Peering thoughtfully through this window into our kids’ lives

By Anne Collier

Back in 2005, a friend in Massachusetts referred to his daughters’ constant instant messaging (remember that?!) as “a window into their lives that I wouldn’t have otherwise. [My daughter] leaves her computer on a table beside my desk, and I get to watch a bunch of this stuff happening. Sort of like me working while she and a friend talk right inside her open bedroom door while I am working on the other side – we shouldn’t be amazed that they zone us out when we are trying to talk to them – they zone us out all the time!”

Now the 2012-style “window”: Somini Sengupta recently wrote in the New York Times about a mother in Colorado who discovered her 16-year-old had set up her own YouTube channel and broadcasting “mundane teenage banter … for the world to see.” The mom sees it, Sengupta writes, as “a window into her daughter’s mind and an emblem of the strange new hurdles of modern-day parenting. She did not mention it to her daughter; she just subscribed to the channel’s updates. The daughter said nothing either; she just let Mom keep watching.” Like the 11-year-old in Massachusetts.

These anecdotes bear out what a Canadian study found, that kids are getting used to being monitored online, that they see it almost as the price of admission to digital media use (see “Surveillance nation” in this post). Which suggests to me this unprecedented access we parents can now have to their social interaction and even innermost thoughts is something we should handle very thoughtfully, knowing that we can’t always understand the context of their comments, likes, and vlog musings. A grandmother in Virginia told Sengupta that it’s hard to see things in social sites like a grandchild “having trouble with a boy” and not saying anything, but she “knows to keep her mouth shut.”

I love what author and researcher Lynn Schofield Clark told Sengupta about how getting too involved in monitoring our kids online can “undermine our influence as parents.” She said our kids “interpret that as a lack of trust,” and how we don’t want that at a time in their lives when we do want them to come to us when stuff comes up! Handling this unprecedented access with care increases trust – and therefore safety, in many forms, especially the emotional kind.

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