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You're Damn Right I'll Spy on My Daughter

Photograph by Getty Images

I was a senior in high school when I let the boy I adored take naked Polaroid photos of me. He had convinced me Polaroid was the way to go since it had no film requiring a visit to the 24-hour photo printers. And at the time, I fully bought into that logic. It never even occurred to me that we shouldn’t be taking these photos. I wanted him to have this ever-present reminder of me.

I wanted to give him what he asked for.

I was there, years later, when those Polaroid’s were destroyed—the same day we jointly decided any sexual relationship between the two of us had come to an end. But I trusted him then, and I still do today, when he told me he had never shown those photos to anyone else. That they were private, between just he and I.

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I was insanely lucky.

And when I think about how technology has completely changed the landscape we were once playing on with an old Polaroid camera, I realize even more just how lucky I really was.

I have often said that if the technology that exists today were around when I was a teenager, I would have gotten myself into a lot of trouble. Don’t get me wrong, I was a good kid. I got straight A's, was heavily involved in school organizations, held down a job and didn’t have my first drink until I was in college. But I was still a kid. And for as many good choices as I made, there were a handful of questionable ones to counteract them. I was a mess of hormones and angst and illogical thinking. My social media pages would have been packed full of deeply personal details, and my phone undoubtedly would have been used to send the nudies I eschew as an adult.

These shifts in technology have brought a lot of great advancements, but they have also introduced very adult decisions to children long before they are ready.

I am thankful every single day that I grew up in a world that had not yet been infiltrated by Facebook and video messaging.

Then, I look at my daughter, who is nearly 2 years old and destined to grow up in a world far different from the one I did. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will do whatever it takes to protect her from that world and usher her into it slowly—hopefully slowly enough that she can avoid some of the major missteps we are constantly hearing about today.

The Internet has become a place for online bullying and phones have become a resource for images that could very easily be labeled as child porn. Young girls seem to be doing more and more sexually, at ages when I myself hadn’t even yet kissed a boy. Everything has been desensitized, and our kids seem to be intent upon keeping up with whatever everyone else is doing. The hookup culture has them believing their sexuality is a bargaining chip, not a deeply intimate piece of who they are. These shifts in technology have brought a lot of great advancements, but they have also introduced very adult decisions to children long before they are ready.

And for that reason alone, I will absolutely spy on my daughter’s tech use, whenever the day comes that I deem she is ready for the responsibility of operating that tech in the first place.

Of course, I won’t call it spying. She will know from day one that privacy does not exist between us when it comes to whatever it is she does online or with her phone. Apps exist already today that allow parents to monitor all text messages and calls made from their children’s phones—you can have the information downloaded directly to your computer. I will absolutely be taking advantage of that. But I also plan to confiscate tech each night, because no teenager needs access to her phone after bedtime. And I will be “friends” with each of her online personas, as well as having access to her online passwords and accounts. If she has a problem with that, she doesn’t need to have them at all.

To me, it isn’t spying—it’s parenting.

Maybe that sounds harsh to some, but I just truly believe there are far too many opportunities for kids to get in trouble with today’s technology. Isn’t it our responsibility as parents to monitor that? To ensure they are using the tech responsibly?

If my daughter wants privacy from me, I will happily give her a diary. She can write whatever she wants in those pages, and I will promise never to look. But privacy will not extend to what she does online or with her phone. Because it is my job to protect her—and that means not throwing her to the wolves and expecting her to know how to handle herself right out the gate.

I am sure there will be a graduated process with which I allow her to maintain more and more power over her tech. I certainly don’t plan to continue spying on my college age daughter, and I have no doubt I will be more involved in what she is doing at age 14 than at 17. At some point, you have to let them go and trust (hope and pray) that the lessons you have taught them will stick. But how do you even go about teaching those lessons if you aren’t monitoring what they are encountering in the first place?

To me, it isn’t spying—it’s parenting. So much has changed in the last 10 years, I can only imagine how much more will shift in the next 10. So while we still have a long way to go before this is an issue in our house, I’m not afraid of being the parent when it comes to tech use. I’m not afraid of being the watchful eye, making sure she isn’t getting into trouble or behaving in a manner that is different from how I raised her.

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Kids make mistakes. They mess up. They are a mess of hormones and angst and illogical thinking. I can’t protect her from everything, and there will certainly be missteps along the way.

But those missteps won’t happen because I wasn’t watching.

And hopefully, I can help to prevent her from making at least a few mistakes as she learns to find her own way.

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