Privacy? That’s what you get when you’re an adult.

21 Jan


In 1984, 15% of children between the ages of three and seventeen had computer access at home.  By 2010, the percentage of children with internet and computer access shot up to 85%.  In other words, most children can access the internet from home.

The most common activity kids engage in online?  Social media.  Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, GooglePlus, MySpace – all places where kids (and adults) meet and interact.  Some of these kids will be known to each other from school and other activities, friends from the neighborhood and extended family members, but lots of interactions will be with complete strangers whose age and gender and motivations cannot easily be verified.

And you know, we don’t really need to get all warped out of shape with fears of online predators and creepy serial killers attempting to lure innocent victims to certain doom.  The vast majority of interactions on social media are harmless and a great way for friends and family to stay connected and in touch with the circumstances of each other’s lives.  Without Facebook, I wouldn’t see what my friends in China had for dinner or what my brother and sister-in-law planted in their garden this year.



In general, social media sites are pretty awesome.

That said, there is a dark side.  Cyberbullying, slut-shaming, sexting, inappropriate messaging and images exchanged and then exchanged again.  Those things are not automatically bad in and of themselves. We all know how I feel about slut-shaming right?  I hate it!  Why, no girl should ever be called a slut, even if she’s dressed in a see through shirt with no bra and assless chaps!



Yeah, right.

Where did this idea come from that a child’s activities on social media should be private?  Oh, I’m so glad you asked.  Allow me to enlighten you:


Back before there was such a thing as computers and the internet, there was the diary.  Or journal, if you like.  A little book, often adored with a sparkly kitty and a special lock with a key, and it was a place to record one’s deepest, darkest, most squirmiest, embarrassing thoughts.  The classmates you had a crush on.  The teachers who were mean.  What jerks your siblings were being.

Anything and everything, and it was widely considered to be an absolutely private space that verged on sacred.  To read your child’s diary was the height of parental intrusion.

Fastforward:  kids haven’t changed, but the diary sure has.  Now it’s possible to publish your ideas, where they can be read and mocked and ridiculed not just by everyone you know, but everyone in the world with an internet connection.  Children’s most private thoughts are fodder for a bored world with little sympathy and no empathy.

What to do?  Well, a really effective response is to pound the walls, screaming in rage and frustration and then write an impassioned plea to the world to just CHANGE ALREADY.


Yeah, no.  There is only one response to this brave new world children inhabit:  BE A PARENT


Another word for parent is GUARDIAN.  You are responsible for guarding your children, protecting them from malign influences and making certain they do not throw themselves, however inadvertently, in harm’s way.  You would never let your toddler play on the interstate.  It’s unthinkable.  All that traffic zooming by at high speed, distracted drivers occupied with their own thoughts, the potential for imminent disaster and even death.


The internet is no different.  It’s no coincidence that the volume of participants on the internet is called “traffic”.


It is your job as a parent to safeguard your children.  And if they kick up a fuss, too fucking bad.  They’re kids. What do they know?

Here are some tips for how to do that:

No computers (or TV) in the bedroom.  The computer should be a main area with the screen facing out so you can see what is on it when you walk by.


You are a friend on Facebook.  You know your child’s password and you will log in and post as a parent in response to anything inappropriate and then promptly unfriend the transgressor.

Randomly read texts on their phone.  It’s not “their” phone anyways.  If you pay for it, it’s YOURS.

Use the maximum privacy settings

Check the browsing history

Talk to your kids about what is and is not acceptable.  Set limits.  Enforce consequences when rules are broken.

Phones are on the counter every night before bed.  No late night texting.


Whatever you do, YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN.  It’s not an option.  It’s an obligation. YOUR obligation.

Don’t let your children play in traffic.


Lots of love,


14 Responses to “Privacy? That’s what you get when you’re an adult.”

  1. Kai January 21, 2013 at 12:33 #

    While I’m in general agreement with the need for parenting, I think this can be a problem in the other direction as well.
    It’s a question of the definition of ‘child’ and ‘adult’. I see a trend where people are considered to be children until they are 18, or 21, or some other mythical age, at which they are supposed to magically turn into adults.
    There have to be waypoints along the way – and I think some of those include privacy. It needs to be earned by demonstrated good behaviour, and it can be lost at any time, but if young people aren’t given a chance to earn more-adult privileges and practice the responsibilities that come with them, what’s the end goal?
    I think a lot of extreme measures are appropriate for a 12- to 13-year old just getting her own cell phone, or facebook account, or whatever, but I would expect a 17-year-old who has demonstrated responsibility to acquire some more rights to go along with it.


  2. Liz January 21, 2013 at 12:49 #

    I agree entirely, except I hate social networking sites. I’m a mean mom and my kids aren’t allowed to use them (though they can socialize via x box live, mine craft communities they set up with friends, ect).

    I worry not only about what they might be putting out there, but everything we do online is on somebody else’s hardware, and thus nothing is truly “private”. And it’s there FOREVER, an invitation to potential identity theft or foul play. Personal information provided in such accounts has been used as evidence for conviction in trials, and facebook has even be utilized to serve subpoenas in some countries.

    Google has been served with subpoenas and released information to private entities in certain cases (likely far more than most of us know of). One example:

    (Stepping off soapbox….)


  3. judgybitch January 21, 2013 at 13:33 #

    Absolutely. I agree completely. A 17 year old is more or less an adult, in my view. But the privileges must be earned through demonstrated good behavior,motivated by an understanding of WHY the behavior is good in the first place.


  4. judgybitch January 21, 2013 at 13:36 #

    Same here. No Facebook, atlhough I do allow a chat app for use on our our iPad, which has no camera. I have to approve the friends, and any photos (of Pinky’s bird, for example) have to be taken and uploaded by me from an internet app.

    It’s super innocuous and fun right now, but I’m setting the standards for how the future will go.

    I also bought my daughter a diary with a lock. She loves it!


  5. happycrow January 21, 2013 at 14:01 #

    A 17-year-old is an adult who is smarter than his parents but has absolutely zero experience and few meaningful skills.

    Gee, no wonder the world calls that “AWKWARD!!” Best teens I”ve ever seen were those whose parents focused on them getting the skills and experience … which also tended strongly to give them that other kind of experience, the one that teaches you not to play in traffic.


  6. judgybitch January 21, 2013 at 14:13 #

    One thing we’re doing is preparing our kids to have summer jobs that have real responsibility- they will be lifeguards. Mr. JB was a lifeguard from the age of 15 all the way through college, and I think his sense of real responsibility comes from having such early and serious duties.

    Stack the shirts wrong at the GAP, and nothing happens. Fail to pay attention when you’re in charge of the splash pad, and a child can die!

    It will be years before Pinky has the physical strength to pass her certification, but we make her take the courses anyways. It’s not an option. She has to. And in due course, LitteDude and BossyPants will be enrolled in those courses, too.


  7. Erudite Knight January 21, 2013 at 19:34 #

    Girls raised on this are REALLY bad about consequences. There was one girl who sent me a lot of naked pics of herself. I cut her loose, and what surprised me was how fast she was ‘over it’ and it seemed to not even phase her that she had just spent the last 2 months sending a guy naked pics.

    No sense of responsibility.


  8. Kai January 22, 2013 at 00:53 #

    I too often see that other overdoing it – no ‘child’ is trusted no matter how much responsibility they show, and privileges are unearnable. I’ve seen that lead to young people giving up on trying to act like an adult, since it doesn’t get them anywhere.

    Encouraging lifeguarding sounds like an excellent idea for real responsibilities. I hadn’t really thought about the comparison of possible jobs.
    Is the American society still high in standards? I too was a lifeguard for many years around those ages, but the Canadian lifesaving body has degraded, just like schools and other areas, such that just about anyone can pass, even without any reasonable amount of physical strength.
    And yes, it’s frightening as hell, given the real responsibility you mention. By the time I left lifeguarding, I was afraid to work with many of my unqualified coworkers.


  9. Reader January 22, 2013 at 05:39 #

    “… and any photos (of Pinky’s bird, for example) have to be taken and uploaded by me from an internet app.”

    Are you aware that GPS enabled phones include very precise location information in the photo?


  10. judgybitch January 22, 2013 at 11:58 #

    Even if I have my location turned to off?


  11. Reader January 22, 2013 at 19:08 #

    If the location option is turned off, then this information should not be embedded in the photo file.

    However, you should verify that it is not still being embedded 1) after you first turn off the location option, and 2) whenever you upgrade any software in the phone (manufacturers sometimes reset the options to what they think everyone should want).

    This describes one way to check your photos:


  12. judgybitch January 22, 2013 at 19:30 #

    Thanks! I never really thought about it in terms of privacy. I turn the location off to save battery power, but now I have a good reason to double check!


  13. Erz February 3, 2013 at 14:11 #

    I’m glad I found your site! Jezebel annoys the hell out of me, and that’s how I inadvertantly found you. This article reminds me of how countless times on Jezebel, there will be articles about how teen girls are committing suicide because of online bullying. Never ONCE did anyone in either the article or comments think that maybe these kids’ parents should have monitored their online activity. In fact, a lot of them would say the opposite “Oh, strict parents would just make them rebel more” (usually in not so nice terms). Great job, Jez.


  14. Kristie February 6, 2013 at 04:06 #

    love this article. I have 2 pre-teen boys and it’s really funny to me that when I pick up their phones randomly and look at their texts, or If they slam their doors I take the door off, that they complain that I am invading their privacy. I of course laugh and say, “as long as you live under my roof, you have no privacy, you cannot own anything until you are 18. My house, my money that pays for the phones, and all the stuff in your room. my prerogative as a parent/guardian to do what I think is best for you. Lump it.”

    My youngest son lost everything in his room except 5 days of clothes and a mattress (with bedding) since he refused to clean it for over a week. (he was also the door slammer from this same incident.)

    Other parents have looked at me as if I had beaten my kids to a bloody pulp when I tell them things like this! seriously people? yeah, I have stopped telling other friends/parents these things since they get very upset.
    Good lord, you would think not buying your kid an iPhone or whatever the newest gadget out there is, is child abuse. Seriously, people look at me like I am an alien when I tell them I have no intention of allowing my child on any type of social networking site. EVER while under my roof. so yeah, I can see how looking at their children’s text messages, or monitoring their time on the TV, or video games, or taking down their door when they slam it, might seem a bit harsh to them.

    To me, it teaches them respect for objects their own and otherwise. It teaches them to reach out and “think or imagine” other non electronic things to do. It teaches them to appreciate all the things around them. And to never take for granted that mom won’t find out if you did something wrong. Cause I always do! there are so many lessons learned from just being an involved parent for my kids, instead of the indifferent ones I have seen.

    I very rarely have to punish my boys. They are honest, sweet nature, and thoughtful young men who are active in several charities in our rural community.

    I give my boys healthy boundaries and limits. If you do not follow the rules there are consequences. Computer and all screen time is limited. No more than an hour a day, IF i am feeling generous and if there is inclement weather. (we live on a lake, on 500 acres of woodland) there is plenty of things to do other than sit in front of a screen rotting their brains.

    And as a side- I am a stay at home mom.
    yep………(gasp) my boys are healthy, not addicted to screens, do not ogle women half dressed online and actually enjoy helping in the community and around the home.
    I must be doing something wrong………right?!?

    Thanks for the great article JB, you made my day again!


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