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Why I Put Limits on My Children’s Right to Privacy

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My daughter Isabella has this adorable little diary that she got at a birthday party. It came with a little, gold padlock and a teeny, tiny key. It’s kept safe on top of her second pillow and underneath her penguin pillow pet. We got her a fancy pink plumed pen so she could write all of her important private thoughts. And she does. I haven’t a clue what she writes in there — I cannot even begin to imagine what sort of private thoughts a second grader would have.

“Dear Diary, Mama made me cry this morning by daring to brush my hair and because I, yet again, didn’t put my lunch box in the kitchen. I got a new bike with gears, but shhh, don’t tell anyone, all I really care about is the bell. I might grow up to be in the Olympics for ice skating. Or maybe for hula hooping. That’s a thing, right?”

See, the thing is, I cannot begin to imagine what she writes about in there, because I don’t really want to. Those are her important, private thoughts. I realize that she’s only 9 years old, but the same will go for her when she’s 11 and 13 and 15 and 17. That’s her space, her place, free of her older siblings, free of her daddy, free of, well, me. It’s her right to have that — her right to privacy. I move it when I change her sheets and always make sure to put it right back on top of her second pillow and underneath her penguin pillow pet.

Children and privacy is such an interesting thing, though, isn’t it?

My children, merely by nature of being humans, have a right to privacy.

But as a Mama Bear — three times over — my number one priority is keeping my children safe and secure.

So while yes, I believe my children have a right to privacy, and they do, they so, so do — they have the right to keep their private thoughts private, they have their own rooms in our home that are left unsnooped — we cannot ignore that there has been a tremendous life-changing shift in our world since I grew up.

When I grew up the only form of social media was that beige phone with the giant cord that hung on the floral-wallpapered wall in our kitchen. Or, you know, on the school bus and the playground.

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My mother and my father and my stepmother and my stepfather didn’t have cell phones, texts, Instagram photos, Facebook streams, and twitter feeds to worry about. And do not event me started on Snapchat. Online safety meant “Let’s try to keep our children from murdering each other in line to play putt-putt” and not, “Let’s make sure our children are making smart decisions because they are leaving behind a giant Internet footprint.”

Because, in addition to my role as lunch-maker and chauffeur, one of my roles as a parent is to teach my children to be good people, to not suck. In the same way that I teach them to use their manners and to treat people with respect, I want to teach them about safety on the web. We have had many, many conversations with our children about putting anything in writing. In a world where words can be COMMAND + C and COMMAND + Z, and words you write can even be manipulated, things can come back to bite you in the heiney.

We toss around the word appropriate. A LOT.

But there are so many words we can use, so many conversations we can have.

Kids are kids.

So.

We have an open-book rule with social media.

We have Facebook passwords.

We have access to Instagram.

We are allowed to look at texts and imessages and whatsapps and e-mails.

And the kids are okay with this — they have willingly given us access.

They know that we aren’t snooping into their private lives — WE WOULDN’T READ THEIR JOURNALS OR DIARIES — because if they have learned anything from us, none of their private lives should show up in their texts and imessages and emails. And I pop on to check their phones every once in a while, and their texts are filled with a lot of KKs and acronyms and emoticons. They can be taught, it seems.

I guess you could say that in our family, our children have the right to personal privacy, but they don’t have the right to internet privacy. Not yet, anyway.


Photo: Getty