Last night my 16-year-old daughter Alyssa was sitting in my Parenting the Texting Generation workshop in Southern California (we used the weekend as an opportunity to look at some colleges for her). After the workshop she was talking openly with a handful of us about the guidelines Lori and I set for her and her sister, and she shared, “I agree with all my parents’ guidelines except the one about them being able to read my texts at any time. I’m not gonna do that one with my kids when I’m a parent.”
I had never heard this objection from Alyssa before. Surprised, I asked her, “Oh really? Why wouldn’t you read your own kids texts?
She said, “Because that’s just wrong.”
Alyssa has never been one to mince words.
I chuckled and filed the conversation for later, but I was intrigued. This was one of those rules that we rarely enforced. Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. The rule states that we have the right to look at texts at any time, and that right was definitely enforced—we did exercise the ability to do that at any time. We just haven’t done it very often. I’ve probably looked at Alyssa’s texts once this entire year (and it actually resulted in a pretty good conversation).
So why did this particular rule irk Alyssa?
This was just one of the guidelines that we had come up with as a family. In the workshop I had encouraged parents to not only build relationships with their kids, but also build lasting values. After talking a little about setting some fair boundaries, I gave the group some examples of some guidelines that we have in our house. I told them, “These aren’t necessarily guidelines that every parent needs to set, but these are some guidelines that have really helped our kids.” Guidelines like, we talk about every song we buy.
Reflecting on my list, Alyssa didn’t mind the music guidelines, just this texting one: Parents can read their kids texts at any time. Kids need to ask permission to delete their texts.
This morning I revisited the conversation. “Alyssa, I’d like to hear more about your objecting to the ‘I can look at your texts at any time’ rule. Why do you not like that rule?”
Without hesitation she responded, “Because if you trust your kids, then why do you need to look at their texts?”
Alyssa has a point. I look at parenting as a giant segue from a high degree of control when our kids are young, to a complete release of control when they are 18 and out on their own, free to make decisions for themselves. This requires parents to continually extend more trust to their kids, especially as they are 16 and 17. After all, in just a year or two they can do whatever they want, right? Might as well let them start to make some of these decisions under your shadow, stumbling while you are still there to pick them up? No, I’m not saying let your daughter drink alcohol and allow your son’s girlfriend to spend the night. But we probably should lighten up on media guidelines, for example, as they grow closer to 18. Keep talking about these choices, but then let our kids make the final choice.
And that’s where I’m at with Alyssa. At 16-and-a-half, Alyssa is really starting to earn trust with us. So I have to ask myself, is she right? Should I back off on this texting rule now?
What about her sister? Does a 14-year-old still need this rule?
When I asked Alyssa that question, she said, “It depends on if your kid has been trustworthy in other areas. If they’re trustworthy, then don’t check their texts.”
I finally asked her. “You don’t object to our other rules… why this one? Why does this one bug you so much?”
“Because texting is really personal.” Alyssa explained. “Sometimes my friend Ali and I will start sharing deep stuff from our hearts and then one of us will finally type, let’s talk about this later, my parents read my texts.”
I laughed. “Wow. Ya wouldn’t want those terrible ogres reading your texts!”
“It’s not that,” Alyssa clarified, “It’s just that sometimes we like to share some deep stuff with each other, and we don’t want each other’s parents reading that stuff.”
I told her that I thought that was a really good point, something I’d have to think about.
She gave me permission to blog about the conversation and dialogue with all of you about it. I’ll wait to hear what you think about the subject and then I’ll comment below in a day or so and tell you where I fall on this rule for both Alyssa and Ashley.
So what about you? Do you think parents should check their kids’ texts? At what age do you stop? Is Alyssa right—does this all depend on the level of trust that individual kid has earned?
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