Digital Privacy: Is it OK to Spy on Your Teen?


Published:

Most teenagers think cellphones are a birthright.

Most parents think cellphones are a privilege, not a right.

So how do you and your teen negotiate terms by which both parties are satisfied? And should you “snoop” on your child’s online activity?

Set Guidelines

Two experts with experience on how parents and teens navigate an increasingly digital world say the best way to prevent your teen from choosing to sneak around — or to prevent you from needing to spy on your teen — is to outline expectations with your child before you give out that first phone.

Katie Overcash of Charlotte, a licensed clinical social worker who counsels teens, doesn’t like the word “snoop.”

“It has a negative connotation,” she says. “It means you are keeping tabs on your child’s digital use behind their back.”

She says her “whole theme is give and take” when it comes to dealing with children getting their first phone.

“You need to start out pretty strict,” Overcash says. If children use their phones unrestricted until they are 15 or 16, “it will be a problem” if a parent finds out the phone is being used irresponsibly, she says. “As kids get older and show that they are responsible, you can back off a little bit.”

Kate Paquin of Apex, a trained family and teen coach, agrees that parents should set guidelines early.

“The key is to establish strict guidelines, just like you would if they were driving a car or going out with their friends,” she says. “The guidelines can be loosened later on, but they must be set from the get-go.”

Overcash says compromise and finding a middle ground is crucial. “Parents can’t be on the other end of the phone,” she says. “It’s not appropriate and not doable. You have to figure out that sweet spot.”

Paquin, who has three teenagers, a son, 17, and two daughters, 15 and 14, says her children first got a phone because they were involved in sports activities and needed to let her know when they were ready to be picked up.

That was the case for Wendy Emerson of Tobaccoville, vice president of business services at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem. She has two daughters, 11 and 17, and gave her oldest daughter a cellphone when she was 12 so she could call when her athletic practice was finished for the day. She did something that both Overcash and Paquin say is a good idea — ensured that her child’s first phone was only able to make calls, not facilitate texting or app downloads.

“When my daughter was 14, we got her a smartphone where she was able to send texts and have apps,” Emerson says. “But we were pretty restrictive. The only apps she could have were games.”

Emerson says she allowed her daughter to add Twitter and Facebook in the past year.

“She asked a couple of times why she couldn’t have more things on her phone,” Emerson says. “We had a very honest and direct discussion about it. She knows at any time my husband and I can sit down with her and go through her phone.”

Emerson says her daughter uses Snapchat and recently had to delete her Instagram account.

“I said, look at pictures your friends have posted on Instagram. For example, there was a picture of a friend holding a volleyball trophy. I said, ‘What do you see in that picture?’ I told her what I saw was that the trophy clearly showed the girl’s name, the school she attended and when she played volleyball. Anyone could take that information and find that girl.”

Emerson handed down her oldest daughter’s first phone to her second daughter when she was 9, but with the same rules.


Education is Key

Overcash says parents should know all of the passwords for their teen’s social media accounts. But that is not enough.

“Parents need to educate themselves about social media and apps,” she says. “Find out what sites your children are using and find out how the sites work. Talk to your kids. Say ‘What can you do on here?’”

She explains that teens’ brains are not completely developed, especially the part that understands long-term decisions. “Sometimes kids post something and get in trouble for that,” she says. Maybe they are kicked off a sports team, or get sent to the principal’s office. They don’t completely understand what has happened.”

Overcash says in those cases parents should “sit down with their teen, and ask them what kind of message [they] were trying to put out there, and what [they] thought people would get from it?”

Paquin, who teaches a class called “Social Media for Parents of Teens and Preteens,” agrees that parents need to be educated. She sets strict guidelines on her children’s phone use.

“Each night at 9 p.m., the kids hand the phone to me for the night,” she says. “I don’t want them staying awake using the phone.”

She also doesn’t allow phones in restaurants or at the dinner table.

Monitoring Your Child Online

Know your teen’s passwords, advises Paquin. “If I can’t log in to one my children’s phones, the phone is taken away,” says Paquin. She cautions that many teens know how to make multiple accounts for one app. “Your child may have one Instagram for their parents to see and another account for their friends.”

She also advises: Be aware of what your teens are doing on any device that connects to the Internet, not just their smartphone; put Internet restrictions in your home; and keep the family computer in an open space.

Parents also need to use caution when using what Paquin calls “the parents’ social media” — Facebook.

“Parents should make profiles in Facebook private,” she says. “Your pictures of young children, vacation pictures, can be prime ground for pedophiles.”

Anne Wooten Green is a freelance writer based in Winston-Salem.
 


Apps That Can be Dangerousgirls-on-computer.jpg


Kik — An instant messaging app kids can use if they can’t text on their phone. Take a look at the history and who they are “kik-ing.” Kik users can also send photos.

Snapchat — An app that claims pictures posted only last 10 seconds. But screen shots can be taken of the photo and shared on other devices. SnapChat users can also send videos.

Ask.fm — A page that allows others to ask questions anonymously. Most parents don’t know their kids have an account, because they can use different user names and link them to an Instagram account. This page is where most cyberbullying takes place.

Whisper — A site that encourages users to share secrets. Kids post pictures and share secrets anonymously, as well as chat with other “whisperers.” Whisper reveals a user’s location.

Swipe — An app that allows users to create usernames and post pictures anonymously. It accesses all of the contacts on your child’s phone and then shares those pictures with their circle and their friends’ circles without ever knowing who is posting the picture. Paquin says Swipe “is a bully’s dream and a pedophile’s hunting ground.”

CocoPPa — An app that changes the looks of icons on a device. It can make the icons look like cute images and games, while hiding the real apps a teen might have on his or her phone.
 


Texting Acronyms You Need to Know

When your child sends a text, you may not have a clue of what it means. Here are examples of acronyms published by USA Today that parents need to be on the lookout for. See the complete list at usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2015/01/02/texting-acronyms-parents/21098099.


Your Kid Has Something to Hide

CD9: Short for Code 9, which means parents are around.

KPC: Keeping Parents Clueless

PAL: Parents Are Listening

PAW: Parents Are Watching

POS: Parent Over Shoulder


Your Child’s Personal Information or Safety is at Risk

ASL: Age/Sex/Location

F2F: Face to Face (asking for a meeting or video chat)

MOOS: Member of the Opposite Sex

RU/18: Are You Over 18?

WYCM: Will You Call Me?


Your Child Shouldn’t be Involved

1174: Invited to a Wild Party

GNOC: Get Naked on Cam

IWSN: I Want Sex Now

NIFOC: Nude in Front of the Computer

TDTM: Talk Dirty to Me



Sites That Inform

Here are some websites recommended by Katie Overcash and Kate Paquin to educate parents. Some of the sites also offer services to monitor smartphone activity:

internetsafety101.org

afamilycoach.com

netlingo.com

staysafeonline.org

teensafe.com

cybersitter.com

mmguardian.com

Also, many phone service providers such as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon offer services you can add (for a fee) that monitor smartphone activity.

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The Vernal Equinox signals the beginning of Spring. It is the point when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness at the equator. Mark the change of seasons by heading to the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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This high-flying aviation event features displays and flight activities from the Wright Brothers Flyer to modern aircraft of today.  Activities are geared toward students and school groups...

Cost: $4-$12

Where:
North Carolina Transportation Museum
1 Samuel Spencer Drive
Spencer, NC  28159
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Telephone: 704-636-2889
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Enjoy the museum's annual celebration of flowers. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $13/members and $18/nonmembers. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
North Carolina Museum of Art
2110 Blue Ridge Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Telephone: 919-839-6262
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Do you love owls? If so, join us to learn all about them! Discover these amazing raptors' adaptations and why they are important to the ecosystem. We will be practicing our different owl calls and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Enjoy spring open house featuring seven model homes on the tour, as well as kite-flying demonstration by seasoned professionals. Start your tour at the information center, and get ready for...

Cost: Free

Where:
Briar Chapel Information Center
1342 Briar Chapel Parkway
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
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Sponsor: Newland Communities
Telephone: 888-249-9429
Contact Name: Cherith Andes
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Want to get inside Historic Yates Mill? Join us for a half-hour tour (starting at 1, 1:30, 2, 2:30 or 3 p.m.) to view the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history...

Cost: $5/Adult, $4/Senior (ages 60+), $3/Child (ages 7-16), kids ages 6 & under: free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Ziggy is a shy boy who would rather stay at home and watch television than explore the island of Jamaica. Over the course of his onstage journey, with some help from his friend Nansi, he...

Cost: $18/adult, $12 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Harris Lake County Park is home to several species of salamanders. Join us as we learn about these elusive amphibians and see some up close. All ages. Meet in the Educational Garden at the picnic...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Set in 1860’s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist...

Cost: $25 and up

Where:
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Durham Stake presents a family-friendly show featuring favorite Dr. Seuss books all together in one story. Join the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant, and many others on a journey through...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1050 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Contact Name: Bethany Fager
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is putting on the hilarious, yet sometimes tender, musical production of Seussical on March 15-16 and 22-23. It is a family-friendly show that...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1050 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Chapel Hill, NC  27514
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Sponsor: Durham Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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The Raleigh Boychoir will reach new heights as our choristers and community present Dr. Tim Sharp’s “High Lonesome Bluegrass Mass.” Welcoming area boys to perform in...

Cost: Free

Where:
First Baptist Church
99 N Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Raleigh Boychoir
Telephone: 919-881-9259
Contact Name: Erin O'Hara
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Ziggy is a shy boy who would rather stay at home and watch television than explore the island of Jamaica. Over the course of his onstage journey, with some help from his friend Nansi, he...

Cost: $18/adult, $12 ages 12 and younger

Where:
Raleigh Little Theatre
301 Pogue St.
Raleigh, NC  27607
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Participants develop their naturalist skills and understanding of local nature. Ages 5-8 with parent. Register online. Choose course #121675.

Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Celtic Woman celebrates Ireland's rich musical and cultural heritage, while continuing its remarkable legacy of introducing some of Ireland's most talented singers and musicians onto the...

Cost: $43 and up

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Set in 1860’s Bangkok, the musical tells the story of the unconventional relationship that develops between the King of Siam and Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher whom the modernist...

Cost: $25 and up

Where:
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Shop for gently used kids' clothing, toys, furniture, baby equipment and more. See the website for shopping hours.

Cost: Free

Where:
Hayes Barton Baptist Church
1800 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC
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Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2018-19 Education Guide offers 678 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools, academic resources and an Exceptional Child special section.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. Plus, find out who our 2018 Readers' Favorites are.