My child doesn’t want me to check their phone. What should I do? Q&A with a digital parenting expert

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When parents decide their kids are ready for a phone, a common issue they encounter is what level of privacy a child should have. There are several considerations to make when it comes to making that decision, but first, it’s most important to be clear on your belief system around this issue: is your child’s privacy a right or is it earned?

Granted, the issue is not simply a clear cut “yes” or “no” answer, because a phone is not the same as a diary or a dresser drawer. A phone is a public device, no matter what settings you have on it, and so that must be a consideration when you decide whether privacy is their right, or something they earn.

In my experience, privacy on a gadget like a phone or tablet, is something that kids need to earn, by showing responsibility, as well as an understanding of the consequences of their choices. If you’ve been talking to your kids about how to use a phone in an appropriate manner, then they should know that all communications (even text messages and direct messages) are public, and can be shared. I always tell my kids “If you’re not comfortable with having something you’ve sent shared on a billboard in Times Square, don’t send it.”

Still, it’s easy for kids to get sucked into the moment, particularly in group texts with a bunch of people (some of whom they may not even know), so it’s imperative that they understand that anything at anytime can be screenshot and shared publicly.

With that in mind, here are considerations:

– the age of your kids (younger kids thrive with more boundaries);

– their level of maturity and responsibility (older kids thrive with more agency);

– their understanding of the possible consequences of their choices;

– the level of communication you have with them and the state of your relationship with them;

– why you want to be able to check their phone (are you concerned about their choices or are you being a helicopter parent?)

Ideally, you roll out these rules and the ability for them to earn more privacy and responsibility from the time they get their phone. If you’re backtracking a bit, you’re going to have to prepare for a possible battle. If that’s the case, be firm with your rationale, and give them an opportunity to earn back your trust, just like you might do with other aspects in their life.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to check your own rationale, and be consistent with your choice. And if you see that they’re making good choices themselves, acknowledge it.

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