Kids and Privacy: Where Do You Draw the Line?

5 years ago

It all started with a post on Huffington Post. A mother, Kim Bongiorno, admitted that she read her five-year-old child's diary because she was worried that her child was struggling with child-sized fears and she wanted to be able to assuage her child's mind.  What she found instead was love.  A long list of all the things her child loves.  Wheeeeew.

Wipe brow and scene.

Except that the real story took place in the comment section and all the spin-off blog posts that came from this event: should this mother have read her child's diary, or do kids have a right to privacy?

People I Want to Punch in the Throat said hell no: that giving kids privacy is where we run into problems such as Steubenville.

Do you think they would have uploaded videos to Youtube laughing at the victim and calling her names if they thought for a second their parents would access their Youtube accounts? I don't think they would. But I'm not surprised the Steubenville boys didn't have rules like these. Those kids were dicks and they had parents who enabled them and let them be dicks. My guess is, those kids had privacy. Those kids had parents who didn't want to betray their trust or invade their personal space. That's bullshit. 

And on the other side is Moments of Exhilaration who was horrified that a mother would not only read her child's diary and talk about her child's diary, but post pictures from her child's diary on the Huffington Post so we can all gawk at her child's diary.

Despite the fact that her daughter locked it, kept the key on her wrist, and clearly told her mother not to look in it. But mom was just SO curious that she couldn’t help herself. And then, I guess, so desperate for something to post about that she had to complete her already disgusting invasion of privacy by letting the entire world join in.

Would you read your husband’s diary? Or your best friend’s? If not, then why on earth do you think it’s appropriate to read your child’s?

Both writers make excellent points, and it's a fine line to walk: how do we remain involved in our children's lives and give them the space to be their own person with their own private thoughts and property?

Image: Ayomide! via Flickr

Children's privacy is something I think a lot about in terms of what we post on social media.  Is it okay to tell stories about the cute things our kids do?  What about post their picture on Facebook or our blogs?  What about photos of their rooms or art projects or clothing?  It's not the same as when our parents sent pictures of us to our grandparents when we were little.  Anything we place on the Internet can be accessed by many more people than our friends and family, and depending on the TOS of the site, may even be kept and used by others even if we delete them.  We do need to think carefully before we hit post.

There is a middle road that straddles both sides of the divide, and that is being open as to where they get privacy, and once they get older and can post about us online, where we get privacy too! 

Tell your child that every email they write auto-forwards to your account so you can help them make good decisions online.  Let there be a reason given for why you're messing with their privacy so they know why it doesn't work in reverse later on (in other words, you don't need help as an adult for making good decisions). 

Tell your child that until they are of a certain age (in our house, we chose 16), all passwords need to be kept in a password book, and we have the right to look at their accounts for the sake of helping them make good decisions.  Diaries may even be read if they are left out and we are concerned. 

But what they will get in return (and what we will get in return) is that we will never share their image online.  We will never tell their private stories without their expressed permission.  We will never tell other people about their online accounts or link to them.  We will never take photos of their room or personal items and post them for others to see.  This has been true since their birth, not from an arbitrary age where we decide that they suddenly are entitled to privacy.  They get privacy from the outside world, just not the inside-the-house world.

Where do you fall on privacy and children, especially when it pertains to the online world?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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