We monitor our children's time and activity online because we want to make sure they are safe.
The Internet is vast, full of horror stories, and we have little control over it. It makes sense to try to keep an eye on what our children are exposed to by looking through their devices. After all, in our physical world, if we wanted to check on our children's safety, we would gravitate towards spending some time in places where they hang out to try to see what they are up to. This is a natural reaction to worrying about them.
Unfortunately, just like in the physical world where our children might change their behavior if they know we are in the same space, they would most likely do the same in their virtual world as well.
To them, looking through their digital accounts is very similar not only to spending time in the same place where they are seeing their friends, but actually sitting with them and having access to their conversation.
I don't recommend going through children's devices because:
It breaks trust
This may be the most important point. We want to have a good relationship with our children. This means that our children are comfortable enough being themselves in our presence and that when they are in trouble, they will run to us first.
By searching their devices, we are BOTH sending a message to our children that we don't trust them enough AND setting the expectation in our minds to look for reasons to prove our actions worthy. This could be a dangerous path for this parent-child relationship.
It is degrading
We can sugar coat it as much as we want, but it is a search. It is uncomfortable and demeaning. As we search, our children are feeling vulnerable even if they are doing nothing wrong.
It promotes hiding
Is this a surprise? If they want some privacy and you are not giving them any, they will look for a place out of your sight to get that privacy. We have to understand that the behavior itself will not change, only the location.
It impairs confidence and judgment
When we are on our children's case about what they are or could be doing wrong, then they will always be questioning their decisions. This blow to their confidence will make them easy prey for bad decisions. If they can't tell clearly what is right and what is wrong, then they won't feel confident saying no to bad decisions.
Instead of monitoring their accounts...
Work on strengthening the relationship itself
If our children feel comfortable in our presence, then they will naturally want to show us what they are up to - at least their wins and positive decisions. More importantly, when they make a bad decision, they will come to us first for help.
Give them space AND confidence
Children grow and gain independence. The sooner we accept that, the better we will all end up.
Giving children a safe space to grow, experiment, learn from their mistakes and express their own personality will yield a stronger, more experienced, and more balanced adult than protecting them and managing their every decision.
Team up with Children, not against them
We can monitor their interaction with this digital world and block some dangers, or we can team up with our children and together block most dangers.