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Concerned Parent
or Low-Life Hacker?

A computer geek friend of mine has a daughter who just turned ten. She asked if she could have her own email account, so he help her set one up, and then, without telling her, he adjusted the settings so that he would be bcc’d on every email she sends. It’s a big scary world out there, and he just wants to keep an eye on who she’s emailing with, and what she’s saying when she does.

I’ve been mulling this over since he told me about it a few weeks ago. My daughter is only 6, and has not, as of yet, expressed any interest in email. When she does, I know I will worry about who she is emailing and what she is saying. We (my friend and I, and well, everyone we know) didn’t grow up with email. Introducing it to the lives of our young ones is admittedly scary, but does that give us the right to invade privacy, to betray trust? Am I being overly dramatic?

When I was in sixth grade my dad got a word processor, a Brother, with a giant body and a tiny little screen (ah, the eighties). He set up a file for me and told me it was my personal, private file. He encouraged me to write every day, to record my thoughts. Even back then I loved writing so I took right to it.

The first thing I wrote about was how much I hated my teacher. She was pregnant and prone to outbursts, followed by tears, and I think I used the words “fat cow.” I know, I know. But I was 11.

Anyhow, I finished that first entry, saved it to my private file and went about my business playing with my sister. Not two hours later my dad came in to talk to me. He was concerned about the language I had used. How would my teacher feel if she knew I had called her that?

My face burned and I felt so embarrassed. It took me years to come to the realization that I was not the one who should have been embarrassed. My privacy had been invaded. I had been set up. (Dad, if you’re reading this, I  love you, but that was lame.)

To this day I don’t store my thoughts digitally. I write in a journal that I keep with me at all times, and if I want to call someone a fat cow, I do, because it’s my private journal and it’s nobody’s business anyway.

Which brings me back to hacking your kid’s email. On one level I totally get it. On the other I really think no good can come of it. Emails are private, unless of course they’re not because you accidental reply all or your ex forwards them on to your friends.

It’s a complicated life. Parenting is hard.

Any thoughts out there from parents of kids with emails?


  1. Jen
    Aug 6, 2013

    I don’t have kids.. do I get to comment? I agree with you – the first though I had reading your lead-in was, well if you think it’s ok to ransack your kids room and read their journal, then yes, I guess it’s ok to spy on their email! That was intended to be tongue in cheek. I agree email and social networking opens up a whole new world of risk. So, can we educate children about safe usage? Just like we would educate them about ok and not-ok kinds of touching, cars of strangers, and how to use the telephone? I’d like to think when my future children are old enough for email accounts that if I thought I needed to spy on them I would at least let them know that I was. I don’t want to raise a generation that accepts invasion of their privacy as a given or acceptable.

    • April
      Aug 6, 2013

      Hi, Jen,
      I agree. Privacy is a funny thing is this day and age, but accepting an invasion of one’s privacy just seems wrong.

  2. Crissi
    Aug 6, 2013

    What your dad did, in my opinion, was really underhanded. He had you believing that you had this nice private space to just be you, and then he violated your trust. Not cool.

    With that said, however, I do think parents have the right to check their children’s online activity. In fact, I think it’s vital! My kids are now 15 and 12. Several years ago when I first allowed them to go online, I let them know that I was to have access to all their passwords and would be checking on them from time to time. This included email and Facebook. I let them know right up front that their activity online was not private from me. This did two things – it forced them to make sure their online activity was at a standard their mom could live with, and it gave me the guiltless permission to check their online business.

    This proved vital last year when my daughter got into a relationship with a guy who just wasn’t trustworthy. She became ultra sneaky, and I really questioned what was going on. My daughter had since changed all her passwords, but had a habit of leaving herself logged into my computer (perhaps on purpose…). The messages I saw between the two of them proved to be far beyond what a healthy conversation should be. And I confronted her.

    The result? She was furious, of course. She felt betrayed, of course. But soon we were able to talk it out and come to some understandings.

    Since then, we have a much more open relationship. I have made it safe for her to share with me what she needs. She has stopped being so secretive. I have no need to hack into anything of hers – though I’m sure she knows I will if I feel it’s necessary.

    I feel like things would have been much different had I not been able to peek into what she thought was private.

    So yes, I think parents should monitor their kids’ online activity. But they should also respect their child while doing so. It should be divulged upfront that the parent can and will access personal online data if the need arises. And things like private writings in a personal document must always be respected as PRIVATE (unless their are questions about the child’s safety).

    Had I waited until now to implement these rules, I’m certain it would not go over well at all. However, you have an edge since your child is young.

    I hope that helps!

    • April
      Aug 6, 2013

      Hi, Crissi,
      Thank you so much for chiming in. It sounds like you’ve got a good method in letting your kids know that their online behavior will not be private from you (or anyone else for that matter). I’m so glad you were able to talk to your daughter about the questionable choices she was making. I seriously hope I am able to bring a calm level head to all this in 10 years (5?) when my girl is fully online.


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