Is Reading Your Teen’s Texts #Intrusive Or Wise Parenting?

I have the opportunity to write and speak across the country on raising healthy teens. Not surprisingly, my ideas, suggestions and theories get some push back from parents and teens themselves. Teen technology privacy is constantly debated with some believing teen’s texts should be kept private while others believe that nothing should be private in their home. 

On my article for iMom, ‘Your teen is sexually active, now what?’ (Read it here!) a person left a comment indicating what side of the spectrum they fall on for teen privacy. 

“Your kids are gonna hate you lmfao, imagine your

Husband was talking about having sex with you 

& your kid grabs your

phone & reads your text #intrusive”

Ok, side note, first off this statement highlights the fact that teens are using a text language we are unaware of. So for those that are curious what ‘lmfao’ means among many other abbreviations check out this article here. Secondly, when teens want to make a bold drop-the-mic statement they always hashtag (#) it! Sometimes the hashtag statement is so long you can’t understand it, but in this hashtag statement it is clear and brings up a good question. 

Is reading your teens text #intrusive or wise parenting? 

Lets start exploring this question by asking another question-because that’s not frustrating at all! At what age should wise parents stop monitoring their kids? When they are young we set up physical boundaries. In elementary and even middle school we have limitations on what they are watch, read and listen to. Yet we are left feeling insecure in our role in parenting a teenager. 

I believe that we need to still be monitoring and establishing limitations for our teens. However our goal in our monitoring is different- our goal, now that our teens have a cognitive level of understanding actions and consequences, is to equip them with discernment in order to become independent healthy adults. Discernment is gained from experiencing the highs and lows of decision making and learning from the modeling of other people. 

In reading your teens text/social media posts, you are not intruding on their personal journal, you are viewing what your teen has already placed out into this world. Being aware of what they are sharing provides you the opportunity for teaching and equipping. Here are some tips on having these types of conversations: 

-Open up communication about the ‘why’s’ behind your monitoring. 

Explain to your teen it’s not about not trusting them, it’s about proving they deserve the privilege and responsibility of having a device to begin with. Discuss what you will do to monitor your teens devices and the consequences if the teen abuses the privilege. 

-Let your teen discuss their perspective without interrupting or dismissing their points.

Whether they have had a device prior that you didn’t monitor or they are getting one for the first time, teens will not enjoy the idea of being monitored. Shocker, I know! So give them the opportunity to discuss how it makes them feel and how they wish it was different. Truly listen to their complaints and try to put yourself on their shoes. Ask them to come up with a plan of compromise, allow them to suggest certain boundaries. When it becomes a partnership both parties want to see the goal met. 

-Discuss in measurable ways how to build trust on both sides. 

My kids know I read their texts. One way we build trust with each other, I do not bring up the content of their conversations unless I caught them doing something awesome, (like standing up for a friend or shutting down inappropriate behavior), or I see they are struggling in a negative situation. If I see them struggling, I bring it up by saying “I saw you were talking about....what do you think you should do, that’s a rough place to be....how can I support you?” 

Parenting a teenager is tough, more so because we are the first generation of parents to raise teens with personal devices. The comment left for me brought out a real fear as a parent: “your kids are gonna hate you.” As our kids get older and we see them developing independence and leaning less on us, we truly do fear the loss of connection with them, especially if it was caused by our own actions. So I leave you with this, hopefully it provides peace and encouragement- If you feel yourself doubting your parenting decisions remember these two points: 

-Loving well is about setting boundaries and allowing natural consequences to equip our kids for the real world. 

-A relationship only based on compliance of rules leads to defiance. A relationship based on dialogue regarding the rules and consequences leads to respect and compliance. 


So let us parent in confidence in knowing we are loving our kids well by walking with them through their teen years! 

Paige Clingenpeel

Teen Therapist working with teens and parents on TV, Radio, Web-Based Media, Blogs, and Print. Presently a monthly contributor to the women's parenting & marriage site iMom.com, and host of TBN's Tween show iShine K'Nect. Paige also provides individual therapy at LifeSprings Counseling Center, and works at Parkview Health as a student assistant counselor assigned to Carroll High School. Paige is married to Ryan and has two daughters and two sons!