Balancing Teen Privacy with Parenting

The recent trial of Lori Drew, the mother accused of creating a false identity to torment her daughter’s friend, Megan Meier (who committed suicide as a result of the ruse), shows parents just what kind of predicament they’re in.

Gone are the days when the only thing Opie Taylor had to worry about was a kid who tried to take his milk money. We find ourselves living in a world where teenage girls commit suicide because of internet bullying, and pedophiles take on assumed identities to target their prey.

Clearly, if one looks carefully at the case of Lori Drew, it’s easy to see that her original plan, which was to merely entice Megan Meier into gossiping about her daughter (so she could print off the messages and show her mother) spun out of control. Under the guise of a 16 year old boy she fabricated, it was easy for her to not only try to expose middle school cattiness, but to thoroughly taunt and humiliate a thirteen year old child.

The US Attorney fully blamed Ms. Drew for the death of Megan, saying she should have known better than to create a false identity. Ms. Drew’s attorney, however, blamed Megan’s mother for not monitoring the dialogue to begin with.

Here’s a given: social networking sites have changed the way we parent. No longer is a child’s biggest threat the schoolyard bully. Now it’s very often a cyber identity, one that may be shrouded in lies and ambiguity.

WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE?

Mandy B., a college student from Arkansas says that the case reminded her of the suicide of one of her classmates a couple of years ago. Janie had written disturbing messages on her My Space site a few days prior. She also confessed that she was miserable because she was coming down from a meth trip, and couldn’t sleep.

Because of this experience, Mandy concedes that social networking sites need to be checked. “Janie slipped through the cracks, because no one reported what she was writing on the site.” Although one teenager was alarmed enough to give his father a heads up, that’s as far as it went. And, in the early days of My Space, parents were largely unaware of the newly birthed social networking scene; Janie’s mom and dad clearly had no idea what was happening with their child.

But now we are starting to get it. And, where do we draw the line?

Mandy believes “It’s one thing to look online to see where kids have logged on; it’s another thing ENTIRELY when a parent takes it upon himself to read journals, whether online or not. During my parents’ divorce, my dad went through all of my journals, and then confronted me. I mean, don’t I have the RIGHT to express my own thoughts?”

Indeed, she does. And, alas, there is no hard and fast rule. Every situation is different. But here’s the bottom line: parents have to redefine boundaries, and find the balance between due diligence, and the right to privacy. As the world changes, so does the way we parent, as far as the “details” go. We want the same things for our children that our parents and grandparents did; the difference is that we don’t live in Mayberry anymore.