mother with teens texting

If monitoring your teen's texts and social media accounts is turning into a full-time job, here's what you need to know to keep him safe — without losing your sanity.

How much is too much?

Admit it — you check your teen's texts.

Have you ever "accidentally" seen your teen's text messages? Do you constantly ask, "Whose number is this?" or "Do I know this friend you text all day long?" Don't worry — you're not the only parent monitoring your teen's texts, and you're definitely not alone. It's stressful enough making the decision to buy your child a cell phone — and even more so ensuring he's texting responsibly.

That said, it's easier said than done. Constantly checking your teen's texts can give you both a headache and set the stage for arguments. What's a parent to do?

Dr. Fran Walfish, child, adolescent, and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent, has the advice you need to keep your teen safe without losing your sanity.

The fine line between privacy and protection

Talk about texting safety — even the tough stuff

Sexting. Cyber-bullying. We may try to hide these tough topics from our teens — especially younger ones — but Walfish says that's the wrong approach. "Have a straight-talk, sit-down conversation with your son or daughter," she says. "Ask questions about the kinds of things he or she has heard regarding misuse of texting and internet access."

Learn the warning signs of cell phone misuse>>

"Listen to their ideas and explore their inner world before you lecture and give advice. Teens hate to be ‘told’ what to do. You will be heard better if you listen first, then offer suggestions.”

“The psychological goal of adolescence is to resolve their separation from Mom and Dad. This means they must emerge with their own ideas, thoughts, opinions, and views on money, religion, relationships, morals, ethics and character. For this reason, a parent has a delicate tightrope to walk. How much do I intrude on my teen's evolving autonomy and independence? Parents should check their kids’ text messages. But, there needs to have been an ‘open policy’ established before the parents gives their teen a cell phone." Walfish explains.

Learn about online safety for teens and tweens>>

“Parents should say to their kids at the time of phone purchase, 'I love you and want to give you the privilege of having a cell phone. In order for me to feel comfortable we both need to agree that Mom and Dad will periodically look at your text messages’ — this way there are no surprises.”

Don't be afraid to say "no"

If you come across a text you deem inappropriate — whether your teen sent it or received it from a friend — nip it in the bud right away. Don't hesitate to talk to your teen, and even restrict phone or texting privileges if needed. Walfish says, “Sometimes you have to say ‘no’ to your son or daughter whom you love. To be a good parent, moms and dads must each do two things — nurture/love your child and, at the same time, be comfortable setting/holding boundaries and taking action when child [sic] goes over the line.”

Read more on cell phones and teens

Do you read your teen's text messages
Cell phone safety tips for kids, tweens and teens
Evaluate your texting manners


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Comments on "Tracking your teen's texts"

David Ramsey December 06, 2012 | 10:17 AM

I believe that is the parents duty to know what their kids are doing. This is your job. Unless you can talk to your kid and get the entire truth and work things out that way you will need to limit their access to dangerous things in life. I find nothing wrong with using monitoring software life Mobile spy or Phone sheriff in order know what your teen is getting into. Sure they won't like it, but it's much better than having to her your child is dead or in jail. Let's be smart and do something Now.

Laiisa July 11, 2012 | 1:18 AM

Okay, let's get out some FACTS . Virgin Mobile does have unlimited ttneisg for $ 20 (okay 19.99 but let's not quibble). It's called Texter's Delight. It was introduced on April 15. And you can just text without buying any talking minutes (that's what you wanted to hear,I hope). And if you do, it's 10 cents for each minute of talk time, all the time. Flat rate. No access fees. No tricks. Texter's delight gives you 30 days of unlimited text/pic/video/instant messaging and email for 19.99 plus tax. BUT (isn't there always one?), you should get the $ 30 card instead of the $ 20 card because that extra penny might not be enough to cover the taxes they will charge you (ugh) and if you decide to call someone you never know when having some talk time could come in handy. Or someone may call you instead. Some of us still use the phone to talk on unfortunately.Texter's Delight was made for people like you who text but don't talk.Btw, I recommend a topup card at all times to pay Virgin Mobile. Why? They have in the past had a lot of reports of customers being OVER charged on the credit/debit/paypal account number on file.To prevent that, a topup card is a good way to contain any overcharges. It probably won't happen, but it does give a Virgin Mobile user an extra measure of protection. Hope that helped and good luck.

Ami June 21, 2012 | 6:30 PM

Thanks, Lauren! I was inspired to write this one after going through this with my 14 year old. I was giving myself a headache when I looked at them too many times. Once I met the friends he was texting with whom I didn't know as well as some of his other friends, I relaxed.

Lauren June 21, 2012 | 11:53 AM

Great article, and parents need to be informed to what their kids are doing. I don't have teens yet, but I don't know if I could read them without them knowing. I will talk to them about texting, though, and let them know what's appropriate and what's not. It's always best to communicate before invading their privacy.

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