Would you read your child's emails or texts?
Published 12/02/2013 | 06:00
Would you read your child's emails? Their texts? Their gossipy online chats with friends about boys and which One Direction song is the best?
British MP Claire Perry has provoked a rash of conflicting opinions on parenting websites after suggesting mums and dads should monitor their children's text messages.
According to Perry, a mum-of-three and David Cameron's new adviser on childhood, parents have been 'complicit' in creating a culture where teens can make inappropriate contact with "strangers at all hours of the day and night" because they're not keeping an eye on their online correspondence.
Wise words or over-protective snooping?
With fears of online bullying, internet predators and 'sexting' rife, some parents are open with their children about checking their texts and messages while others feel covert espionage, flicking through texts in an abandoned phone or getting pals to 'friend' their child on Facebook and reporting back is the best way of monitoring what's happening online and keeping them safe.
Others fear it's a violation of privacy. TV host and mum-of-eight Miriam O'Callaghan recently revealed she would never intrude on her children's internet lives, saying: "I'm not that sort of person. I wouldn't even look at their Facebook page, I've never read their diaries either. It's not who I am."
She added: "Frankly, I've never been sufficiently worried to do something like that. God forbid, maybe if I was more concerned I would, but it's not something I have done or intend to do. I just try to make them wise."
We asked three mums if they would check texts and why.
Helen Markey from Sutton, Dublin, runs a child fitness programme, Stretch-n-Grow, and is mum to Erica (14) and Aoife (12). She reckons as long as mum and dad are paying the bills then they've every right to check phones and computers. She says:
"The agreement is that phones and computers are ultimately the property of the parents so, if we feel it's necessary, we can ask to check them.
"It's not something I'd do every week but I think it's important they know I can ask at any time. My 12-year-old has an iTouch and is very into Viber, where she can make chat groups with her friends.
"It's pretty mundane stuff – 'I'm doing my homework, what are you doing' – but some of the groups have people she doesn't know so it's important to know what she's sharing and who with.
"In the last few months Erica's joined Facebook, which was something we consciously delayed because I think her peer group isn't suited to that sharing environment.
"At 12 or 14 they live in a closed bubble and don't realise the power of the technology. It's important they're monitored by someone with a bit of life experience, who can guide them in how to use it. I also insist on phones staying in the kitchen at night.
"Checking texts or social networking sites is completely different to a reading a diary. A diary might be shown to one or two close friends, social media deals with a greater circle of people.
"At that age there's so much potential for sharing something you shouldn't or misreading what someone else has written that it's important to be able to have access as a parent so you can say 'Have you thought about looking at that a different way?'"
Mum-of-four Suzanne O'Byrne from Co Kildare intends to keep checking her eldest daughter's texts for years to come and it's something Aoife (11) will just have to accept. She says:
"As soon as Aoife got her first phone, I told her I would be checking it. There was no conversation to be had, that was just the way it was.
"The main reason I do it is to keep her safe. The internet isn't a safe place for young people and there's always the fear of what could happen if you don't check.
"I like her knowing that I'm going to check because it keeps it in the back of her mind that if she does do something wrong, she'll get caught, so I don't hide what I'm doing.
"She's too young for Facebook, even though she's started asking for it. But she does have email and I cast my eye over the inbox to check that it's all from friends and family. I don't read the content, that's none of my business.
"She also uses Facetime, which allows her to text friends for free, and I check that too. Thank God, I've never found anything of concern. It's just chit-chat with friends, starting to talk about boys and their bodies. But having access to it means I can correct any misinformation shared and it lets me know the level she's at.
"She's not allowed passwords that I don't know. Even though I know she's at an age where she doesn't want mum to know everything. I'm sure as she gets older, she'll fight me on it and slam doors. But she understands that I'm not trying to stop her having fun. I'm keeping her safe."
Blogger Jane Barry (thatcuriousloveof green.com)is a mum-of-three from Leitrim who wouldn't feel comfortable checking up on her daughter, Shaylin (17). She reckons she knows more about her daughter's life because she doesn't pry. She says:
"We've always had a very open relationship based on mutual respect where Shaylin knows she can talk to me about anything.
"I would see checking her messages or internet history the same as listening in on a phone conversation or reading a diary – it's not something I would be comfortable with.
"I've never felt any need to check. Shaylin's happy at school and she's not secretive, She leaves her Facebook open on the computer and uses my phone sometimes to text.
"I think if I was the kind of parent who was checking and asking for all her passwords it would maybe make her less open and I wouldn't know as much.
"Because I'm involved in blogging I'm quite knowledgeable about what's out there, and I know to talk to my children about Ask.fm and things like that and flag up potential problems without having to monitor what they're doing.
"That said, I have two children aged two and four and by the time they're older I might have to be more cautious about whatever technology is around then.
"But I think the most important thing is to have an open relationship with the children based on communication– that's what works for me."