads me to not trust you to exercise consistently good judgment where the temptations of the Internet are concerned.”
I would recommend that you simply step back and tell the kids that you’ve changed your minds and that from now on, email and instant messaging are off limits. If you can’t bring yourselves to do that, then I’d impose supervision and make a rule that if supervision is ever balked at, then the child in question will not have any access to a home computer for a week; second offense, no more Internet as long as said child lives in your house.
If you want some appropriate words, here they are: “Since I am responsible for your moral safety as much as your physical safety, I have a right to read your emails when I want to, as much as I have a right to tell you that you can’t go somewhere dangerous. Therefore, I will occasionally, randomly, just walk in and tell you, ‘I want to read.’ If you click offline, click offscreen, or act in any way hesitant to let me read what you’re doing, you’ll be denied Internet privileges of any sort for a week. The second time such rebelliousness occurs, you will not use the Internet again until you go to college. I will, by the way, also inform your school that they are not to let you use the Internet. Got that? Any questions?”
You might also point out to the kids that employers have a right to read the emails of adult employees and add, “So, get over it.” They understand language like that, I hear. And by the way, this is not micromanagement; this is good parenting.
Do you agree with Dr. Rosemond’s advice? How have you handled problems with using the Internet in your family? Write to us! You can write a letter to the editor and submit it online on the Letters to the Editors page.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is
the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North
Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, call
Elizabeth Stevens at 919-403-8712.