Ah, the modern age of parenting and being an educator: “How much privacy do we actually grant our children and our students in the cyber-age (is that even a thing anymore? I dunno…)” It’s a solid, serious, and strangely important question that requires our immediate attention.

First off, let’s just get this out of the way: privacy and independence have (and always will be) connected and they will always be at odds.

I know this sounds like a hornet’s nest as we enter the parenting paradigm of tweens, teens, and social media, but it’s always been this way and will most-likely be this way forever.

Before Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, there was a time when we as parents invaded our children’s privacy and didn’t think twice: think diaper changes. Each of us as parents can remember the first time our delicate little infants transformed from being somewhat grateful for the automatic “bum change” to a full-body crocodile-roll to evade being “changed.” Why? Why the sudden revolt?

It’s the privacy-independence struggle and it’s as old as time—it can be just as messy as changing a wiggling toddler’s diaper.

So, fast-forward to the modern age when we as parents are challenged on this privacy-independence dynamic with social media and cell phones. How much privacy should we give our children in these areas? The answer is “there is no privacy until there is more independence.”

How do our tweens and teens reach independence? They need explicit skill instruction, they need practice, and yes, they need to have an accident here and there. It’s a messy process, because it has to be. We have to know what it means to have healthy social media relationships and we need to be the ones that can deem whether or not our children are independent enough to navigate them on their own.

This can become messy because guess what? Those of us that are “so-called adults,” aren’t exactly relationship experts. So, we must turn to the gurus of what it means to be in a relationship. We must turn to the gurus of the John Gottman Institute. Among the many things these lovely folks work on, is how to build a sound relationship with someone you care about. If we use their metric for quality relationships as our guide, we can start to speak with some authority to our children about what real authentic relationships are (on or offline).

What do the relationship gurus say?(I’m summarizing here, but do yourself a favor and check-out any and all the goods from the Gottman Institute):

  • Feelings of trust and willingness of commitment are foundational
  • We must take time to know one another’s world. We must take time to map out the wants, desires, dreams, and challenges of our friends.
  • We must share fondness and admiration for one another frequently
  • When conflict arises, we must “turn towards instead of away.”
  • We must strive for an optimistic outlook about the future.
  • We must manage conflicts through discussion and our own self-care
  • We must work with one another to make each other’s dreams come true.
  • We must seek a shared meaning.

Another excellent resource for parents is Ana Homayoun’s book, “Social Media Wellness.” I’m positive that if we as parents study these skills and work with our children, there will be a struggle, but a positive one where we create the terms of what independence and privacy mean within each of our families.