How much privacy should parents give kids?

Brady Trowbridge, 14, plays on a laptop in the kitchen of his family's Zionsville home. (WISH Photo)

“I know I have friends who have their moms check their texts,” says Brady Trowbridge, 14, who chose Instagram as his one app.

“None of my friends’ moms really check their stuff,” says Cole Trowbridge, 12. “They’re pretty much allowed to do whatever they want.”

In a recent Pew Research study, 48 percent of parents say they’ve looked at texts and call records on their child’s phone. The same number, 48 percent, know the password to their teen’s email account. Only 35 percent know the password to at least one of their teen’s social media accounts.

Sherrie Bloemendaal is a licensed clinical social worker at The Cabin — a counseling and resource center in Zionsville. She says when it comes to teens you have to set household rules with a clear focus.

“The teen years are really those years where they’re learning how to manage their life so that in the adult world, they’re equipped to do that, and if we have parents that are into everything and controlling everything, then I don’t think it gives teens the space to learn how to manage their life — and privacy is one of them,” says Bloemendaal.

Bloemendaal encourages parents to give kids space to make mistakes, noting it’s the best way for them to learn, but she cautions parents from staying completely ‘hands-off.’

“I think there are times when you suspect or you know your child is into drugs or alcohol and you know it’s time to go through their room and you don’t need their permission to do that,” says Bloemendaal. “So when they have done something and you’ve found something, now, it’s open door. We’re going to be looking at stuff and you’re not going to know when we’re going to be doing that.”

Just last month, IMPD reported an Indianapolis mom discovered an inappropriate relationship between her 17 year old son and his 37 year old school counselor. Court documents show the mom uncovered it by looking at her son’s text and Facebook messages. She brought what she found to police and now Shana Taylor faces 9 counts of child seduction.

While Amber Trowbridge hasn’t faced anything that severe, she says they have run into issues.

“We’ve run across situations where there have been communications between friends that have caused us to pause, and stop to talk to our children,” says Trowbridge. “Once we’ve even had to reach out to another parent where we said ‘we think there’s an issue here that needs to be dealt with.’”

App Users – Tap Here to See Video of Therapist Weigh in on Teens and Privacy 

As she deals with clients, Bloemendaal says she will occasionally ask teens whether they would call their parents if they were in trouble. She says “the ones that say ‘oh no’ — those are the teenagers I’m most concerned about because they’re left out there very vulnerable.”

Bloemendaal says the way to remedy that is just by opening up communication.

“The kids who feel so controlled — they shut down, they barely answer any questions, then the parents become much more assertive in terms of ‘we’ve got to have information,” says Bloemendaal. “Just listen, because a lot of times with teenagers, they will start talking and we will hear things that we want to say ‘oh no you’re not’ but if we allow them to keep talking, a lot of times they’ll come back around and land pretty close to where we want them to be.”

For parents of younger children, Bloemendaal encourages you to think about the rules now as you develop your family culture. Identify what’s important to your family, set the example and make sure you model the qualities and actions you say are important.

“If you’re starting in the elementary years as sort of establishing some of those rules — ‘this is how our family does things’ — then its normal, that’s just how we do it,” says Bloemendaal.

Constant oversight is how Amber Trowbridge chooses to protect her five children from themselves.

“Parenting is not easy by any means — for anyone — and we all have to make choices that we think are best for our families,” says Trowbridge.

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