9 Mistakes Parents Make With Text Message Monitoring

By Andrea Nelson
April 30, 2024
Mother looking at child on phone

While it’s responsible to monitor your child’s text messages, that doesn’t mean anything goes. It’s crucial to go about it in a way that’s respectful, thoughtful, and effective. Here are some of the top mistakes parents make when monitoring their child’s texts so you can avoid making them yourself. 

1. Spying

Going behind your child’s back to monitor their messages is almost guaranteed to backfire when they inevitably find out. Trust is a two-way street — opt for being open with your child about your monitoring, and they’ll be more likely to return the effort by being honest with you about their behavior. 

2. Expecting the worst

If you view monitoring your child’s texts as a way to catch them misbehaving, you set yourself up as an adversary, rather than an advocate. They’re likely to resent your actions and may go out of their way to evade your monitoring efforts. 

Instead, approach monitoring as a partnership. You should have a mutual goal of keeping them safe and helping them if they make a mistake

3. Calling out every little thing

I just learned the term “beige flag,” and I kind of love it. It’s a dating culture term meaning behavior that may be odd or strange, but that doesn’t rise to the level of concern. I think “beige flags” can also apply to parenting. 

When monitoring kids, parents need to decide what constitutes “red flag” behavior and what is merely notable-but-harmless beige behavior. 

For example, maybe your child is dropping f-bombs all over their text threads, but the actual content of what they’re saying (and their accompanying behavior) is fine. That’s a beige flag. Are they actively texting about drugs and alcohol? Red flag — time to step in. 

4. Not setting clear expectations 

If your kid doesn’t know what’s expected of them when they’re texting, they may feel blindsided when you call them out for something they didn’t realize was a problem. Be clear about how you expect them to behave when texting and put it in writing with a digital device contract

5. Having a false sense of security 

Monitoring your child’s texts is not a replacement for open communication. You still need to have the tough conversations with them about the risks that come with texting and help teach them how to be a responsible texter

You also need to remember that even the best monitoring efforts won’t catch everything. It’s still important to keep up on your child’s life the old fashioned way — by talking with them. 

6. Not respecting their privacy

Suppose that you learn your child has a new significant other, but they haven’t shared the news with you yet. You’ll probably want to run and ask them about the person — and why they didn’t tell you. DON’T do it. 

As difficult as it may be, you need to respect the fact that your child deserves to keep some things private. The same goes for not deliberately digging around on their phone to find out the gossip about their life. Focus your monitoring on issues of safety. The rest is only your business if your child wants it to be. 

7. Reading. Every. Single. Message.

It’s so tempting to read every message! It’s right there — why not? Well, for one thing, if your child is a typical teen texter, you’ll drive yourself absolutely batty trying to keep up: the average teen receives at least 237 texts per day, according to Common Sense Media. 

Reading every single text may also contribute to your child feeling like you’re spying on them. As your child grows older and more mature, you’ll want to loosen the reins, and reading every message only adds to your mental load. 

A monitoring app like BrightCanary gives you your time back. You can simply browse the “concerning” tab or wait until the app alerts you about something your child receives. The app even monitors deleted texts, so you don't have to worry about missing something big.

8. Jumping to conclusions

If you find something concerning, the first step is to (calmly) ask your child about it. Find out the full story from them, assuming the best until you find out otherwise. Ask your child what happened, using open-ended questions like, “Why did you send this?” or “Have you been sent something like this before, or is this the first time?” Remind them that your job is to keep them safe, and you want to work through this together. 

9. Not giving kids room to make (and learn from) their mistakes 

You can’t protect your child from everything. Nor should you try. There’s value in making mistakes, especially when your child is still young and has you to help support them through the aftermath. Address the big stuff that you find on their texts, but also look for places where you can give them room to fail. That’s where the growth will happen. 

The bottom line

Monitoring your child’s texts is a great way to help them stay safe online. But when parents aren’t honest about their monitoring, jump to conclusions, or go overboard in their efforts, it can have negative consequences. 

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