Should You Spy on Your Kids’ SMS Activity?

Young teen looking at his phone.

Does your teenager spend all day on their phone? Do they spend more time communicating with their friends via text message than they do talking to anyone verbally? And if so, is that a problem? 

It can certainly seem like texting has taken over your teenager’s life. And it’s natural for you to be wondering just what it is that they’re doing with all of that time that they spend on their phone. But should you spy on their SMS activity to find out? 

Parental monitoring software gives you the ability to do so. But your teen may not take kindly to learning that you’ve been surreptitiously reading their text messages, and that can cause a lot of tension in your relationship. Take a look at what you need to know about spying on your kid’s SMS activities. 

Why You Should Talk to Your Kids About Monitoring

A good piece of advice when it comes to parenting is that you should begin as you mean to go on. What does that mean when it comes to parental monitoring software? Well, the chances are that if you use parental monitoring software, you’ll eventually have to tell your teen that you’re using it. 

It may happen because you see something that you know you have to confront your teen about. It may happen because your teen discovers the monitoring software on their own. Or it could happen accidentally. But one way or another, they’re likely to eventually find out. 

Finding out after the fact that their parent is monitoring their text messages can make a teen feel like they have no privacy, that their parents don’t trust them, and that their boundaries aren’t respected. This can make your teen more inclined to hide things and to sneak around. 

And while parental monitoring software is one way to keep tabs on a teen who’s being deceptive, teens can be very creative at hiding things when they’re motivated. There’s just no guarantee that an angry teen who’s very motivated to hide things from you won’t find a way around your safeguards. 

So, a better solution would be to talk to your kids about monitoring before you install any monitoring software. Let them know that parental monitoring software is a condition of having a smartphone in the first place and that you will be checking in on their activities, including their text messages. They may not like it, but they’ll appreciate your honesty much more than they’ll appreciate finding out after the fact that they’ve been spied on. 

Using Your Parental Monitoring Tools

You want to make sure that your teen is safe and using their smartphone responsibly, but you don’t want to go overboard. Monitoring your teen’s activity is your prerogative as a parent, but your teen does need some measure of privacy. And what’s more, realistically, most parents don’t have time to read every text message that a typical teen sends and receives. But if you know how to use your parental monitoring tools, you don’t necessarily have to.

Three young teens looking at a phone together outside.
Your parental monitoring tools can give you a lot of information without being overly invasive. 

You can monitor who your child is sending messages to and receiving messages from, for example. You probably know who your teen’s friends are, but if your teen starts receiving messages from somebody you don’t know, you may want to check in on that. 

You can also see when your teen is sending and receiving messages. If you notice a lot of SMS messages sent and received late at night, for example, that might indicate a problem, especially if you generally restrict your teen from using their phone late at night. You may want to check out the messages that are being sent during those hours. 

Another thing to look at is the types of messages your teen sends and receives. After all, your teen can not only send and receive messages that are text-only, they can also send and receive photos and videos. Noticing that your teen is sending photographic or video messages could mean nothing important – those may just be memes or music videos. However, it’s also possible that your teen is sending or receiving sexts – sexually explicit text messages, images, or videos. 

Sexting is a potentially dangerous activity. The sender may find that their images have been shared with others, or even posted publicly, without their consent. And senders and receivers can both face legal consequences for sexting in some cases. So it’s important to be aware and look for signs that your teen might be sexting. 

The point is, by looking for indicators like who your teen is messaging with, when they’re messaging, and what type of messages they’re sending, you can get an idea of what your teen’s texting activity is like and when you should check out the actual messages, without having to be too invasive about it. 

Spot-Checking SMS Messages

Of course, if you notice things that make you concerned, you should definitely use the tools at your disposal to get to the bottom of how your teen is using their SMS messaging. And some parents may also feel that it would be helpful to occasionally check in on what kinds of messages their teens are sending and receiving, even if they haven’t seen any red flags. 

This kind of spot-checking is reasonable. You’re not insisting on knowing every word that your child has ever texted, but you’re keeping an eye on things to make sure that your teen is safe and acting responsibly. It’s important to let your teen know that while you’re not planning to pry unnecessarily, you will be checking in now and then. Again, it’s better for your teen to know upfront that you’re doing this, rather than have them find out after the fact. 

It also helps to be open with your teen. Encourage them to come to you with concerns, or even to admit their mistakes. Be open-minded and willing to listen to your teen’s side of the story. If they know that you won’t overreact or jump to conclusions, they’ll be more likely to just be honest with you about what they’re doing, and you’ll have less need to do any monitoring that might seem invasive. To find out more about how parental monitoring software can work for you, get our risk free trial.