How to Monitor Your Kid's Phone Without Feeling Like a Snoop

by ParentCo. March 16, 2017

young girl listening to music and using phone

There is this really interesting parenting myth that monitoring our kids’ phones falls under the umbrella of helicopter parenting. Today, I’d like to break that myth wide open and give you the solution you need to the guilt you might feel about scrolling through your kid’s phone.

Let’s pull the (helicoptering) Band-Aid right off

The best terminology I’ve heard used for digital parenting is “cyber driving.” It works so well because giving our kids access to the Internet has just as many repercussions and consequences as giving them access to a driver’s license. Would you ever consider handing your kids the car keys, patting them on the back, and wishing them good luck without first monitoring their driving and ensuring that they have driver safety skills in place? I wouldn’t either. Teaching our kids how to maneuver online works in the exact same way. Our kids need us to teach them how to make safe and wise choices online, and one very important part of this is monitoring their phone use. It’s not helicoptering. It’s parenting. No guilt required. So now that we can monitor guilt-free, the obvious follow up questions are: where and how do we monitor? Let’s dig into these.

Where interactions are happening

It's super important to remember that a quick scroll through your kids' social media feeds won't reveal all of their interactions. So much happens inside the comments, private messages, direct messages, texts, other texting apps, “Stories”, and videos. That’s a lot, isn’t it? This is why I don’t recommend relying only on monitoring their interactions to keep your kids safe online. It’s not all that sustainable, and our kids are super savvy. If they want to hide something from us, they will.

There’s a better way to do this

When your kids are first starting out with a device, I would both spot check their phone regularly and check their phones together. Here’s what both of these look like and how they will work together.

Spot Check ground rules

During a Spot Check, you simply pick up your kids’ phones and check their:
  • Apps
  • Texts
  • Settings
  • Photos
This is the “traditional” view of what monitoring phone use looks like. The difference here is what you do with the information. First, during a Spot Check you are looking for things that your kids may need your help with and that you can bring up for discussion during a Together Check.

Together Check ground rules

Together Checks are different. For Together Checks, you set aside time – daily in the beginning of their phone use and less often with time, I promise! – to look at your kid’s phone with her. She gets to hold the phone and show you around the apps she’s using, the photos she’s taking, and the kids she’s texting. This is effective for three reasons: 1 | It ensures that your kid doesn’t get a false sense that her phone and what happens on it is “private” or “secret.” 2 | It opens up opportunities for so many conversations, like what privacy settings you want her to have, for example. 3 | If you happen to find something that you’d like to discuss during a Spot Check, you can bring it up during a Together Check and it won’t feel awkward or weird; it’ll just be how you do things.

A word to the wise

It’s so much easier to implement a system like this with slightly younger kids, because they don’t have the (developmentally appropriate) want for privacy yet, they are used to their parents having opinions about their actions, and they haven’t yet developed wrong assumptions about their phone use. My research has shown that the safest and wisest kids all have this in common: They talk to their parents about their phone use and what they experience online. Implementing both Spot Checks and Together Checks is a wonderful way to teach our kids exactly how to talk to us about and self-regulate their online use.



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