Reading Texts: A Guide for Parents of 12-, 13-, and 14-Year-Olds

teen with phone over face

Parenting tweens and early teens is difficult and requires a nuanced approach because every kid matures differently. This is especially true for devices. As parents consider what’s right for their child, they may choose to read their kid’s texts when they’re first starting out with a phone. If your child has a phone and you want to read their texts, here are some things to keep in mind.

Should I read my 12-year-old’s text messages?

While there are plenty of solid reasons for 12-year-olds to have a phone, this age also needs the most guardrails, including close monitoring of their texts. At this age, you want to be more hands-on, reviewing who they’re texting and what the conversations are about.

Here are some tips for supervising your 12-year-old’s texts: 

  • Know who they’re messaging: There’s little reason for a 12-year-old to message someone their parents don’t know. If they make a new friend and want to exchange numbers, you need to be kept in the loop. 
  • Have safety check-ins: Regularly sit with your child to look at their texts together and identify areas they need support. 
  • Set up text monitoring: BrightCanary monitors your child’s texts and alerts you to problems. Transparency is key here — this isn’t about spying, it’s about collaborating with your child to support them and keep them safe. Show them how you’ll use BrightCanary and what you’re looking for. You can use the app to read individual text threads, or just skim anything the app flags as concerning.
  • Teach texting etiquette: Just like your parents taught you how to answer a landline, your kid needs guidance on the dos and don’ts of texting.  

Should you read your 13-year-old’s text messages?

It’s a teenager’s job to push for freedom, and it’s a parent’s job to regulate that freedom so they can safely spread their wings. At this age, you may want to give them more independence and autonomy with their messaging if they’ve demonstrated their maturity and can follow family rules.

Here are some ways to strike a balance between texting privileges and rules:

  • Past as a predictor: If your child’s a rule follower — especially if they’ve been good about respecting device boundaries — it’s an indication they’re ready for more phone freedom.
  • Find opportunities for independence: Giving your child more freedom with their phone helps them learn responsibility. For example, they no longer have you let you know if they’re texting someone new, as long as it’s someone they know in real life.
  • Monitoring is still important: Parental monitoring allows you to give your child some space while still supporting them. It also means you don’t need to read every single text message — BrightCanary does that for you and alerts you to any issues. 

Should I read my 14-year-old’s text messages? 

The leap in maturity between 13 and 14 years old varies widely from kid to kid. Some kids may still need a level of close supervision. Here are some ways to decide how involved to be in your 14-year-old’s texts: 

  • Personalize your approach: Assess your child’s ability to follow rules and behave responsibly with their phone as you decide whether to grant them more freedom. 
  • Don’t totally cut the cord: If you do choose to pull back on reading their messages, use a monitoring app to alert you if your child encounters any dangers in their messages, like cyberbullying and drug references.

What to watch for 

No matter how mature and responsible your child is, there are some topics you’ll want to monitor even through their late teens. Suicidal ideation, self harm, and drugs are top on that list. 

But that doesn’t mean hovering. Reading every text may be an option when your child is younger, but they need some privacy as they grow older. Text message monitoring allows you to give your child autonomy and step in when anything potentially dangerous is detected. 

What you can ignore

Depending on your family’s values, some things you encounter in your child’s texts may be no big deal, such as moderate profanity or violence in the sports they follow. It’s okay to let some stuff go. 

You know your child best, and every family has different ideas of what’s acceptable. Some monitoring apps allow you to customize what topics it scans for based on your priorities, so you’ll get fewer alerts for swear words but more alerts for potential dangers like self-harm and drugs.

How to read your tween’s text messages

There are three main ways to monitor your tween’s text messages, and they work best in conjunction with each other. 

  • Scheduled check-ins. These are set times where you sit with your child and look at their device together. You can use this time to talk to them about who they’re messaging, what they’re interested in, and any challenges they may have faced.
  • Spot-checks. Especially for younger kids, many parents periodically look at their child’s messages to get a feel for what’s up. This should never be done in secret, though — spying is a surefire way to damage trust between you and your child.
  • Monitoring apps. BrightCanary not only monitors your kid’s texts on iPhone, but it also scans their social media, YouTube, and Google. 

The takeaway

Parents should tailor their approach to reading their child’s texts based on their age, maturity, and temperament. Apps like BrightCanary are a great companion to other monitoring efforts, like regular check-ins and conversations about online safety. 

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