Should Parents Let Their Kids Have Their Privacy Online? Here’s Why This Mom Disagrees

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Chi Atienza Valdepenas shares why she won’t let her son have unregulated internet access — at least ’til he’s an adult.

Being a parent— especially towards teenagers —is tough work. We’re always teetering between wanting them to be as independent as possible and at the same time trying to keep them in a bubble. And it gets especially tricky when we delve into the realm of social media, gaming and the rest of the online world. Add to that a global pandemic, online learning and the need to socialize, albeit virtually. Mom of three Chi Atienza Valdependas tells us about her recent experience and why she’s keeping closer tabs on her son when he goes online…

When you’re a hands-on mom, you’d understand that you’d just about do anything for your child. From relearning all you’ve forgotten from your school days to sacrificing a fruitful career just to watch your child grow and make sure his values are formed and ready to face the world. I even monitored his time online so that he’d learn self-discipline. Some might say I’m too strict but I see myself as a modern parent striving to mold my son to be the man the world might need some day.

When you don’t have a choice…

When the pandemic began, I didn’t have any choice but to let my son immerse himself in the online world. After his online classes, I allowed him to chat with his friends online to unwind after a stressful day of online learning.

I completely understood because of the unusual circumstances. He couldn’t see his friends, and I wanted him to continue talking to them. I knew it would be good for his mental health. I didn’t pry or bother to check on him since I felt safe knowing he was just at home with me.

Other parents told me I was doing the right thing, that I needed to give him his privacy.

When your instincts are right…

One evening, I decided to check his laptop to see if he was able to charge it for the next day’s class. As I opened the computer, a window popped up. It was a Discord chat with a child who was in incognito mode. My heart felt the need to read the chat between my son and this boy who claimed he has such a bad life.

As I read on, this boy even told my son that he wanted to end his life. Given that my son is very sensitive, he tried to help this boy by telling him how his problem could just pass and that things will be okay. In the latter part of this conversation, the boy started telling my son how he wanted to die. A part of myself almost died that day. Knowing that even if I tried so hard to protect my son, these ideas were already introduced to him and that the Pandora’s box had already been opened. 

What’s a mom to do?

That evening I told my husband about it and he said he’d lock the app and perhaps all possible means to correspond with strangers online. I on the other hand, tasked myself to talk to him about it while praying that with a mother’s guidance.

I needed to figure out how I could handle the situation with compassion and at the same time reiterate the dangers of exposing himself to strangers who may pretend to be their age but in truth, might just be psychologically trying to direct them to do things that are morally false for reasons we will never fathom.

What happens when your heart breaks

My son hated the idea and started finding ways to go about it discreetly. It was the first time I ever saw him break my rules. It hurt me but I knew I couldn’t give up. I started finding ways to check all this past correspondences with strangers he met online. The more chat boxes I opened, the more my heart hurt.

I started seeing how these unregulated children online have become so different in real life that profanity becomes part of their language, sex and drugs are an open topic, online relationships have become a norm and worst, how this has become a breeding ground for children to discuss their problems in life without proper guidance from responsible adults.

When reality hits

I thought I knew it all as a parent. I thought I was in control. I thought my son was safe. As I looked at him from a far without him knowing that I saw all that he saw, heard and felt – I wanted to cry buckets of tears since I was not able to protect him from the real evils of this world. Worst off, he encountered these while I was just in the next room, thinking that everything was okay but in truth – it was not. And it’s all because I tried to respect his online privacy.

My realization

Now I see that even if we try to shield and protect our children physically, but afford them privacy online, giving them free rein to social apps where they can meet anyone and everyone — unsupervised or unmonitored, then we are not protecting them at all.

The modern war is not about protecting our children from strangers we see but it is from these online predators, be it an adult who intentionally find ways to exploit our children or a lost child who has no one to guide him. Our children are not safe online.

Even  though I wish to respect my child’s privacy, to me, doing so is like allowing him to roam around in a public place where strangers can gain access to his gullible mind without loving guidance.

We can’t keep our kids in a bubble

As a parent who wanted to preserve my child’s innocence until pre- adulthood, I had the biggest realization that perhaps difficult conversations will need to be made. I can no longer keep my child in a bubble – and at this point, the best thing I can do for him is to show him how to deal with adversity.

From now until adulthood, I will need to keep a watchful eye from afar and from time to time, pry on his online activities since in doing so, I can be an effective parent who can guide him lovingly, as difficult as the evils of society make it.

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