Yes, I Spy On My Teen's Phone — And I Don't Regret it

by Amy Hunter
teens phone
vgajic / iStock

I was 14 years old when I discovered my mother was reading my diary. I felt angry. I felt hurt. I felt particularly exposed and vulnerable because I believe just the previous day I had penned an angry teen-angst filled entry describing my particular dislike for my mother and her ridiculous rules. You know, the standard for a teenage girl in the early ’90s who had green hair, 16-hole green combat boots, and a penchant for smoking cigarettes in the school bathroom.

Now, as a parent of a tween, I’ve found myself in what could be considered a similar circumstance when it comes to my son’s cell phone. To read or not to read? That is the question. And now that I’m an adult, and I remember those feelings of vulnerability when my mother took it upon herself to read my innermost secrets, there is only one clear answer…

I read the hell outta that thing.

And there is a very particular reason I feel comfortable in my decision to become Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, and Magnum freaking P.I. when it comes to my kids’ and their electronic devices, and that is because they are just that, electronic devices. I didn’t have the entire free world at my fingertips when I was furiously scribbling in my diary. I also didn’t have the option of sharing those thoughts with 500 of my closest friends via social media. It’s different now.

When we finally caved and bought my son his first smartphone, we were very particular about the rules of engagement. The ensuing lecture went something like this: “Here is a cell phone. This phone belongs to your father and me. You are permitted to use it for communication and entertainment purposes as long as you abide by the rules in regards to grades, extracurricular activities, and religious school commitments. I will be checking the contents of this phone on a regular basis and at any time I see fit. Know that. Know that every text message, Snapchat, Instagram post, and email will, at some point, be viewed by the eyes of your mother. If you are uncomfortable with me seeing something you have written or publicly posted, maybe it shouldn’t be said at all. Since this is not your property, your use of it can and will be revoked if you aren’t meeting the requirements of your studies.”

By discussing this with my son, upfront and in advance, it became less of an “invasion of privacy” and more of an “I really want to make sure you and your friends aren’t getting into stupid shit” early on. And also, there are still many topics that I’d prefer to discuss with him as they arise. If I’m on the front lines reading these text message conversations and Snapchats, I can pull him aside and discuss them with him, rather than having his dude-bros explain them to him. *shudder*

It’s not that I don’t trust my son. It’s that I don’t trust everyone else. And to give my child the access of global technology without the guidance to navigate it seems like a recipe for disaster. Unless I want my kid to grow up and become Anthony Weiner, and spoiler alert, I don’t.

There is no right to privacy in the digital age, especially not when kids can share everything with the entire world at the touch of a button. Now, if my boy were to keep a personal diary, like one on paper stuffed in a dresser drawer? That, I would never, ever read.