Don’t Follow My Lead When it Comes to Monitoring Online Activity

online safety and teenagers sometimes means banning them from the internet

I’m ashamed to say that I was in denial about the importance of monitoring my teenagers’ online activity.  And I got burned.

Last weekend I found out by accident that my youngest had betrayed my ONE basic rule of Internet use.

Thou Shalt Not Talk To Strangers.

I know you’re thinking that I should have taken my head out of the sand. That I shouldn’t have taken my eyes off the 13-year old’s online activity for even one second. That I shouldn’t have let him have a computer in his room, or an iPad with internet access. I should have been crawling his computer with spyware and asking to see his Skype messages. But, I didn’t do any of those highly recommended parental online controls. I trusted him, just like I trusted my two older children. I laid down a guideline and made the assumption that he would comply, just like his older siblings had done.

You know what they say happens when you assume, right? You make an ass out of… Well, you get it.

It was just two weeks ago that I was bragging how adept my kid was on the Internet.  Somehow, my blog had been compromised by malware, and the little genius fixed it. He saved the day. Fingers flew at the speed of light, tap tap tap, and my blog was claimed in Google and clear of anything malicious. Don’t ask me how he did it, but it apparently involved html code, my home page, and lots of squiggles.

Where did he learn how to do this?  On the Internet. In his room. That’s what he was doing for hours. Learning code. And how to hack. And un-hack, obviously.

I was about to share my triumph with all of you , telling you how you shouldn’t really monitor your child’s internet usage because they might be learning something productive, and if those are their interests, and who are we to say what they should be doing. Because I’m a big shot. And I know everything.

Not.  Really.

His computer processor blew. Obviously from overuse. He broke his ipad. Well, he actually crushed it to the point where the glass was in shards. So, desperate for his online fix, he appropriated my iPad.

I did wonder what he was doing on an iPad for hours. You can’t write code on an iPad to my knowledge. I assumed he was watching videos, connecting on Facebook, playing games.

There goes that naughty word again. Ass. You. Me.

I happened to pick up my iPad one morning and I saw a nofication that there were 5 Skype IMs awaiting. I touched the screen. I mean, it was my iPad.  And, as I’m told, there should be no privacy when it comes to the Internet and teenagers.  I was curious.

There were about 20 open chats.  With strangers.

Rule broken.

Also, my 13-year-old is apparently in university, can pick stellar photos of hot chicks, and is a varsity Lacrosse player. Who lives in Canada.

The things you learn on the Internet.

But they were just programmers and hackers, mom. They’re nice guys. 

They’re strangers. Are you allowed to talk to strangers on the Internet?

But, if I told them my real age they would not have talked to me.

Exactly. Is lying permitted in this house or really anywhere?

Look. My kid is not stupid. In fact, he’s the opposite of that. He never gave out personal information, did not respond to requests for money, and never engaged in illegal activity such as viewing pornography.  He was learning interesting things. Skills. Technology.

But, he still broke my rule.  I don’t have a lot of them, because I want my children to learn how to make good choices within my boundaries. But, the few rules I do have are designed to keep my kids safe.

  1. Don’t talk to strangers
  2. Tell me where you’re going and where you actually end up.
  3. Don’t lie.
  4. Don’t be stupid.

He broke 3 out of the 4.  Not a great ratio.

Interestingly enough, when confronted, he didn’t argue with me which he is wont to do when faced with a perceived injustice.  He was honorable. He admitted his mistake.

He took his lumps which include:

  • No Internet for one month other than supervised research for school;
  • Once allowed, one hour of supervised Internet use per day  until we get bored of watching Youtube videos with him or trust him again, whichever comes first;
  • The lost privilege of having a Blackberry password;
  • Deleting and blocking all Skype contacts that he has not met in person.

(I don’t punish often but I’m obviously very good at it.)

My son understood that he betrayed our trust and that he would have to earn it back.  We told him that we believed he could earn it back and that we were looking forward to trusting him again.

I’m very proud of my boy for stepping up and exhibiting a desire to learn from the error of his ways.  In the spirit of disclosure, I admitted mine.

I should never have given you that kind of freedom at your age. I apologize for not watching you better.

I’m sort of happy that we got into this mess. Because wow, what a teachable moment.

What do you do to make sure your teens are safe on the Internet?




  1. I love how good you are at punishment Mara 😉

    I’ve mentioned before that my teen does not have a computer in his room, and that I have password access to his iTouch and other devices/websites. This needs some clarification. My husband and I begin with our kids on the basis of trust. Within that trust envelope are put tools and education on how to remain safe in the real and online worlds, as well as conduct we expect from them. Although we can (in theory) check up on his online activity I have never done so. He is online in an open area and I have no need, nor desire, to hover and peer at his personal conversations. Despite this I often know what’s going on in this little world simply by virtue of being in the vicinity and so the recipient of whatever is occupying his mind. Should he disregard our family rules, he faces consequences. Our eldest has flouted internet rules before. Like you I found I was quite good at doling out mom justice.

    Bottom line is we want our kids to grow up as capable, self-reliant adults, and to that end we trust them implicitly. But kids need boundaries and the ones we’ve established are our way of keeping them safe, educating them, all while allowing them to stretch their independent wings.

    • It’s a hard balance isn’t it? How will you handle when your kids are a bit older, say 16? Will you still not allow computers in their rooms? I think trust and guidance and boundaries are key. I let it slide a too much this time.

  2. A timely reminder, especially in light of recent events in the media, of the importance of setting boundaries and keeping tabs on our kids’ online activity. Your consequences were fair and hopefully your son understands the severity of his breach of the rules. I am SOOO not looking forward to those years…

    • I think he does. He hasn’t even touched the internet. These years are amazing. Just navigate day-by-day. ps don’t believe everything you read in the media. The claims of teenage internet abuse are single cases that are sensationalized.

  3. This is such a tough question. Our son is 20 now and I worry a little less. When he was a teenager our computer was in the kitchen so there was little privacy for him. But that was before smart phones, ipods and ipads. Like you the best thing to do is keep the communication channels open. It is all a learning curve.

  4. As you know, my kids are way, way younger, but I really enjoy this kind of insight into what I’ll need to prep for. So scary.

    • It’s not scary. Really. It’s not scarier than getting your baby to sleep through the night, toilet training them, or any other milestone.

  5. All I can say is ya, been there. Lessons learned all round.

  6. We’re not there yet but I am absorbing every word of advice from every parent I know. My 10-year-old is more interested in video games, but he is a computer junkie and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

    • It’ll be soon. Start to prep now, but it’s important to let the kid figure out how to navigate the world within your boundaries as opposed to managing their everymoment. See Kat’s comment below. She’s doing a great job.

  7. Love your response Mara. And I also love the way you punished but said that you looked forward to trusting him again and were sorry you had misjudged the appropriate level of freedom. I think that kind of parenting is wonderful. And kudos to him for accepting responsibility and the consequences. A great example of family communication and effective learning.

    • Thanks Mary. I think that it’s important that kids see the light at the end of the tunnel. They must know they can re-earn your trust or why bother. I also think it’s important that parents admit when they’ve screwed up.

  8. Because my kiddies are still young, I haven’t had to think/worry about this too much. However, I have tried to start my 7 year old about online safety and to be “skeptical” in a good way (I hope).

    I’m curious to see how my main rules change over time! I like yours! Especially #4!

  9. Wow. Now I feel like a total failure in this regard. I must improve. 🙁

  10. Well it could have been a lot worse and you seemed to have handled it in a very appropriate manner. You son also seems pretty mature for 13, or compared to some of the 13 year old boys I know anyway 🙂

    • You’re right. It could have been WAY worse. And thanks. He’s not as much mature as he’s gifted. So, intellectually he is mature, but still is a 13 year old and lacks the judgement of maturity.


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