I lived with my grandmother during high school, and when I was 16 I had a girlfriend that grandma hated. She only let me go out with her once a week, and she didn’t like me talking to her on the phone. Sometimes I could actually hear her breathing on the other end of the line because she was trying to listen to our conversation by picking up the phone in her bedroom. To keep our conversation private, I actually drilled a hole in my bedroom closet and ran a secret phone line. I’d then hide in there and talk to my girlfriend.
Looking back, this was probably the ’90s equivalent of a “Finsta” or “Sinsta.” For those of you unfamiliar with those terms, let me fill you in. “Finstas” and “Sinstas” are fake social media accounts that teenagers create so they can keep their online interactions secret and away from their parents.
Who knows how long teens have been using secret accounts to stay away from their parents, but I assume the practice happened shortly after social media was invented. But there is a new twist on that practice: parents creating secret accounts to monitor their children.
I know. I know. All of this feels like some sort of a cloak and dagger operation where no one is who they appear, everyone is spying on someone, and who really knows what government we are all affiliated with. Is your teen a spy or a double spy, and are parents actually working for Russia?
I can’t answer those questions, but during a recent interview with former New York Yankees short stop Alex Rodriguez, he let it slip that he uses a “burner” Instagram account to keep an eye on his daughters. While interviewed on the podcast, he mentioned that his daughters wouldn’t let him follow them or see what they post, so this is his work around.
Well since this story ended up being discussed on mainstream media, I’m pretty sure the cat’s out of the bag and his daughters have brought this up with him at the dinner table. But outside of Alex Rodriguez’s home life, his confession to using a fake Instagram account does raise some interesting questions, such as, how many parents are actually doing this?
Naturally, it’s difficult to tell. I can speak for myself and say that I don’t. But at the same time, my oldest is 12 and we haven’t allowed him to get on social media yet. Or at least, that’s what we are telling him. I suppose, he could have a Finsta I don’t know about. But on the whole, he’s a pretty honest kid, so I’m optimistic.
I did, however, ask the question on my blog Facebook page and received hundreds of comments. Many parents said they refused because they respect their child’s privacy. A number of parents clearly had never heard of this practice, but are now convinced it’s the best idea since email. A number of folks said they’d only do it if they suspected their child was doing something dangerous or illegal. In the case of my grandmother listening in on my phone calls, she had the same fears. And you know what, they were valid. I was into some things I really shouldn’t have been.
One mother had this to say about why she has a fake social media account to monitor her children, and I do admit, looking back on my own teen years, I can’t help but feel she has some good points: “Yes. Because I remember being a teen and I made major decisions that I now wish my parents would have caught me and stopped me. I also know a few addicts who also wish their parents would have been more up their booty. Our job isn’t to make our kids happy all the time. Sometimes, we have to piss them off.”
On the whole though, according to this small sampling, it seems lots of parents wouldn’t monitor their children with a fake account. What they do, however, is regularly search their child’s phone. Some said they did it nightly. They insist on passwords to all social media accounts.
One mother even said: “If I want to see her social media I get on her phone and look at it. No need to sneak around.”
Many parents clearly have strict rules around social media, including setting accounts to private (particularly platforms like Instagram and Twitter), and not accepting friend request from people they don’t know IRL. And all of them seem to do it for the same reasons parents have been searching their children’s bedrooms since the dawn of time. To keep them safe.
But naturally, this is a new and ever-changing landscape, and so much of it all comes down to trust. The hope is that your children trust you enough, and that you trust them. When that trust is broken, it can all come out sideways, hurting relationships, and causing parents and children to drift apart.
So my friends, if you are going to monitor your child’s online activity with a burner account, tread lightly.