Teenagers and a right to privacy


At what age can teenagers have free range online?

Where does parental responsibility end and a teenager’s right to privacy begin?

There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about a parent’s responsibility to monitor their child’s social media use. And fair enough, the Internet is a dangerous place and anything you post on there will be around forever. But I’ve been wondering at what point does your child gain the right to a bit of privacy?

I’m sure you, like me, had a diary when you were growing up. Or if it wasn’t a diary, it was a book with a torch under the bedcovers. It was the cordless phone under your pillow until all the lights went out. It was a late night sneak up to the family computer to chat to your friends on ICQ until the wee hours of the morning.

Can you imagine if your parents were reading every word you wrote? Listening in on the phone? Sitting behind you on the computer? It’s pretty outrageous when you look at it like that but let me ask you this: how is insisting on having the password to your child’s Facebook any different?

It isn’t. And the simple fact is your child will probably find a way around it. If you have access to their Facebook they’ll have a secret twitter account, a tumblr, or a MySpace (haha, just kidding, no one h a MySpace anymore). And with smart phones their access is 24/7, right in their pockets. How can anyone hope to monitor that?

And if you are reading everything they write online, when does it end? Will you still have the password to their Facebook at 18? Don’t be silly… But then where’s the line? 16? 14? 12?

You have a parental responsibility to protect your child in the online world, I agree, but is this a bit like that time you told your child not to touch the stove, not to touch the stove, don’t touch the damn stove! But they didn’t listen, they didn’t heed your warning, until they had been burnt.

I don’t have the answer, just the question: Where does a parent’s responsibility end and a teenager’s right to privacy begin?

What do you think? Do you monitor your kids online? If so, when do you intend to stop?


  • Mitchell Osmond

    I was never monitored on the internet growing up – the only thing my parents monitored was how long I spent on the internet. This may have been because I was in the first generation to ‘grow up’ with the internet, so my parents had no concept of controlling it.

    Having my own son now, I don’t think I’d be inclined to monitor his internet use either. I’ll talk to him about how to behave on the internet and what to avoid, but I don’t think I’ll need to sit behind him and watch what he does, least of all demand his facebook password (though if I could stop him from ever using facebook, I would). I think parents need to establish good communications with their kids from an early age, so that when they do get into trouble on the internet, they feel that that can come to their parents for support. Trying to establish commincations after they hit the internet may be a tough battle…

  • http://explore.johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I reckon as soon as a child is old enough to leave the home without adult supervision, then they should be able to use the Internet without supervision…

    • http://tamsinhowse.com/blog Tamsin Howse

      Ooh, good line!

  • Jessica Chapman

    I agree that at some point (probably at about 11-13) a parent shouldn’t read everything they do on the internet but kids need to understand that the internet doesn’t go away the way a diary or a phone conversation does. Even if you delete things you’ve posted, they can still be there for everyone to see. If I had done some of the things I did as a teenager on the internet I would be mortified that they could still be there.