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Should I Be Reading My Daughter’s Social Media?

What to consider before you peek at your kid’s posts.

At the park, a woman with mobile phone looks over shoulder to a girl with digital tablet
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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Dear Doctor,

I think our daughter is being bullied online. She is always on her phone and hides it so we can’t see what’s going on. And she has become withdrawn and doesn’t hang out with her friends much. We keep asking her what’s going on, but she won’t talk to us. We’ve never checked her social media accounts without her permission. But I’m worried about her. Is this something we should be doing?

Sincerely,

"Snooping Mom"

Dear Snooping Mom:

It’s common to want to monitor social media use, especially with younger teens and children. Social media is a new frontier for all of us, which I know can be scary and confusing. But the problem with snooping through your child’s phone without her consent—much like snooping through her room or reading her diary—is that it’s a breach of trust.

Cyberbullying is a very real public health problem, especially for teens, so it’s understandable that you’re concerned. Back in our day, kids had to be mean to your face; now all it takes is one click to anonymously publish hurtful words for all the world to see. It makes bullying much easier, with less guilt and fewer consequences for the bully.

But the main problem with snooping behind your daughter’s back is that it suggests you don’t trust her to be honest and forthcoming. It could lead to mistrust and further isolation. Likewise, I don’t think repeatedly confronting your child at home is the answer either; home should be a safe place where she can escape whatever it is that’s going on, and by pressing her, you may cause her to withdraw further.

Of course, that’s not to say you shouldn’t take any action whatsoever. Bullying is a serious problem that can cause low self-esteem and, in the most extreme cases, has contributed to self-harm and suicide. The most important thing for parents to do is keep an eye out for signs of depression—which usually include a sudden change in behavior, loss of interest in usual activities, and/or social isolation—and keep an open line of communication with their children.

In your particular position, normally I’d advocate having an open, sit-down conversation with your daughter, letting her know that you’re here for her and that she won’t get in trouble if she comes to you for help. But if you’ve already tried this (and it sounds like you have), it may be time to bring in a professional—you can start with your pediatrician or find a social worker or other mental health professional.

Whatever you do, always be sure to involve your daughter in the decision-making process and let her know that you’re looking out for her. The most important thing to do is maintain her trust, which can be difficult to earn back once broken.

“The main problem with snooping behind your daughter’s back is that it suggests you don’t trust her to be honest and forthcoming. It could lead to mistrust and further isolation.”
Dr. Victor Fornari, child psychiatrist

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Published July 16th, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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