Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: I am having trouble navigating what my role is in policing my 14-year-old’s online social life. I remember my mother unrepentantly reading my diary and then trying to bust me for the contents, and I swore I would never.
On the other hand, I have a friend who recently lost a family member to suicide resulting at least in part from serious online bullying that the parents didn’t know about (until it was too late).
My daughter is not secretive but increasingly, understandably, annoyed when I scan her texts and Instagram. How do you hit it right?
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Snooping or Oversight?
Kids need to know that online behavior is not secret. Maybe they can keep it a secret from you, but anything they text or post is subject to being forwarded, preserved by screenshot, posted for public ridicule, shared into online infamy, and/or dug up a decade later by prospective employers.
The way you can manage all of your concerns — your mother’s errors, daughter’s annoyance, your legitimate fears of bullying and the aforesaid fallacy of privacy — is to tell your daughter that her being online is contingent on your having full access, passwords and all, so she is aware at all times that unwelcome eyes might be watching. She must permit you to follow her, too.
Explain that in return for this access, she gets the latitude your mother denied you: You will not read everything, and pop in only for random checks. And you won’t react to everything — you’ll discuss with her only what you deem important or dangerous.
Once she sees you’re respecting her privacy, then you’ll start earning her trust, which comes in handy pretty much for the rest of your lives.
Also assure her, and mean it, that you’ll monitor less and less as she approaches adulthood — unless you have irrefutable cause for alarm and are still paying the bill.
Dear Carolyn: I have a relative the same age as me who has been one of my best friends since we were children. In the last decade, she went from a crummy, low-paying job to earning a position at a prestigious company, has traveled, bought a house, etc. I think she’s done some fantastic things.
However, she has become ferociously bitter about being single. The mere fact that I am married seems to make me her punching bag. For example, she asked to come over and see our new house. As I showed her around, every time I mentioned an update I wanted to make, I got eye-rolling, huffing, and finally, “You can afford to do it because there’s two of you. I have to pay for my house all by myself.”
I get it about everything — not one instance, or two, but a dozen in the course of an evening together. I’m sad she can’t be supportive of me and that she thinks that my happiness somehow diminishes hers. Since she’s already prickly about this — and prickly in general — how do I bring this up?
“I’m sad you can’t be supportive of me and that you think my happiness somehow diminishes yours.”
It’s a powerful statement. When she next hands you an opportunity to use it, I hope you do.
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