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Ask Laura: I snooped on my daughter's phone and found out she has a boyfriend. What do I do?

A mom snooped on her daughter's phone and found out that her daughter has a boyfriend. What should she do?

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Laura Tierney
, The Social Institute
Editor's note: In this monthly series, social media expert and Durham mom Laura Tierney, founder of The Social Institute, answers your questions about social media and kids. If you have a question for Laura, email her at contact@thesocialinst.com.

I often check my daughter’s phone after she goes to bed, and I just learned from reading her texts that she has a boyfriend. Do I admit to snooping? What do I say to her? And how can I stress the danger of dating via “social media?" There are so many issues like sexting that leave me terrified!


I totally understand your desire to monitor your child’s activities online and your concern for her safety. Let’s take your questions one at a time.

Do I admit to snooping?

No. In your case, admitting to your daughter that you check her phone after she goes to bed will only deteriorate any trust you’ve built with her. We know of plenty of parents who tell their kids that they read their texts, follow them on social media, etc. That’s different. If you know they’re coming, no trust is broken when you follow through on your word.

In fact, consider sharing your texts with your daughter and asking her to follow you on social media. Not only will you be showing her just how you want her to use these platforms, but she’ll trust your assessment of her accounts. And trust is more important than ever. She needs to know that you have her back, that you’re on her team.

You’ll also have a false sense of control if you assume that you’re seeing everything that's happening. Savvier kids use many tactics to bypass what they know their parents have access to. Check out this blog post to learn about three popular tactics: decoy apps, fake Instagram accounts, and Secret Conversations in Facebook Messenger.

Not only does it become impossible to digitally “helicopter,” it ultimately builds distrust. Our kids are always going to be one step ahead of us on social media.

What do I say to her?

Instead of helicoptering, huddle with your daughter. Get together one-on-one with her as often as possible and ask about her “social” life. Huddles are informal and can happen anywhere: in the car on the way to school, while making dinner, or before you turn on Netflix for the night. It doesn’t have to be structured or planned, just frequent.

This will make it easier for her to talk to you about some of the online experiences she may have — like meeting a boy she likes. According to The Washington Post, teens want to talk with their parents about “the apps we use and why. Most of you have no idea about our world.” Even sexting! (But in a way that’s “not awkward.”)

By huddling you build trust; by helicoptering, you break trust. You want your daughter to want to come to you, not to think of you as their police officer.

And how can I stress the danger of dating via “social media”?
First, no angry eyes. Don’t overreact. A 2016 survey showed that teens don't come to parents because they fear “parental freak outs.” Keep your game face on, and help her win at social.

Second, instead of scaring her with the dangers of dating via social media, empower her to use social media safely. Instead of restricting her by giving her a list of Don’ts, equip her with Do’s.

For example, rather than saying "Don't talk to strangers online," encourage your daughter to talk only to people she’s met in person. A big concern that we hear from parents across the country is about their child meeting pedophiles online. Rather than focusing on the negative, spin it into a positive coaching moment by encouraging your daughter to avoid the most common platforms used by pedophiles: anonymous apps. And consider huddling with her before she accepts any new friend requests. Equip and empower through Do's, rather than scare and restrict through Don'ts.

Find more Do’s inside our Social Locker Room, and — after huddling with your daughter — huddle with other parents who are facing similar challenges in our Facebook Group. It’s so much easier to win a game when you’re playing as a team.
Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, a Durham-based company that teaches students nationwide positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media. Laura, a digital native who got her first phone at age 13, went on to become a four-time Duke All-American, Duke’s Athlete of the Decade, and a social media strategist for leading brands.


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