Monitoring teen texting: Is it parenting, or spying?

A recent blog by a prominent Boston pediatrician advocates spying on teen drivers’ texting habits.
   The notion troubles me because it entwines with trust and accountability, the foundation of healthy family relationships.
   It’s the word “spying” that gives me pause. Spying implies mistrust. But is proactively monitoring driving behavior actually spying, or simply active parenting?
   Clearly, texting while driving is dangerous. Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, writes that if you have a teen who drives, you should check to see if your teen texts while driving. It’s easy to find out by accessing the cell phone account.
   McCarthy cites a new study that says half of teens age 16 and older texted while driving in the past 30 days. (She adds that in fairness, one-third of adults do it too and set a poor example.)
   Parents must take an active role in teaching their teenagers to drive, as defined by laws governing learner’s permits and intermediate licensing. But once teens gain the experience to drive independently, parents reach a crossroads: Is my son or daughter mature enough and responsible enough to operate a car without oversight? Or should I monitor driving activity like texting, especially if I provide the cell phone and pay the monthly bill?
   There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Teenagers mature, gain skills, and earn trust at their own pace. The correct decision regarding your son or daughter may be diametrically opposed to what’s right for his or her classmate down the street. Read Dr. McCarthy’s MD Mama blog entry.

by  Jon Osterberg

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