When it comes to teenage safety, which is more important? Privacy or Safety? by Hillary Smith

Privacy vs Safety pic

When it comes to teenage safety, which is more important? Privacy or Safety? by Hillary Smith offers sound advice for parents who have children approaching the age where they will have their own smartphone. This article also contains several excellent links to sites that reinforce and add depth to this fine effort. Thanks Hillary.


  • There’s a lot to love about teens, but there are also some problems that we face as parents, and a few of these problems are worse than those where two cherished values come into conflict. There are, however, conversations that we need to have with our teens in light of the impact of modern technology. In this post I’ll take a look at where the values of privacy and safety stand and what we should do to deal with problems and how you might avoid them.

Teens Want Privacy Too.

  • As children grow older, they naturally start trying to acquire more privacy in their lives. They stop telling us everything they’re doing, develop more of a sense of modesty, and sometimes even go behind our backs to make the nicest things. It’s not just children, though. One look at the outcry over government surveillance programs makes it clear that our whole society cares about privacy. You can’t blame teens for wanting something when we tell them it’s good to have it, right?

Safety and the Teenage Brain

  • That’s when the other shoe hits. We love teens, but biology has long since proven that teen brains are still under construction. This means that they literally do not have the mental capacity to truly understand their actions or the consequences that could arise from the things they do.
  • This is especially true for impulse-driven behaviors that offer immediate rewards, which is exactly what the Internet and Social Media cater to. Posting a picture from a party may be fun now, but what if a potential employer looks at that picture five years from now and denies them a job as a result?
  • Most teens aren’t thinking about that sort of thing, and it could cost them. The key issue with online safety is that many of the threats aren’t immediate. Damage can often take place months or years afterwards. As parents, we want to keep our kids as safe as possible, but we also want to give them privacy and independence. How are these values supposed to be reconciled?

Watching Teens Over Time

  • The best answer may be a little of both. It goes like this. When your child first gains access to technology or new technology, such as adding a their own smartphone to their technological tools, watch them closely and carefully. We’re not trying to invade their privacy here, we’re just trying to make sure they understand what they’re doing and that they can be trusted to use the device without supervision. Over the next few years after they get their first smartphone, they can slowly gain more privileges and privacy. Smartphones can be addictive, so it’s best to start small and limit them to only an hour or two of access each day, gradually increasing the limit as they demonstrate their responsibility and maturity.
  • “Wait a sec,” you might be saying, “Doesn’t not having the phone on them defeat the purpose of having it in the first place?” That’s a fair question, and the answer is no. First of all, teens no longer regard phones as phones. They’re personal entertainment devices with portable connections to the internet, and the ability to make phone calls is just a secondary function. Secondly, most teens have no need for access to the device all day, every day. You can give it to them when you’re heading out for the day, but they don’t need it at all times. If someone really needs to call them, they can use the house phone or your phone if you don’t have a land line.
  • On top of that, if they need the smartphone during or after school, make sure they’re not using it during class without the teacher’s permission as they’re a known distraction from learning. You may also want to use monitoring software to be sure they’re not sending messages when they should be listening to the teacher. They should know about the monitoring, too. Children who know they’re being watched are far less likely to misbehave.
  • In short, stick with the old adage of ‘Safety First’ and give your teens the right to privacy when you know they can stay safe on their own.

Hillary Smith

  • Hillary was born and raised in Austin, TX. She is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. You can reach her by email at hilary.loren.smith@gmail.com.
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