Question: I have a 13-year-old daughter who recently came back into my care about a year ago, she seems to think it’s alright to go online and chat with people in chat rooms, now I know the dangers of doing this and have told her so, recently my common law called the social worker who said she has the right to her privacy! She even showed her how to delete her messages when and if we choose to look in there, who is right? I don’t want my daughter to think it’s alright to go into these chat rooms and I do think it is my right as a parent to monitor what she is looking at. Roberta
Answer: The Internet is not a private place and therefore the supervision of children’s use is an absolute necessity. I recommend collecting “internet guidelines” from a variety of sources and sit down with your daughter to look at the guidelines together. Discuss the rules with her and explain you will be monitoring her use of the computer.
You can visit the following websites for parent guides to internet safety: The National Crime Prevention Council (see www.ncpc.org for Cybersafe Kids – A Parent’s Guide), The National PTA (see www.pta.org) and The U.S. Department of Education (see www.ed.gov for A Parent’s Guide to the Internet). These are just a few of many parent resource sites. If you prefer a book, try “Kids Online: Protecting Your Children in Cyberspace” by Donna Rice Hughes.
Explain to your daughter that, while you trust her, there are many untrustworthy people on the internet, especially in chat rooms. Explain also that there is no way to know if people are lying on the internet (people may pretend to be a child when they are really an adult or pretend to be a friend when they really intend to hurt or victimize someone). Lastly, explain that it is your job to protect your daughter from unsafe situations.
Here are a few tips to implement immediately with your daughter.
- Set up the computer in a public area in your home (not in a bedroom).
- Assign a password for daughter to go on the internet. YOU sign her in when you are home so you can supervise the situations she encounters on the internet.
- Post a reminder near the computer: NEVER give anyone on-line personal information without parent permission (name, age, phone, address, city location, schedule). NEVER agree to meet anyone in person who you’ve met on-line without parent permission.
You may also want to call the social worker who thinks you should respect your daughter’s privacy. Discuss the parent internet materials with her as well. You both need to be on the same team. There may be other areas of your daughter’s life where you need to be more trusting. For example, you would respect your daughter’s privacy to keep a diary. Ask the social worker for strategies to build a positive relationship with your daughter who is now an independent teenager. Try to reach a consensus together.
Enforcing limits is never easy, especially for teenagers. You must find that fine balance between rules and independence, between authority and responsibility. While restricting your daughter’s use of the internet, you must find other ways to demonstrate your respect and admiration of her as a growing person.
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.