- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 8, 2005

Q: My husband and I have allowed our 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son to e-mail and instant message their friends on their computers, which are in their respective rooms. This is allowed only after homework and chores are done.

They both have told me they don’t like me hanging around when they’re online and don’t want me to read their e-mail. As if to confirm my fears, one of my son’s female classmates recently sent him a very inappropriate e-mail.

We are beginning to think we have opened a can of worms by allowing them this privilege. On the other hand, we don’t want to micromanage them. What would you suggest?

A: I agree; you have opened a can of worms, and the saying, “How can you keep ‘em down on the farm now that they’ve seen Paree?” certainly applies. I’ll just bet, although I’m obviously speculating, that since you implemented the homework-and-chores rule, your children are doing neither homework nor chores up to previous levels.

If you haven’t already guessed, I am an aging fuddy-duddy where children and the Internet are concerned: I don’t approve of children having access to the Internet without adult supervision — whether their ages are expressed in one or two digits.

Furthermore, I see no need for children to have access to e-mail and instant messaging capabilities, even with supervision. Quite simply, even the best of children can’t be trusted not to get caught up in some of the highly inappropriate stuff that goes on between and concerning children on the Internet.

To a teenager who responds, “How are we going to demonstrate that we can be trusted unless you trust us?” I’d say, “I was a teenager once, and I remember saying the same thing to my parents, and that very experience leads me not to trust you to exercise consistently good judgment where the temptations of the Internet are concerned.”

I would recommend that you simply step back and tell your children you have changed your minds and that from now on, e-mail and instant messaging are off limits.

If you can’t bring yourselves to do that, I would suggest that you impose supervision and make a rule that if your children ever balk at supervision, the child in question will not have access to a home computer for a week; second offense, no more Internet as long as said child lives in your house.

If you want some appropriate words, here they are:

“Since I am responsible for your moral safety as much as your physical safety, I have a right to read your e-mails when I want to, as much as I have a right to tell you that you can’t go somewhere dangerous.

“Therefore, I will occasionally, randomly, just walk in and tell you, ‘I want to read.’ If you click off line, click off screen or act in any way hesitant to let me read what you’re doing, you’ll be denied Internet privileges of any sort for a week.

“The second time such rebelliousness occurs, you will not use the Internet again until you go to college. I will, by the way, also inform your school that it is not to let you use the Internet.

“Got that? Any questions?”

You also might point out to your children that employers have a right to read the e-mails of adult employees and add, “So, get over it.”

They understand language like that, I hear. By the way, this is not micromanagement; this is good parenting.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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