Parents walk fine line by investigating kids’ social media
Story and graphics by Joshua Kellams, NewsNetNebraska
Deciding where to draw the line – between privacy and protection – can be a difficult choice for parents as their kids use electronic communications like texting and Facebook.
Some parents know this better than others.
Bill Scheele of Odell, Neb., has three kids — ages 22, 14 and 12. Scheele and his wife, Joy, keep a close eye on their 14- and 12-year-old’s use of electronic media, checking cell phones, Facebook, etc., weekly.
“We try to let our kids have as much privacy as we can,” Scheele said. “[But], we believe that a parent has a responsibility to monitor what their kids are doing.”
“We try to monitor they are safe and legal.”
One Omaha, Neb., college student remembers what it was like to have parents keeping watch.
Kristi Beal, a senior at Northwest Missouri State, said her parents checked her devices when she was a teen — her text messages, e-mails and online blog.
“I don’t resent them for it,” she said, “and I don’t think I ever did. [But], I definitely didn’t approve of it.”
Beal said she now understands why her parents checked up on her so frequently – they were trying to protect her from harm.
But, at the time, it certainly caused relationship rifts.
“We argued whenever I would get in trouble,” she said. “There were definitely shouting matches, but I know that I was usually the one in the wrong.”
Larry Rosen tells parents that protecting their kids doesn’t have to be a fight, though. The California State University psychology professor has spent years researching what he calls connective media (things like text messaging, e-mailing and social mediums) and its affects on parent/child relationships.
Hovering over a child’s social life often does more harm than good, Rosen said.
“You can check their text messages,” he said, “you can do whatever you like. But every single activity you do like that endangers trust between you and your child, and trust is absolutely critical for them to want to talk to you.”
But after recent events, parents have more reason than ever to be concerned.
Shad Knutson, a former teacher at Nathan Hale middle school in Omaha, was convicted earlier this month on charges of inappropriate conduct with a former underage female student.
The misconduct included more than 25,000 text messages Knutson exchanged with the student.
Prosecutors also charged Knutson with inappropriately touching three other students, although he was found not guilty on those charges.
Rosen said this type of problem is preventable, and he advised that protecting kids from harm begins with communication as soon they get the device.
“You want to start having family discussions about these issues and not doing them behind their back,” he said.
Dr. Rosen suggests weekly, 15-minute discussions, where each family member sits on the floor. For example, a parent can ask if his or her child has seen or experienced cyber-bullying.
The parent asks the questions – the child does the talking.
And in these discussions, parents allow their kids to be open and share their opinions about technology, without the child feeling under attack.
This is a chance for kids to say whatever they want, Rosen said. So when something like cyber-bullying or inappropriate behavior happens, the parent doesn’t have to sneak around to find out.
If problems with connective media do get out of control, however, seeking professional help is always an option.
But Rosen said a proactive parent who keeps up-to-date with the latest technology and has regular discussions with their child should be fine.
“[Problems] are going to happen,” Rosen said. “They’re going to change structure and message as your kid gets older. And if you’re on top of it, you’ll see the changes as they happen.”
Bill and Joy Scheele said they experienced some pushback from their oldest son, now 22, when they checked his phone and online profiles. There would be arguments, and sometimes punishment, if they found content they deemed “inappropriate.”
Although the Scheele’s said they haven’t experienced any lasting relationship issues, Rosen has seen parent/child relationships struggle when parents get too involved in their kids’ media.
For Rosen, that is simply a risk not worth taking.
“It’s all about communicating and not sneaking around.”