Should I watch over my child's friends?

When can parents check their child's cell phone?

Parents want to protect and look after their children. And at the same time raise them to be independent and self-confident people. A Dilemma, which is particularly evident when dealing with the media: How much control do you need? And how much is too much?

Text: Thomas Feibel
Illustration: Petra Dufkova / The Illustrators

One control always clings to something unpleasant. Everyone who has ever been checked knows that. If, for example, a police officer waves a road user out, that is it no encounter at eye level. The driver is suspected of doing something wrong. And he feels caught, powerless and often at the mercy of the officer. It does not matter whether there has been a violation or not.

Emotionally it was very similar to many adults in their own childhood and youth when their parents controlled them. A good example of this is the standard question “Have you smoked?”. It triggered extremely unwilling reactions from us on the spot.

Because if we had smoked, in our opinion it was none of our parents' business. On the contrary: we understood your question as a restriction of our own freedom. And rightly so. However, we also reacted indignantly if we hadn't smoked because that was us the distrust shown annoyed.

Parents fear losing control

Since we have been in the parenting role ourselves, the subject of control has not gotten any easier. With the difference that our generation mostly does not like to control their own children. After all, the principle that applies in upbringing today is “If you trust, you will get it back”.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between worry and control. As soon as children get older and claim more freedom for themselves, many parents feel overwhelmed by it. Letting go is inevitable - in theory. In practice, however, that feels like a Loss of control at.


How should we proceed without control if the child is unable to stop the television or PC game after the agreed time? A more precise differentiation helps in everyday parenting: What is the motive behind my control idea?

Checking time compliance here has nothing to do with suspicion. Rather, we know that the child is simply not responsible for it. The medium's pull has taken hold of it so firmly that it has lost all sense of time. In my opinion, this control shows nothing negative, but pursues the legitimate aim of preventing harm to the child. Of course, it's still not fun. It's even trickier when using a smartphone.

Admit it, one of the main reasons people check their phones is curiosity!

Of course, nobody likes to admit that, but one of the main reasons parents want to control their child's cell phone is curiosity. Why is that? Because some parents move quickly feel left out and because we can never look at our children unobserved. It is different in front of his parents than among his friends. Parents often wonder what their son or daughter is like when mom and dad are not there. How do you find your way around on your own? How do you get along with others?


To find answers to these questions, the texts, photos and videos are on the phone the wrong way. The topics just mentioned can be discussed openly with the child if there is a good relationship of trust in the family.

Trust is at stake

However, anyone who secretly checks their children's cell phones is putting this trust at risk. Even worse: It is a major breach of trust. Children have one Right to privacy. It is not for nothing that their protection is one of the central demands of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The secret control of the smartphone is quite possible compare to secretly reading a diary. However, some parents do not want to accept this and react indignantly in my lectures.

"Why am I not allowed to read what my child is doing on the smartphone while the data octopuses analyze every sentence?"

indignant parents at Feibel's seminar

Some mothers and fathers see the privacy of their child blatantly violated by WhatsApp and Instagram, so that a cell phone would not have an intimate status like a diary. "Why," they ask, "am I not allowed to read what my child is doing on the smartphone while the data octopuses analyze every sentence in order to use them for their own purposes?"


Yes, it's true: anonymous robot programs spy on us all. This is a huge problem that cannot be denied. But one injustice does not legitimize the other. Ask yourself the following question: "Would my child's friends trust him on WhatsApp and Instagram if they knew that I was reading?"

Where control is okay

There's nothing wrong with checking the child's cell phone, if that's one of them mutual agreement heard the parents with him met before buying a smartphone. It is only important that it does not take place «secretly», but rather together. It works quite well up to a certain age.

But with the onset of puberty, that can change very quickly. Of course the child is allowed to be Give a veto, as soon as certain things are embarrassing to him. This has to be respected. If there is a good, empathic and trusting relationship, it will come to us on its own as soon as there are problems such as chain letters, abuse or nude pictures.


That being said, joint controls are essential for another reason: to avert harm. On the internet, and especially on social media, things and security settings are constantly changing without your users being asked. These settings have to be checked and readjusted again and again. This control is in order because the distrust shown does not apply to the child, but to the providers of the content on the Internet. Conclusion: Control is good, Trust is better.

What is good control?

  • Arrange joint checks with your child.
  • Assure him that it has nothing to do with distrust of him.
  • Promise your child that they can always come to you if something goes wrong online.
  • Regularly check the security settings on social media with your child.
  • If you care about the content, care about your child.
  • Ask regularly about his activities (games, Instagram etc.) and let the fascination be explained to you.

About Thomas Feibel:

Thomas Feibel, 56, is the leading journalist on «Children and New Media» in
Germany. The media expert heads the office for children's media in Berlin, holds readings and lectures, and organizes workshops and seminars. His parents' guidebook “Now put your cell phone away” was published by Ullstein-Verlag. Feibel is married and has four children.

In the next issue of Fritz + Fränzi (April 2019):

How well is my child prepared for the digital world of work?

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