In today's world parents need to be a lot more alert and savvy to keep their child safe. it is no wonder that they come into the office with a dilemma that they want to run by a professional because they feel polarized about it. After talking about how special their child is and singing their praises.... they then describe some behavior that is problematic and wonder if they should "monitor or spy" on them to double check and make sure they are safe.
Now I am a big believer in giving your child the independence they need to make good decisions and yet I know that it is imperative to pay attention to your gut and go to any means possible to insure their safety. I am the type of counselor who advocates that a client checks in with the parent of a child who is hosting a sleepover or party to inquire about supervision, rules and expectations regardless of the concern of your child that you are being over protective or smothering.
Now that the world is digitalized, it poses the need for extra scrutiny. I tell parents that if your child has a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account, it can only be approved if you have full accessibility to it always including your child's passwords. I believe this is a better choice than parents who would like to use surveillance software to monitor their child's peer communications or interests. That way if the parent sees something concerning, they can address it and use it as a teachable moment for their child.
The dilemma gets tougher when your teenager decides to opt for more control and opens multiple accounts and you figure out that he or she has outsmarted you (temporarily) because they are so much savvier than you. If you have reason to believe that your child has tried to exert this extra independence from you it is OK for you to use a software system that tracks keystrokes or applications and pictures. I do advise that it is important to "have the talk" prior to any problems" that you will give your child his independence but if you become suspect you will go to any means to make sure they are safe. In other words, you explain to your child as you discuss internet expectations that you hope NEVER TO HAVE TO MONITOR ACTIVITY THIS WAY BUT IF YOU NEED TO YOU WILL AND THAT YOU WILL LET HIM/ HER KNOW WHEN YOU ARE DOING IT. Kids need to know that you are not going to match their deceit by deceiving them too. Besides, you need to be able to talk to them about your concerns which requires that you share that you have monitored them because you have been suspicious of their actions. Regardless of your child's age, as a parent you are always looking for teachable moments although the older they get .... the angrier they will be about your need to monitor and control their actions. They will likely make you feel guilty about your actions and they will understandably be incensed that you have violated their freedom. That is why I always advise parents to wait until they have solid reasons to use extraordinary measures to monitor their child's actions.
It is tough being a parent especially when you must go to extraordinary means to keep your child safe!