You may think you have a right and a duty, as a concerned parent, to peek into your children’s social lives by accessing their online status updates, chat streams and text messages. Please don’t, says Raphael Bromilow, 17. His mom, Joy, adds her thoughts to the big debate below.
There comes that point in everyone’s life when they seriously consider committing a terrible, terrible act: Unfriending their grandmother on Facebook. And, in my case, a whole host of miscellaneous relatives and dreaded family friends.
In hindsight, there’s a noticeable build-up to that moment when your mouse hovers over the unfriend button, wondering what could bring about the realisation that they are no longer active in your online life.
From family member to world’s greatest stalker
In the case of relatives over the age of 45, the progression from family member to world’s greatest stalker seems to happen over the course of a few weeks. They start liking everything you post, commenting on every picture you’re tagged in, and of course criticising your vocabulary.
From the sheer number of posts you remove from your wall per day, you can deduce that this unfortunate soul has never heard of the useful and multi-functional private message.
In addition to this cringe-worthy behaviour, my family (according to their profiles) has become a hive of right wing extremists. I think it’s important for the older generation to understand the meaning of the word “reputation”. If you become an hourly source of heavily slanted and biased news reports, I am going to unfriend you. I don’t need that in my life.
The combination of all of the above appeared in the form of my late grandmother. There are certain things grandparents say, certain phrases they use and certain assumptions they make about your sexuality, religious convictions and habits, which should be kept to the privacy of personal conversation.
There was something that sounded condescending in everything she typed. I was terrified that her conservative, Islamophobic side would leech onto the internet and that I would somehow be embroiled in it.
A breach of privacy
I understand that as a parent or grandparent, your concern for the young people in your life and what they involve themselves in online is as real as your concern for whether or not they’re making bad choices in day-to-day reality.
I understand that you want your children to be safe, to be wise, and to make good choices, but following their every move online is a breach of their privacy, and can breed contempt and anger.
The same goes to parents who make an “agreement” – it’s not really an agreement when your child can’t say no – whereby the parent can monitor their teenager’s profiles and pages. If your child is old enough to be using social media (13 and up for Facebook), they are old enough to decide who they befriend.
If you’re worried that they’ll make bad decisions, speak to them about it and see why they would make such choices. You can only influence the young people in your life so much. I know I’ve done things my parents wouldn’t be proud of, even things they’ve explicitly told me not to do. I would have done those things anyway. I have learnt from the mistakes I’ve made and I’ve managed not to injure myself in the process.
I’ve heard horror stories about mothers who’ve picked through their sons’ contact lists, weeding out girls who they’ve thought were “provocatively” dressed. I’ve heard about parents who’ve discussed every post their daughter makes. I wonder if they realise how much their kids hate them. How is that normal?
I know it’s only natural to care, so don’t hate yourself for worrying, but, please, try to put yourself in the shoes of the person before you, young and curious and outspoken. Try to imagine what effect the words you are about to say would have on them.
It’s far, far easier said than done, but it’s worth it. I can always tell when my parents have thought about me and how I think before they’ve spoken to me and I’ve always been immensely grateful.