Should I Read My Child's Text Messages?

By Andrea Nelson
December 29, 2023
Closeup of hands using phones

It’s a familiar scene of modern parenting: your kid, hunched over their iPhone, furiously texting. You, dying to know what they’re saying. But should parents read their child’s text messages? If you decide to monitor your kid’s text messages on iPhone, how do you do it?

Texting can expose your child to various concerns, including phishing scams, harassment, and predators. This article will explore how to determine the level of oversight needed for your child's text messages and share practical methods for monitoring them both effectively and respectfully.

Should parents read their child’s text messages?

Gen Z is notoriously averse to phone calls, with as many as 75% preferring to text instead. But with the popularity of this communication method comes a host of safety concerns. Parents need to understand the risks their children may encounter over text and take steps to help them stay safe. As you decide if you should read your child’s texts, here are a few factors to consider: 


It’s wise to have some level of engagement with your child’s text messages, either by directly monitoring them or by regularly asking about their conversations. 

Beyond the worst-case scenario of a predator, monitoring your child’s texts also helps you make sure their peer relationships are healthy, the content they’re viewing is age-appropriate, and that they’re not up to trouble. 

Privacy and independence 

Holding the reins too tightly inhibits your child’s ability to learn independence and valuable life skills, so it’s important to strike a balance between supervising and stifling. 

Rather than reading every message (who has time for that?!), using spot-checks or a service that alerts you to concerning content gives your child freedom while ensuring you can spot any trouble.

Also, consider the privacy of those your child communicates with. If you find something alarming about another kid, you’ll have to decide how to alert their caregivers. 

Risks kids face from text messaging

By now, parents are well aware of the dangers of social media. But the reality is that texting exposes kids to plenty of concerning material as well. Here are some of the dangers parents need to be aware of: 

  • Explicit images: A quarter of teens say they’ve been sent explicit images that they didn’t ask for and 57% of parents of teens say they worry about their teen receiving or sending explicit images. Girls are more likely than boys to report being the recipient of explicit images they did not ask for (29% vs. 20%).
  • Cyberbullying: Text messages are a common place for cyberbullying to take place. Sixty percent of girls and 59% of boys have experienced some form of cyberbullying
  • Group chats: Although group chats can be great for social interaction, these conversations can also lead to things like social exclusion and toxicity. They can also contribute to screen addiction and sleep problems for tweens and teens. 
  • Scams: Between 2017 and 2021, the number of young people under 20 scammed online increased over 1,000%. Many scammers use texts to identify and pursue victims, including sending scam links and pretending to be someone they’re not.
  • Predators: Statistics show that as many as 20% of children were contacted or solicited by an online predator in the last year. Some tactics include using texts to catfish and unsolicited sexting.  

Can I see my child’s messages on iPhone?

By now, you might be wondering, “Okay, texting is risky. But how do I see my child’s text messages on iPhone?” There are a few different ways.

If your child uses an iPhone, you can log into their iCloud account on another device and see all of their messages. However, you’ll have to manually skim through each of their messages to find any red flags. 

With BrightCanary text message monitoring, advanced technology automatically flags concerning material, such as explicit language, alcohol and drug references, and more. You can also monitor your child’s social media and YouTube accounts from your phone. 

Other apps promise to let you see your child’s text messages, but many of them aren’t very reliable or easy to use. 

For example, Bark requires that you install a desktop app on your home computer, then plug in your child’s phone. You can only monitor text messages on iPhone when your child’s device is home and on the same Wi-Fi as your computer.

BrightCanary is different. Simply log into your child’s iCloud account, and the app will automatically begin monitoring new text messages sent to your child’s device — including group chats and deleted texts. Download BrightCanary here to get a free trial.

What about Apple’s Parental Controls?

Using Apple Family Sharing, you can establish limits on who your child messages and when. You can also set parental controls that perform a variety of safety tasks, such as blurring images that contain nudity and turning on location sharing

Monitoring apps and parental controls are useful, but they’re only part of the puzzle. The most reliable method for monitoring your child’s texts is to look at their messages and talk to them about their experience. 

How to talk to your kids about reading their texts

The best thing you can do to keep your kid safe is to establish a framework of mutual trust. The specific details of how, when, and if you monitor their text messages is less important than open, honest communication. 

Here are some tips for broaching the topic: 

Respect their privacy 

Don’t spy on your child’s texts. If they find out you’ve invaded their privacy without their knowledge, they’re less likely to come to you if they’re in trouble. 

Instead, let them know your plan beforehand. Explain when and why you’re going to review their text messages. They may not like it, but at least they won’t feel like you went behind their back. 

If you’re stumped, consider this conversation starter: “I respect your privacy, but I also need to make sure you’re safe. Here are the situations where I may need to look at your messages.”

Set clear expectations

Be upfront about how and when you’ll read your child’s text messages and what you’re looking for. You should also be clear about your red-flag concerns, such as suicidal thoughts, bullying, and involvement with a predator. 

Let them know that if you find anything worrisome, you’ll address the issue together. 

Implement a digital device contract

After you’ve established a plan for monitoring your child’s messages, consider writing it into a digital device contract. This will solidify expectations on both sides and help create accountability. 

How to help your child text safely

Given the risks facing kids on text, parents should treat this space with the same caution they do social media and device use.

Here are some ways you can help your child stay safe when texting: 

Discuss the dangers and responsibilities of text messaging 

Talk to your child about things like online predators, explicit messages, and cyberbullying. Help them learn to identify troubling messages and encourage them to come to you for help if they receive any. 

Establish open communication

Be clear with your child that you are a safe space and they can come to you for unconditional support and help if they run into trouble. 

Check your child’s phone 

Regularly sit with your child and look at their messages together. Make these reviews a condition of them having a device. Set this expectation with them ahead of time so they don’t feel blindsided. Let them know you’re on their side and be clear that you looking at their messages isn’t a punishment — it’s a way to keep them safe. 

Frequently asked questions

Is there a safe chat app for kids? 

The safest chat apps, such as Messenger Kids and Kinzoo, don’t allow strangers to message your child. This limitation minimizes some concerns, but it’s still a good idea to play a hands-on role in monitoring their messages. 

What age should parents stop checking their kids’ phones?

 Deciding when to stop checking your child's phone largely depends on their individual maturity level and the trust you've established with them. As children grow and demonstrate responsible behavior, it's essential for parents to gradually grant more privacy to foster independence. 

It's a good practice to maintain open communication with your child about this topic and adjust your approach based on their development and the unique dynamics of your relationship.

How do I monitor my child’s text messages on Android?

You can monitor your child’s text messages and social media messages on Android using Google Family Link.

In short

While texting is a wonderful way for kids to maintain friendships and exercise their independence, there are a number of concerns parents should recognize. It’s advisable to maintain some level of involvement in your child’s text messages, using a combination of monitoring and open communication. 

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