Is Your Daughter Entitled to Online Privacy?

What does it mean to ask for privacy in the digital age? As kids turn into tweens and teens, they want more and more of it, and it can be incredibly challenging to figure out how, and where, to draw the lines. Does privacy in the traditional sense even exist when it comes to social media? And how much autonomy is too much or not enough when it comes to your daughter managing her online world? Kelly Ripa was recently quoted as saying:

My daughter always says she wants more privacy, and I respect that,” she told People magazine. “I said, ‘If you want to keep a diary instead of Instagram, then you will have privacy. I will not read your diary, but if you’re going to be on Instagram, I’m going to read that, because that’s not private. That is social media.’ That’s how we work it out in our house.

Parents increasingly struggle with finding balance between educating their children (and themselves!) on the limits to online privacy, the permanence of what is shared online, and giving their children freedom to develop their own online presence. Since parents of tweens and teens are learning these online rules in adulthood, it can be incredibly tough to keep up with your adolescent's know-how online, and kids are smart enough to pick up on when parents don't really know what they're talking about! As tweens turn into teens, it can also be important for parents to learn when to step back and allow more online freedom. Author Mary Beth Williams writes:

I’ve raised my kids to be cautious and responsible. I’ve talked to them about the information they share online, and whom they share it with. I’ve tried to teach them to be good netizens. I understand fully that a social media feed is indeed a public thing. But there’s a difference between what you share with the world, and what you share with your mother — and that means that sometimes Mom needs to get out of the way.

As with all things child-rearing-related, there are no hard and fast rules. Each family, each child, each situation is different. As you develop (and continually adapt) your household's online policy, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Be transparent about what the house rules are. Tell your daughter if you will be following her online, reading her posts, checking her phone. This builds trust and a shared understanding of what exactly is expected.

2. Engage her in the discussion process. Invite her to think about what rules make sense and why. Talk with her, rather than at her, about what it means to have privacy online and how & why to protect herself.

3. Let her test her independence incrementally. You don't have to start off with unfettered access to Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook all at once. Let her build up social media literacy, demonstrate responsible use, and take on increasing autonomy.

4. Model respectful social media use. Ask before posting about them, sharing their pictures or otherwise exposing them online. Be mindful of your own social media posts, as well as how much time you spend online. 

Whether you align more with Ms. Ripa's or Ms. Williams' parenting approach to social media, being respectful of your child's right to privacy is a good place to start with teaching healthy social media use. As Ms. Williams states:

I feel acutely that my job in protecting my daughters online begins with me. That means I talk to them before I write things that involve them and their personal lives. I don’t document every experience we have together, or rush to share it online. I don’t post their photographs or discuss their relationships or activities. From the time they were small, I’ve tried to model respect for their privacy. I’ve tried to show them that their real, breathing, beautiful lives are not anybody’s social media show – not theirs, not mine — and that to me is one of the most important lessons I can give them.