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It's OK to Spy on Your Teens!

Hello Mark,

I have successfully (I think) completed your program with my 14-year-old daughter and things are WAY better. It has been a rough two years, and though I’m no fool and know there's more to come, your program has helped me stop what felt like a runaway train.

I have an issue now, which has the potential of causing a riot and need advice. My daughter uses MYSPACE and I know her password as I overheard her tell her cousin last year. I have periodically checked it out to see where she's at in her life. She does not know this, of course. Mostly there is typical teen stuff, comments etc. I should tell you that this winter she had an incident with an older boy (16) she was very in love with. All us mothers forbid them to see each other outside of school do to the age difference, but they got together at a friend's house on the sly and she gave him oral sex which she didn't want to but was afraid to lose him if she didn't. He broke up with her a few days later and needless to say it was a devastating period for her and us.

After many talks and processing, we really felt that she'd matured and learned a really tough lesson. She claimed she was done with boys for a while, felt very used and heartbroken. Well, yesterday when I was snooping, I read an email from a guy (platonic friend) who said he heard she'd kissed a boy's c----. This boy, who is a junior, has a very bad reputation and has solicited her before and she's claimed she doesn't like him, thinks he's ugly, etc. In her e-mail reply to her friend she laughed it off and said how quickly news spreads, and which version did he want to hear, just that she did, or how many times, and something about playdough. I don't know where or when or (exactly what) this happened because we are in the middle of nowhere and would not allow her to be with a guy unsupervised, but it did and I'm a wreck. Another email to a girlfriend said she was very upset because people knew about her and C.

Two questions: WHY is she doing this? He is gross and this is a small town, AND they are all students at our high school where her DAD teaches!!! She is only 14 …she still has braces!! She has a great figure and posts umpteen bikini pics and then tells guys "oh, I don't have a good body". Why is she setting herself up to have a sleezy reputation?

My second question: I don't want to tell her I looked at her emails, but I want to address this, so I thought I'd write an anonymous letter to my husband and me from a "concerned mother" who has supposedly heard the gossip. I know this is lying so badly, but privacy is a huge issue with her, and our relationship tends to tip toward the rocky in a heartbeat, but right now I can't think of any other way to bring it up and I am totally depressed about it.




Hi A.,

== > Re: WHY is she doing this?

Adolescence can be a challenging time for young women. Your daughter’s reactions to the physical and emotional changes occurring during puberty often depend on how she feels about herself. If she has strong self-esteem, she is less likely to engage in socially unacceptable behaviors. While everyone makes mistakes, if she is self-confident she will learn from those mistakes and adapt her behavior, rather than repeating the same mistake again.

Despite an emphasis on equality, boys and girls in modern culture still tend to handle self-esteem issues differently. When teenage boys in our society are faced with a period of low self esteem, they continue on with most of their normal activities: they still take that hard math class, try out for the football team and interact socially with their female counterparts. Young women, on the other hand, react differently when faced with this challenge. They often become indifferent, withdrawn, quiet and depressed.

Several large studies have shown girls aged 8 and 9 are confident, assertive and feel good about themselves. This is probably due to the more mature social interactions and skills that females have developed up to this time, especially when compared to their male contemporaries. Surprisingly, these same girls can emerge at the end of adolescence with a poor self-image, a narrowed view of their future, and less confidence about themselves and their abilities.

What controls the development of a healthy self-esteem in teen girls? According to one study, physical appearance was the most important factor. If they are not attractive (by someone else's standards), many girls feel worthless and helpless. Popular culture floods young girls with images of the ideal female figure, personality, and social skills – all of which are mostly inappropriate and unobtainable. The result is not order to maintain this ideal of perfection, girls become obsessed with their physical appearance. The extreme reaction in some unfortunate girls is a dependence on diet pills and the development of eating disorders. Young women see movie stars or situation comedy characters as models on which to shape their social interactions. Unfortunately, the behaviors of these "role models" are often biased toward the disrespectful and promiscuous.

Another factor that can lower some teenage girls’ self esteem is the loss of community. We used to live in towns where everyone knew each other. Now 72 percent of Americans don't even know their neighbors. Other changes in our society, such as divorce, drugs, and alcohol, seem to have negatively affected teen girls even more than boys.

It is therefore easy to understand why many teenage girls are more concerned about impressing or pleasing others – especially boys -- rather than themselves.

== > Re: I don't want to tell her I looked at her emails…

It's OK to Spy on Your Teens! When protecting their teens from internet predators or unsafe behavior, the first step for mothers is to get over their fear of monitoring them. Mothers must learn how to monitor internet activity. It is a mother's job to protect their teens and foster a healthy, safe lifestyle. It is a mother's job to watch over them and be there to correct potential bad decisions that are all too common in a teenager's life.

Different mothers may choose different degrees of monitoring, but all mothers need to deploy some strategy to monitor online behavior. What level of monitoring a mother may choose will depend on the mother, the teenager, and the relationship. One thing should be clear, it is OK to monitor your teens. If you feel uneasy about this or you think it is wrong to monitor myspace activity for example, you may some day regret it.

First, Have the Right Discussion about Internet Safety. Regardless of what level of online internet monitoring you choose, one tactic should be executed first: talk with your teen. Maybe you have, but did you say the right thing? You want to understand their level of knowledge about internet predators. Make the conversation casual… try to blend in to it from another similar topic so the teenager does not feel they are being lectured.

Determine whether they are naive to internet danger or not. This will help you plan your strategy. Ask them if they meet new people online or just communicate with existing friends. Ask if they are aware of cases where teens were put in danger from meeting people online. Ask if they are aware that the people they meet may not be the age or sex they say they are. There is no reason not to instill a little bit of fear. Fear is the body's natural protection system. Keep this in mind when talking with your teen.

Why Would You Spy? There are two basic things a mother needs to protect her teenager from on the internet: predators and bad behavior. The first one is obvious. The second one is not so much caused by the internet, but is divulged through the teen's use of the internet. You may not know that your teenager is engaged in sex, drinking, or drugs, but chances are you can find out through their MySpace pages. The teen may post blatant photos, or the content may be cryptic and difficult for a mother to understand.

Remember, it is a mother’s job to watch over her teens and protect them. Teens, by nature, do make bad decisions. Straight "A" students heavily active in sports and study have become victims. Why? Because they just didn't realize that what they were posting online intrigued a predator. They weren't aware that that predator could "connect the dots" to determine where the teen lived, worked, and played.

Two Effective Spying Techniques for Mothers:

1. LOW LEVEL: MySpace Internet Monitoring –

This strategy for MySpace safety is geared toward mothers that are quite sure they have an honest and open relationship with their teenager. The mothers are sure that their teen would not hide anything from them and would be open to sharing their online activity with them.

Caveat: Mothers, whether they can admit it or not, are usually gullible to this scenario. It feels good to think that you have this type of relationship with your teen, but all too often you don't. The teen may be a great kid that does little wrong, but remember that most teens that get into trouble were once good teens.

Low Level Monitoring is a strategy for mothers that are very confident they have a completely open relationship with their teenager MySpace user. They are sure that the teen will be open to letting the mother partake in their online experience. Keep in mind that most mothers are gullible about this. Also keep in mind that most teens that begin to make bad decisions (drinking, sex, drugs, other crime) started off as good teens. That being said, a good kid that starts to stray would most likely create a new MySpace profile that their mothers do not know about. Teens do stray, it's a reality.

Step One: Have the Introduction Talk-- Let your teenager know you are interested in their online pages and would like to participate. Tell them that part of your interest is to help keep them safe from internet predators. For Low Level Monitoring, it is not necessary to go into anything concerning watching them for bad behavior because you should be confident such behavior does not exist.

Tell them you would like their help setting up your own MySpace account so you can become their "friend" and exchange online information. Even if you know how to setup the account or feel comfortable doing so with the instruction link above, you should let them help you. It gives them a sense of purpose and you can also get some queues as to how they may have setup their account (this is an import part of keeping your teenager safe and is the topic of Step Two.)

Here are some bullets to review with your teenager:

  • Ask them about their photos and make sure they understand why they must pay very close attention to the photos they post. Be sure that there are no identifiable objects or things that may zero in on a location (high school info, license plate, street signs, etc). Also be sure your teenager's MySpace photos are not in any way sexually suggestive.
  • MySpace is for exchanging information with friends you already have, not a place for meeting new friends. If they do meet someone through MySpace, they should treat them much differently, not sharing any personal information or anything that may divulge where they live, go to school, or work.
  • Never post information that can be used to find you: real name, school, job location, address, telephone number, local sports teams, clubs you belong to, or favorite shopping places that may be unique to your area. Teens may claim that some of the info is kept private or only viewable in the MySpace setup. Please remember that there are people out there that are quite savvy and can find their way into this info.

Step Two: Review How Your Teenager's Account is Setup-- Part of step one was allowing your teenager to help setup your own MySpace account. This is important because it is a lead-in to you "naturally" discovering some things that may be of concern (if they exist, of course). We will go through those issues next but let me give you an example first:

I is not a good idea to put your real hometown or High School into MySpace. The reason is this acts as a great location and time-spent piece of information for potential predators. There is no real reason to have this information available to the MySpace public. Your teenager should be sharing information on MySpace with friends they already know, who already know where they live and where they go to school. When setting up your account with your teenager, the lead-in is "hey, this might be a bad idea because of such and such, let's review your setup for other problems..." Review the teenager's Account Settings as follows:

Login and click the "Home" link. Next click on "Account Settings". Take note of the following:

Privacy Settings: Click on Privacy Settings and take note of the following MySpace privacy settings (they are all important, but these are critical):

  • check "Require email or last name to add me as a friend." This makes sure that people that become your teenager's friend actually know your teenager or at least have been screened and accepted by them.
  • check "Friends Only Blog Comments" to avoid some stranger posting obscenities to your teenager's blog
  • check "My Friends Only" under Who Can View My Full Profile to ensure that your teenager's profile is only viewed by people they want to view it.

IM Privacy Settings: If your teenager IMs (Instant Messages) you should change this setting to "Only Friends Can IM Me"

Step Three: Review Your Teenager's Entire Site-- You may want to do this one on your own time when your teenager is not around because you'll want to closely analyze content for the above mentioned issues (location, sexual, contact info, etc.)

Now that you are a MySpace friend to your teenager you can simply login to your MySpace account and click on your teenager's profile in your "friends" section. When you get to your teenager's profile, take a close look at the following items which all have links from the main page:

· "More Photos" link under the main upper left photo. Examine all photos your teenager has posted.

· "Videos" link: review all videos for potentially dangerous content.

· "Blog" link: review all blog entries for anything too revealing (as discussed above)

The "Friends Section" In the lower right will be your teenager's friends. You should see your photo or link in this section if they have made you their friend. Read the comments from your teenager's friends. Also, go to each of their sites and review their profiles. Remember, at this point (in your teenager's friend's profile) this info is open to anyone. You are just another web surfer looking at your teenager's friend's profile. If they have the "Friends Only" privacy setting set, you will be very limited as to what you can see since they didn't add you as a MySpace "friend."

Step Four: Monitor Your Teenager's Site and Participate-- Remember that a teen's life changes like the seasons. Their interests change, fads change, new friends come and go, etc. It is important that you check up on the content of your teenager's site regularly. Even better, participate a bit by posting comments to their blog, uploading pictures, etc. It will be good for your teenager's online safety and good for your relationship.

2. HIGH LEVEL: MySpace Spying –

The high level strategy is for those mothers that are in one or more of the following situations:

  • The teen is suspected of bad behavior, such as drug use, drinking or sex
  • The teenager has been in situations in the past that involve dishonesty (so even if they allow the mothers to see a MySpace profile, it may not be their only MySpace profile)
  • Their teenager is hiding the fact that they have a MySpace profile
  • Their teenager will not allow them to see their MySpace profile

Warning: Always read and abide by the MySpace terms of service agreement.

You have emailed me because you are a concerned mother taking the proper steps to protect your teen(s) on and off the internet. As a mother, it is your job to protect your teens. The consequences of not doing so are far too bad to even fool around in this arena. If you feel that you've already tried the below spying techniques to find and watch your teenager's MySpace activity with no success, you may need to use stealth strategies.

In order to successfully spy on your teens MySpace activity, you should first attempt the low level monitoring..

Assuming low level will not or did not work, let’s get on to spying strategies. First you need to be familiar with how to setup a MySpace account.

Setup a MySpace account, but do not use any information that will identify who you are. Disguise everything, even your real name. Always be thinking that your teen may be searching MySpace to see if you're out there!

Now you have the ability to easily search and browse your way around. The first step to take is to begin to search for your teen by name.

Note that this menu will not look the same in every profile. Users often customize them to change the look and feel of their page. The link content itself will still be there, you may just have to look a little harder if you're on someone else's page.

Click on the third choice from the left, "search". Here is a description of each of your search choices:

· Find a Friend: Here you can search for someone's name, email address, or display name.

· Find Your Classmate: For searching by school, if the account holder decided to enter school information!

· Search MySpace Profiles: This is basically a keyword search like you use in search engines. It will search in MySpace profiles for the term(s) you enter. Contrary to a very popular book on how to use MySpace (where you pay for the same information you're reading here for free!), this field can be very useful for locating someone. I'll discuss below.

Start your quest with searching by your teenager's full name. Unless the name is unique, you'll probably get multiple returns. Browse through the names and see if you get lucky and come across your teen.

If you do find your teen, remember that the reason you are here is because you suspect they have the potential to hide things from you. They may setup a "perfect kid" profile with all the info that would make them easy to find. This "bluff" site is setup for you: the naive mother. Don't be naive, get the right knowledge and go into stealth mode!

If you had no luck with the real name, next it's time to try email addresses. Remember, email addresses are as easy to setup as MySpace accounts and you may not be familiar with all of your teenager's email addresses. One way to search for hidden emails is to go to and click on "People Search". Fill out the form to search for your teenager and then choose to look for email addresses.

Remember there should always be a school address - if you don't know your teenager's then go to the schools web site and look for contact information. Find anyone's email and note the format used: or etc. - use this format to back into your teenager's potential address.

With as many email addresses you can find search the email field under "find a friend."

Next, try the school field. This will probably result in a lot of profiles. When you have a list of profiles, look for your teen as well as their real life friends! More than likely their friend's profile has a link to your teen and you may even see a photo of your teen on the friend's profile to bring you right to where you want to be!

OK, so name and email did not work? Next step: search for friends. Make a list of all the teens your teen pals around with and do the same searches mentioned above but for their names and/or email addresses (you already looked for them in school). Remember to try the school email method mentioned above since you probably don't normally correspond via email with your teen's friends.

If still no luck you need to dig a little deeper. Using the keyword search box at the top of the search page, start looking for nick names. Do your teen's friends call him or her by a nick name such as Big Al or just your last name? Try those terms in the keyword search toolbox.

If you haven't found your kid yet, but you are quite sure they have a MySpace profile, then it's time for more advanced techniques.

If you have found your kid, then it's time to determine what is going on in their secret MySpace life.


My Out-of-Control Teen


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you have insight on why it's the mom's and not the dad's monitoring their teens behavior more closely.

Re: I don't want to tell her I looked at her emails…

It's OK to Spy on Your Teens! When protecting their teens from internet predators or unsafe behavior, the first step for mothers is to get over their fear of monitoring them. Mothers must learn how to monitor internet activity. It is a mother's job to protect their teens and foster a healthy, safe lifestyle. It is a mother's job to watch over them and be there to correct potential bad decisions that are all too common in a teenager's life.

Different mothers may choose different degrees of monitoring, but all mothers need to deploy some strategy to monitor online behavior. What level of monitoring a mother may choose will depend on the mother, the teenager, and the relationship. One thing should be clear, it is OK to monitor your teens. If you feel uneasy about this or you think it is wrong to monitor myspace activity for example, you may some day regret it."

Anonymous said...

I do it for my son and glad that i do i have found weman texting and sending my 13year old son pictures that should not be seen at all so i went far enough to tell these weman that he is 13 and if they dont stop i will call the cops on them now he has a parent block on every thing he goes to and on his phone

Anonymous said...

Two of my 4 children have Facebook accounts. Before allowing them to have the accounts, we talked about the dangers of the internet and though I told them I understood their need for privacy, as their mother it is my not only my job, but responsibility to make sure they are safe and that includes monitoring their online activity. I set up their accounts and have the passwords to be able to get on and check what is on their accounts. They may not always like that, but they do understand I'm doing it to protect them. I'm hoping that as they get older they continue to be as understanding, lol.

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