Ages 13-17 (Teen)DisciplineEducationMedia & Technology

Why I Will Never Have My Kid’s Password

Long ago in internet terms, a tech blogger, Janell Burley Hoffman, became briefly famous when she wrote a post about “giving” her son an iPhone for Christmas, along with a contract he had to sign to keep the phone.

I became aware of Hoffman’s post when it went viral on FB.  Usually those who shared the post would add a statement something like PARENTING U R DOING IT RIGHT!!!!

Yeah, not so much.

The contract was a list of rules, most of which aren’t terribly out of line; but the first two knocked me back.

  1. It is my phone.  I bought it. I pay for it.  I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?
  2. I will always have your password.

Another, less popular post, caused more debate.  Kim Hall, who blogs about her faith and her family, wrote a post addressed to “the girls” her teenage sons were friends with, in which she counseled them about their inappropriate behavior (which included being girls on FB, basically).  The opening paragraph to this post set off my alarms:

Dear Girls: I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as we sometimes do, our family sat around the dining-room table and looked through the summer’s social media photos.

Later, Hall makes it clear that this is a regular practice – that her family meets frequently to look through her children’s FB, and that she blocks any of her children’s friends whom she feels are behaving inappropriately.

And then there was this guy, Tommy Jordan, whom you may also remember: he shot up his 15 year old daughter’s laptop, because he had read a comment she had written complaining about him.  (Note that to get to this comment, he had to hack her FB.)

This sort of parenting strikes me as not just intrusive but destructive (and not just of laptops).


Consider Janell Burley Hoffman’s rules for her son and his iPhone.

With Rule #1, Hoffman tells her son that he has no right to property.

Rule #2 is even worse – this tells her son he has no right to privacy.  In the name of teaching him manners and keeping him safe  (or really, I guess, “pure,” since other rules deal with what her son is allowed to search for and read on his phone) Hoffman is denying his personal autonomy.

Granted, Hoffman might argue that her son is not autonomous.  He’s thirteen, dependent upon her for everything.  However, feeding and housing someone does not give us the right to treat that person like a possession.

Also, I have no doubt, Hoffman fears for her son’s character and his safety.  By monitoring his activity in this way, and by holding the threat of confiscation over him, she hopes to keep him safe and encourage him to behave well.  These are laudable goals.  It is her method which is misguided.

Hoffman makes the same mistake our other two parents make: by removing any hope of privacy or autonomy from their children, they believe they will teach these children to behave well.

In fact, though, what are they teaching their children?  That nothing, even their own hearts and minds, belongs to them; that those who have power over them can and will intrude anywhere, and strip away anything, however important it is to them; and that this sort of intrusion and elimination of boundaries — this kind of control over others — is correct behavior.

It is significant that none of these children are very young.  They are all adolescents, between 13 and 17.  This is an age when young adults need both privacy and autonomy.  Without it, they cannot try out various ways of thinking and acting. Pet_scan_of_a_normal_brain As David Dobbs notes in his article “Teenage Brains,” risk-taking behavior, along with the ability to interact freely with their peers, is an essential part of how an adolescent becomes an adult.

The desire to keep your child safe forever is a powerful one.  But first, it cannot be done.Your child, especially your adolescent child, is going to have access to the internet, and to the great world beyond your dining room table.  A snooping parent may not find objectionable material on the kid’s iPhone; this does not mean the kid has not been accessing data the parent might find objectionable.  Kids have friends; friends have access.  Also, most kids know more about technology than most parents these days.  That contract only looks unbeatable to parents.

Second, children need to grow up.  You should not stand in the way of that.  In order to learn how to handle the world, children have to be allowed to have experience in handling the world.  And your children do not need you back-seat driving every move they make or word they speak. (Would you read your child’s diary?  Listen in on their phone conversations? Then why would you read their email?)  Children need a space apart from parents, where they can practice adulthood.

Will they get things wrong?  Of course.  Will they access sites you might not be entirely happy about?  Yes.

This last, I agree, troubles the modern parent.  Thanks to the Internet, truly appalling porn and other graphic information is available to anyone now.  Further, some parents worry about internet predators preying on their kids. While the idea is scary, these predators are not actually very common; and the best tactic for keeping your kids safe is not, in fact, spying on them or stripping them of their autonomy, but educating them.

We got my kid her own computer when she was ten.  She’s had internet access since then, runs her own webcomic, has online friends and communities she frequents.  I do not know her password.  Nor do I want to know it.  Do I worry about her or what she might encounter online?  I do not.

First, we talk, often, about what kinds of actions are and are not okay on the internet.

Second, when she encounters something that disturbs or upsets or enrages her, she talks to me about it.  This is the part that I think more authoritarian parents sometimes miss: giving you child autonomy, respecting your child’s rights, does not mean that you stop parenting.  In fact, in my experience, in means you parent more, given that rather than training your child (like a dog), you are raising your kid to be an independent, thinking adult.

Parents who violate their children’s privacy and autonomy find out very quickly that their children don’t trust them.  (With good reason – would you trust someone who violated your privacy and abused your autonomy?)  Children who don’t trust their parents are not likely to come to them when they run into trouble, either on the internet or anywhere else.

If you want your children to use the internet and other technology wisely and well, teach them how to do that.  Give them those rules: the rules about how to behave online, and what never to do, and why.

Parenting is not about policing our kids.  It’s not about being “the bad guy,” or proving how tough you are, or that you’re the boss.  It’s about raising children to be independent, to be free and critical thinkers, to be competent adults.

That won’t happen so long as we treat them like they’re incompetent possessions.


(Photographs and images by Mark Burgh; by blakeburris at Flikr; and by Dr. Giovanni Dichiro on Wiki Commons.)


Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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  1. You make some interesting points, and this reflects a discussion that my husband and I recently had about monitoring internet access for my step son (he’s 11 and in sixth grade). GT hasn’t really started to embrace social media yet, but he has had accounts for online games like Wizard101 or Minecraft, that let him play, chat and interact with other players online. We’ve talked to him about internet safety and that if anyone ever makes him feel uncomfortable or asks for personal information, he should come to us.

    He has his own account and password on our family computer, just like his father and I do. And I have never “spied” on his account or his browser history.

    I think it’s important that he understands, though, that you never have full privacy when you’re online. These servers that he logs into keep logs of user activity. I can log into our DNS provider and see what sites were accessed from our home and when that access occurred. When he’s interacting with people on social media or online platforms, he has no control over what the person on the other end does with the information that he puts out there about himself.

    Where I start to disagree with you is that I view all of this as a privilege, that has to be earned and maintained by good online behavior. If I’m paying for the internet service, bought the computer, paid for the smart phone and the data plan and am responsible for keeping them all in working order, then yes, I am going to require that he uses these devices and services in good faith. I will trust him up until something happens to break that trust. Then, I have the right to monitor, rescind or restrict those services until the trust is rebuilt.

    How many stories have been in the news lately about “good” kids behaving very badly online? Cyber bullying, harassment, cheating, pirating…these are the things that I’m concerned about. I’ve got no intention to be the morality police — if he wants to explore his sexuality by viewing porn for instance — that is none of my business and I hope that he will feel comfortable enough with his father or me to be able to talk about these things. But, if he is doing something that *I* am legally or financially liable for, or if he is harassing or bullying others online, then that is most definitely my business.

    I am not saying that he doesn’t have the right or ability to make mistakes. But mistakes come with consequences. It does no good to give him the rules for behaving well online without *some* amount of oversight to ensure that they’re being followed.

  2. Tammy — I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. Talking to your kids about what can happen on the internet and who and what they should put out there is key. Talking to your kids about cyber-bullying and the rest is also essential.

    I don’t agree with “I paid for it, it’s mine, I can do what I want to you.” The power imbalance between parents and children means that of course you can do whatever you like to the child. But do you say “I paid for the food, so if you don’t eat it right, you don’t get to eat”? Or “I paid for this house, so if you don’t act right, you can sleep in the garage”?

    Teaching children that the person with the most power in a relationship is allowed to do whatever he or she likes to the other person strikes me as a lesson we don’t want to teach. Obviously kids will make mistakes. Everyone does — I imagine you as a parent have made mistakes. Would it have helped you, having made that mistake, to be punished for it? To have your privileges removed?

    If your kid does something truly egregious — sexually harassing people on line springs to mind — then yes, possibly you’d want to take strong action. But even then, education rather than punishment seems a better plan.

    tl;dr Oversight is indeed essential. But that doesn’t need to translate into punishment. It can just translate into active parenting.

    1. It seems, though, that education only works if they don’t *know* that their behavior is wrong or breaking the rules. If the expectations are set out ahead of time, or if the child is repeating previous bad behavior, then there need to be consequences. I don’t know how a parent can have any credibility without out them.

      That said, it’s all a matter of proportion. Your examples are pretty draconian, and honestly, a little insulting in what I hope would be a good-faith discussion. Anyone who denies food to their child or forces them to sleep in the garage like the family pet deserves to be arrested for child abuse. But, for example, my stepson keeps his screen time privileges if he gets his school assignments turned in on time. Note – this isn’t tied to grades or performance – just to meeting the bare minimum expectations of his school and his parents to do his work and turn it in on time. He knows this. This is the expectation. So, when he has late assignments he loses screen time privileges. It’s not a perfect system by a long stretch, but it’s also preparing him for his life after he leaves the nest. Do your job or get fired. Expectation and consequence.

      If I understand what you mean by active parenting, then that would have worked fine on me as a kid. Any whiff of parental disapproval, and I toed the line. Not out of fear of punishment, but because I loved my parents and wanted them to be proud of me and know that I was a “good girl”. My stepson’s reactions are more complicated than that. I know that he knows the right thing to do and knows what our expectations are, but the allure of what he “wants” to do is sometimes just too much. He *wants* to stay up all night reading, and doesn’t care if he’s too tired in school. He hates that he *has* to go to school and thinks he would enjoy it more if it was optional, but he admits he would just stay home all day playing video games anyway.

      He needs expectations *and* consequences. Those consequences can be good too — by the way — like extra screen time or a trip to the game store to pick out a new boardgame as a reward for say, giving up some his personal time to help clean the house or help shovel the snow.

      Now, when it comes to “I paid for it, it’s mine, I can do what I want to you” — again, I think you’re going to the far extreme of what I was trying to say. If I give my stepson a thing – a phone, computer, ipod, etc. – it is his. Not mine. I do not get to threaten to take them away from him or return them to the store if I don’t like his attitude any particular day. But, if he treats these things badly, loses them or breaks them, then the responsibility is his as well. Consequences. You lost your phone? Now you no longer have a phone.

      The *services* however, are a different matter. At this point, the use and payment of these services are *privileges*. If those privileges are abused, then he should have the reasonable expectation for consequences. If I’m paying for a data plan for his phone, and he amasses hundreds of dollars in charges, there are consequences for that. Pay me back. Lose privileges. Unless he is paying for these things himself, then the *having* of them is a privilege. You can call that punishment if you’d like, but I call it parenting. He is free to make all the bad decisions that he wants, as long as he understands that those bad decisions can come with a cost.

      All of this is not to control him or own him. It is to prepare him to live a life without a sense of entitlement, where he recognizes privilege for what it is.

      1. I didn’t mean my examples to be insulting. Sorry for that!

        Most of the rest of what you’re saying makes sense to me. Natural consequence is good parenting. Yes, if the kid loses the phone though carelessness, or breaks it, or whatever, then it makes sense to leave the kid without a phone. Same for racking up charges and then being required to pay for them. But these aren’t punishment; natural consequence reinforces the kid’s autonomy, rather than stripping it away.

        1. Right! Although, to my stepson, I’m sure that those consequences can often *feel* like punishment. The trick is to tie them to expectations/actions/choices in a way that make it difficult to deny that the consequences are fair and deserved.

  3. As a teenager, I was glad that my parents didn’t have my passwords. But as an adult, I kinda wish they had, because I there were a lot of creepy men who talked to me online, and I wasn’t mature enough to know that I shouldn’t have been enjoying their attention.

    I have no idea what I’ll do when I have a teen. I want them to have autonomy, but I also want to protect them from pedophiles and internet predators.

  4. When I was a kid — starting at about 11 — I was sexually harassed by men, both on the street and when I was out riding my bicycle. Once, I remember, three men (they were probably 20, but they were old enough to terrify me) cornered me in a parking garage and at least *acted* as if they were going to rape me. Another time, in these woods I hung out in, I was chased by a guy for maybe a mile. (I knew the woods better than he did, which is how I got away.) Events like this happened several times a year.

    Did I tell my parents about *any* of this? Nope.

    The reason was absolutely clear to me. I knew if I said anything about it at home, I would be the one who was punished. I would not be allowed to roam the city on my bicycle; I would no longer be allowed back in the woods, where I loved to go.

    This is the problem (one of them) with restricting your child’s use of the net because of fears of internet predators. Having their passwords and monitoring what they do on the net is nearly as large a problem. You’re telling your child that her right to be active in the world must be curtailed because *other* people might act badly.

    My kid and her friend were once harassed (when they were about eleven, in fact) by a guy on the internet — playing one of those interactive game, in fact. Because she wasn’t afraid of me, my kid came to me about it. The incident was reported to the police, who took action against this guy. I did not punish my kid, or change the rules about her access to the net. Instead, we talked (and talked and talked) about what had happened, and what she might do in similar situations. (Though in fact I think she handled that situation perfectly.)

    If your kid is afraid that their rights will be stripped away when they come to you with a problem, they’re not going to come to you with a problem. And yes, you could have your kid’s password on *this* computer. But the incident I refer to above? Did not happen at home. It happened when she was at a friend’s house. Unless you lock your kid in a box, they will have unrestricted access to the net. By making them worry about what will happen to THEM if they come to you, you’re not keeping them safe. You’re just teaching them they have to lie to you to protect their autonomy.

  5. For me the main thing is communication and making every effort to have the kind of relationship with your child where issues can be discussed openly including privacy and what’s appropriate on social media. And while that may seem like an idealistic goal at times I think it works well for most situations. Conversely if a child engages in harassment or bullying online or is setting up drug deals on their smart phone paid for by a parent, it’s time to shut things down and stop paying for phones and data plans until, as others have mentioned, trust is restored.

  6. I agree with the broad message in this article, which I gathered to be that patents need to let go more as our kids reach adolescence knowing that while we might not like everything our teens are doing, they need the space to find their own way. Indeed, because of the power imbalance, we benefit our kids if we find that happy medium between the extremes of anything goes and being a draconian authority figure. Knowing and communicating with our kids is essential. That said, I think there are exceptions when violating privacy is condoned or even necessary. I’m thinking specifically of a friend I had when I was young. When he was 13, the summer between 8th grade and hs, he and his girlfriend became sexually active. To be clear, I don’t think early sexual activity is bad for everyone. For exceptionally mature young teens it can be a beautiful experience. But for my friend it was playing with fire in the worst way. His girlfriend frequently spoke about wanting kids very young and wanting to have his baby. He even expressed paranoia about her poking holes in their condoms. His mother was the sort of cool parent who respected her kids privacy and autonomy, but within reasonable limits. When she caught him sneaking back into his bedroom at 5am, that set off alarms. She had been a little nervous about how serious he and his girlfriend were about their relationship at such a young age, but now she was outright terrified. She first questioned him, but he of course denied that he was was having sex. Knowing her son well, she suspected he was lying. So she did the (almost) unthinkable – she searched his room. She quickly discovered condoms and notes confirming that they’d had sex. She met with the girlfriend’s mom and took drastic action to end the relationship (putting him in a school separate from her for his freshman year.) it sounds harsh, almost draconian. But his now ex girlfriend was pregnant by another boy within 2 years and dropped out of hs. And he came to thank his mom profusely for the intervention.

  7. Martha: I agree there are times when parents need to be more active in their parenting, and the example you give is a good one.

    But this: “She first questioned him, but he of course denied that he was was having sex. Knowing her son well, she suspected he was lying. So she did the (almost) unthinkable – she searched his room. She quickly discovered condoms and notes confirming that they’d had sex. ”

    I hate to do backseat parenting, but in that situation, why not confront the kid?

    “I can tell when you’re lying,” is something I have said to my kid more than once. Or — why interrogate him at all? Why not START with the knowledge you have?

    “I know you’re having sex with XXX. What are you doing about birth control?” <– That would seem like an excellent opening line. After that, I might go to, "What will you do if the birth control fails?" or "You do know if she gets pregnant, you're paying child support for the next 18 years, right?" (If it were my daughter in this situation, I'd get her more reliable birth control.)

    The thing is, your friend's situation seems to have turned out fine, for him at least. But in fact, many times in that situation, Mom has just stopped the kid from having sex with that one girl. IME once people start having sex, it's not something they're likely to quit, just because Mom intervened this one time. (As we saw with the young woman in your example.)

    Plus, aren't you being a little slut-shamey with the girl in question? I don't know what makes her behavior any worse than his in this situation. She's having sex and talking about wanting kids; he's having sex with someone he doesn't trust or — apparently — care much about.

  8. This must be something that has to start young. Like I remember when we removed the baby monitors and then I was like, well, I don’t know what is going on in there. Now that she is five, I knock before coming in and I ask her if it is okay if I check on her at night. Her room is her own to do what she likes, whatever it maybe. Which sounds startling, she paints in there or whatever, but believe it or not because she has had this responsibility of maintaining her own space, she keeps it nice. It is an extension of herself. I wonder if that is how it would be online? Right now although little, she has her own online account so that she can see nicolodean and PBS Jr. online. Currently she gets on it with me and we talk about our friends and family and what we might say to them and people that we don’t know. I would think this to be a gradual process. I wonder if the people that go overboard (aka shooting laptops etc), just had not realized that these kids will grow up and have their own thoughts. I think that without a built trust spanning many years on both sides, it would be hard to let your children to do things independently and to trust that they come to you when they need help. I agree with the statements about trust. If trust and/or responsibility is broken natural consequences apply.

  9. First of all, slut shaming? Are you kidding me? I didn’t characterize anyone as a slut, not did I shame anyone. I described two young teens in love and taking huge risks for which they were I’ll-prepared to deal with the consequences, and a parent stepping in to take control of a potentially very bad situation.

    The problem the girlfriend had wasn’t that she was happy to have sex. It was that she was 14, about to start hs and eager to get pregnant. I actually know what happened to her since my friend regained contact years later. Having gotten pregnant by her second serious boyfriend, she dropped out and married the father. Thankfully he was 18 and about to graduate, and far more mature than my friend. She eventually got a job as a bank clerk and had two more kids before turning 21. Now in their thirties, her family is still together, but it’s not a fairy tale. They have money problems and she’s bored with her job and longs for a more interesting and lucrative career. She was so in the throes of adolescent love and in such a rush to have her fairy tale family life that she short changed herself on a lot of other fulfilling life experiences and earning potential. But it could have turned out much worse, say if she’d gotten pregnant at the age of 14 by a very immature boy the same age.

    Not only did I NOT characterize this girl as a “slut”, but I also didn’t mean to paint her as a villain in comparison to my friend. My friend was using poor judgement sleeping with a girl he didn’t fully trust. And she was using poor judgement pushing happily ever after fantasies on a boy who was no where close to being an adult. It was a dangerous combination, despite their young love and chemistry.

    You can give all the advice you want, but the bottom line is you don’t know these people and I do. Even if your backseat parenting advice would have worked in this case (again, knowing the people I doubt it), there are cases out there that are exceptions. That was the point of sharing my story -that there are exceptions.

    We have all these ideas and ideals about parenting, but we can’t predict who our kids will be or what our dynamic with our kids will be. The best plans can blow up in our faces. I do hope that I never feel the need to violate the privacy of my girls when they are teens, but I’d never rule it out because only goodness knows what the future will bring. To me, it’s all about weighing the consequences and keeping our kids’ well being in mind. All the examples you give of parents being more authoritarian have their kids’ best interests in mind. Honestly, who are you to judge their parenting style?

  10. “Thankfully he was 18 and about to graduate, and far more mature than my friend. She eventually got a job as a bank clerk and had two more kids before turning 21. Now in their thirties, her family is still together, but it’s not a fairy tale. They have money problems and she’s bored with her job and longs for a more interesting and lucrative career.”

    Weren’t you the one on the Against Marriage thread who got all torqued up when I argued that early marriage led to poverty? I am almost certain I remember that.

  11. “All torqued up”? If by that you mean I was critical of your assertion that if all women just put off marriage and kids until they’re over 25 poverty would come to an end, then yes, thAt was me. Way to refer to something else that only seems relevant if you ignore all the details and context instead of dealing with the discussion happening here.

    1. Point to the place in “Against Marriage” where I said anything like “all women” or “poverty would come to an end.”

      And my point in the previous comment was that you seem to be very selective about in your use of data, and in the conclusions you draw from that data. On that post, you were arguing rather vehemently that early marriage was not a significant factor in poverty. Here, you’re arguing that early marriage causes poverty. Well, which is it?

      And yes, by the way, you do seem to get very torqued up about all of this.

      These posts (and my comments) are meant not as attacks, but as examinations of whatever question is at hand. This is how critical thinking and intellectual inquiry works. Someone puts forth a proposition. Someone else counters. We’re not fighting; we’re engaging in a hunt for the truth. If you can give me actual evidence that my thesis is wrong, I am happy to learn.

      1. “Point to the place in ‘Against Marriage’ where I said anything like ‘all women’ or ‘poverty would come to an end.’


        “The solution to poverty is to encourage all our children to avoid marriage until they are at least twenty-five. (Maybe even thirty-three.)”

        1. All right, I can see how you might have read that line in the way you are reading it.

          To be fair, however, reading it that way requires ignoring the rest of the essay, which is why quote-mining is (generally) a bad faith way to argue.

          But I’ll give this one to you. I should have written something more like this: “A solution to helping to end poverty….” which more accurately reflects the thesis of the essay. You’re right.

          1. Umm….sorry…not to stoke the fire any more here, but in defense of Martha…she can hardly be accused of quote mining. I thought this at the time and after re-reading your marriage post again, the line she quotes seems to be *exactly* the theme of your essay. And if she is reading it that way, she’s not the only one.

          2. Tammy: the essay also includes these lines:

            “In fact, early marriage often leads to poverty, as anyone who is paying attention can see.”

            “If they’re lucky, if the marriage is good, if he doesn’t lose his job and she doesn’t lose hers, if no one gets sick very often or very badly – well, all may yet be well.”

            IOW, I was never making the claim that early marriage will *always* lead to poverty. <– which was a point I reinforced a number of times in my comments.

            Granted, I stated my position strongly (my position being that delaying marriage and childbearing is likely to lead to a better life). Perhaps that's the problem. Maybe if I made my case/s in a more conciliatory fashion, I'd get less anger? (Spoilers: Not likely to happen.)

      2. “On that post, you were arguing rather vehemently that early marriage was not a significant factor in poverty.”

        No, I didn’t. But that’s is that discussion, so how about we keep that discussion on that thread.

        “Here, you’re arguing that early marriage causes poverty.”

        No, I didn’t. My friend’s ex-girlfriend isn’t poor. Her husband and her both work full time jobs – you know, like a lot of people with college degrees who started having kids at 30. Don’t know why you assumed that she is poor, much less how you came to the conclusion that I’m arguing that early marriage causes poverty.

        “And yes, by the way, you do seem to get very torqued up about all of this.”

        If you say so. Personally I think you just read a lot into my sentences that isn’t there. Like how you assumed that I was slut shaming and saying that my friend’s girlfriend was more to blame than him, when all I really did was describe a bad relationship between two people who were too immature and inexperienced to recognize that it was a bad relationship.

        1. You said they had money troubles, and that these money troubles were directly connected to her early pregnancy and the resulting marriage — which was why, you were arguing, it was all right for parents to violate their children’s privacy and autonomy: because this (early marriage, early pregnancy) was a fate so seriously to be avoided that such drastic actions were justified.

          I agree “money troubles” doesn’t *have* to equal poor. I mean, I’ve read essays by people making $400,000/year who claim they have financial difficulties. But you should agree that my interpretation of what you were saying is hardly an illegitimate one.

          1. *facepalm*

            If I’m “torqued up”, it is certainly because you have this incredible ability to read things in between the lines that just are not there. And I’m growing exhausted trying to re-phrase things only to have you read something else into what I’ve said that isn’t there.

            First, yes your interpretation that I suggested that her money problems were “directly connected” to her early pregnancy and marriage is a correct interpretation. And I then came back and said that I was WRONG to make that suggestion. That suggestion was not based on real knowledge of that woman’s circumstances, but rather, on prejudices I hold due to stereotypes about women who have children and marry young. I have ZERO evidence that their personal money issues have anything to do with their early marriage and kids. Especially considering that they are both from a demographic where the MAJORITY of working parents (regardless of when they got married or had kids or even have college degrees) are living paycheck to paycheck and struggling to make ends meet.

            Did you not read or comprehend where I said it was wrong of me to suggest that? That is was prejudiced? That it was doing EXACTLY what I warned against in the thread under your Again Marriage article?

            Further more – did you forget that this girl DID NOT marry or get pregnant by the boy whose mother “violated” his privacy and autonomy? Did you forget that the concern the parents had was about a 14 and 13 year old in a clearly unstable, immature relationship, NOT a 16 and 18 year old who were apparently mature and responsible enough that 17 years later they are married, with careers, and 3 kids.

            You have fixated on the girl’s second relationship – the one that lasted. But that wasn’t even part of my original anecdote. I only brought the history of her second relationship up to defend myself from your ridiculous accusation of “slut shaming”.

            And now I feel I’m so far down the rabbit hole I can’t even see the sun anymore.

          2. In my defense, your recantation of your early marriage = poor was posted after I made my response.

            I stand by my statement that you were slut-shaming the girl in your original comment. In later comments, yes, you walked this back. But I am puzzled as to how we are to read your (original) claim that the first boy was in mortal peril due to the wiles of this girl — who was accused of sabotaging his condoms and so on — in any other way.

            If you don’t believe that young girls who are having sex are any more to blame, or any more wicked or duplicitous, than the boys they are having sex with, I am glad to hear that.

          3. I didn’t walk anything back. You twisted what I wrote in my original post and I corrected your inaccurate reading between the lines. Read what I wrote. I never accused the girl of poking holes in condoms. My exact words were “He even expressed *paranoia*” that she would do such a thing. My intention was to communicate just how disparate their aspirations were and the lack of trust between them. YOU, continue to twist my meaning into garbage such as, “the first boy was in mortal peril due to the wiles of this girl.” I never expected such sexist words to be put in my mouth on a SkepChick blog.

  12. With a little further thought, I’d like to admit a wrong and correct it. In the part of my post quoted above by delagar, I went so far as to suggest that my friend’s ex-girlfriend made a mistake when she did succeed in getting pregnant at 16 and subsequently married the (18 year old) father, and is now a 36 year old woman with an intact marriage, three children, and a full time career. It was wrong of me to suggest that she is unfullfilled just because her life isn’t a fairytale. Nobody’s life is a fairytale. In fact, if we compare her to the average woman her age from her background who chose instead to go to college and then marry and have kids, the only major differences would be that her kids are older. Because the reality is even if one goes to college, most people get jobs they aren’t passionate about, the majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and student loans plus young kids are a huge burden for people in their 30’s who are struggling to get ahead in their careers with inadaquate social services and labor laws to help us out. My friend’s ex-girlfriend and her husband have money problems, yes. So do I, and I married at 26, finished my Masters degree at 28, and had my first kid at 31. I’m bored and frustrated with my career right now because my kids suck up so much of my time. The biggest predictors of financial stability and high career status are the economic conditions of a person’s upbringing.

    I suppose I’ve just internalized the stereotype of women who marry and have kids young as poor and unfulfilled. My bad.

    1. I agree with almost every point you’re making here.

      My only caveat is that I would add that people’s chances for finding work that fulfills them and gives them satisfaction will tend to increase with more education; and more education is always much easier if we delay both marriage and child-bearing.

      And also, while it may be true that most Americans these days live paycheck to paycheck, there is a significant difference between living paycheck to paycheck on the sort of job you are likely to get without a degree (as clerk at a bank, for instance, or — much more likely — at a minimum wage job) and living paycheck to paycheck at the sort of job you can get with a degree.

      It’s the difference between trying to live on $9,000 to $30,000 a year (and only at the higher end if you are very lucky) and trying to live on $35,000 to $60,000 a year. That’s a significant difference.

      1. Delagar, may I suggest you are again missing my point – which was that I passed a judgement against this woman based on stereotypes, despite the fact that her individual problems have a number of causes connected with socio-economic background and her problems are shared by many (including myself) who do not fit into that stereotype. Would she say it was a mistake to have her children or marry her husband? Unlikely! They’re probably the best aspects of her whole life. When she’s fifty she’ll be debt free and still young and healthy enough to do so much with her life. When I’m fifty I’ll still be paying off student loans and my kids will be just starting college (oh gawd.) I really don’t see how she’s at a disadvantage. And yet I judged her just because she had a kid at 16 and married young. That’s what is wrong – not seeing people in terms of who they are, what they are capable of, and what their unique challenges and advantages might be.

        As I said in the other thread, statistics and generalizations are a great basis for public policy, but a terrible basis for personal advice.

        1. “…statistics and generalizations are a great basis for public policy, but a terrible basis for personal advice.”

          This seems an odd attitude to take on a site which is dedicated to fact-based thinking. If you’re not basing your decisions on evidence (statistics and facts — I dispute your point that I am making generalizations), then what are you basing these decisions on?

          1. I don’t need to give people advice on decisions such as whether to use a car seat for a toddler or get routine vaccinations for their healthy kids. I don’t need to because those are straight-forward decisions where there is plenty of sufficient data, the consequences on one side are life threatening, and thus there are laws and public policies in place to encourage people to make the right decision. If good laws and policies aren’t in place, it’s the role of all citizens in a democracy to advocate and support better laws and policies.

            Then there is PERSONAL ADVICE. Personal advice is on decisions that are not straight forward. Conditions might vary so much from person to person that almost no hard and fast guidelines apply to all. Obviously all our choices have consequences, and some outcomes are more desirable than others. But when it comes to these sort of personal choices (Examples: when to take on a new sexual partner, who to marry, when to marry, when to have kids, how many kids to have, whether or not to pursue higher education, what to study in college, whether to take this job or that internship, etc.) looking at statistical demographics is useless. You scoffed at my example in the other thread about majoring in art, but it’s a good example. 90% of people who achieve an MFA in studio arts will not be making art (beyond as a passing hobby) ten years after they finish their degree. Most will earn their living doing jobs that do not require an MFA. However, most will carry the student loan debt for the rest of their lives, not to mention the time they spent earning the degree that could have been spent on other perhaps more lucrative pursuits. Does that mean that nobody should pursue an MFA degree in studio arts? Does that mean parents should as a general rule advise against their kids applying for MFAs in studio arts? Of course not. It obviously depends on the person. One person going for that degree might be making a huge mistake that he or she will either bitterly regret or rationalize justifications about for the rest of his or her life. But for another, it might be the best decision they ever made. As with most difficult personal decisions, there’s usually pros and cons on both sides, and since we can’t go back in time and have a do-over, we can never know if making a different choice would have actually resulted in a preferable outcome.

            I’m not offering some postmodern bullshit that personal decisions don’t matter, or that we shouldn’t ever offer people advice on their personal decisions. But the basis for our decisions and our advice for others making such decisions should be based on personal conditions – NOT on stats and generalizations – because the people who beat the odds often beat the odds because they were in a position to do so right from the start.

            Nobody on the comments thread under your “Against Marriage” article questioned the facts you presented. The disagreement some had with you was over the advice you suggested that every parent should give their daughters, and your suggestion that marrying and having kids after 25 is a better choice for everyone and for society as a whole as it will (according to you) play a major role in reducing poverty.

            If our daughters seem to be nearing a position where we fear they might make a personal decision with very undesirable consequences (as my friend’s mom feared that he was choosing to be sexually active with a girl who did not share his same life goals regarding the timing of children, and that the consequence might be them having a child and then having to raise that child as immature and themselves dependent, single parents) of course we should talk to them. Question their assumptions. Encourage them to consider all the possible and long-term ramifications of their choices. That sort of discussion is personal, appropriate, and often effective.

            But if we come at our kids with a bunch of stats about the whole population, that poses several problems.

            First, the receiver of advice is usually smart enough to realize that even if the odds are against you in general terms, there are winners, and they are likely to believe that their personal situation includes factors that increases their chances of being in the success group. (For example, “Yes, many teens who get pregnant end up in poverty. But I won’t be one of them because I have lots of family support and my boyfriend is 100% on board so I’ll have his help, too.)

            Second, the receiver of advice might even feel hurt that the advice-giver knows them so little as to reduce them to a mere statistic, and not see that they’re more likely to beat the odds. I certainly felt that way when one of my hs friends laughed and told me I’d never be an artist because the odds of that were so small. Yet here I am at 36 with an MFA, studio, regular shows, an agent. It was quite hurtful to think that a friend of mine had so little faith in me as someone who at least had a chance of beating the odds. So, too, if a 21 year old feels she’s met the love of her life and they are eager to get married and begin their family right away, and while they know there will be struggles, they also feel they have sufficient resources to be successful, it can be hurtful if their own parents don’t support the union based mainly or only on general statistics. This actually happened to a cousin of mine, except her parents did support her. She’s been happily married for five years, has a kid (who she had before she turned 25), and a job she likes. Some in our family expressed lots of concern behind her back because she married so young, and their concern was entirely based on statistics, and not based on her and her husband’s personal situation, which is rather shitty. I remember one relative gravely asking me, “How are they doing?” after they’d already been married for 3 years, were overjoyed at having their first baby, and were doing all kinds of cool stuff with renovating their home. I just looked at the relative who’d asked and said flatly, “They’re fine. Why wouldn’t they be? They have a house, a decent income, a healthy kid, and they love each other.”

            Third, when we tell our daughters (or anyone who might be giving advice to) that early marriage and motherhood leads to poverty, we re-enforce harmful stereotypes about women who choose that path. Those harmful stereotypes have an impact in the real world. There is ample evidence that people who are stereotyped in a derogatory way are more likely to fullfill those stereotypes. But if young women who choose to have a child or marry young are supported and all the good parts of their choices celebrated, they are more likely to be able to work through the challenges life presents. Years ago I worked for the Mural Arts Program in Philly. They had a lot of programs where artists worked with at-risk youth. One summer a bunch of pregnant teenage girls were paired with a professional photographer and did a summer project of empowering self portraits. Many of the images they produces showed young women with determined and proud expressions on their faces, their pregnant bellies bulging, or a newborn child in their arms. The girls had been told their photos would be exhibited at City Hall. But after certain city officials saw the photos, the city changed the deal. They were afraid that the photos being displayed in City Hall would look like the city encouraging teens to get pregnant. The message was basically that deterring future teen pregnancies is more important than giving a positive voice to girls who are already mothers. This is what we do in this country – we tell people to make different choices, when what we really need to do is have policies in place that protect people from the harmful aspects of poverty.

            I harmfully stereotyped my friend’s ex in this thread. She has money problems *maybe* because of her choice to have kids and marry young. But 20 years later she has a lasting marriage, three kids, and a middle class income – that sort of package doesn’t come by chance. She’s a success case, probably in no small part because she knew herself and her relationship at 16 well enough to know it had a decent chance. I *definitely* have money problems because of my choice to become a fine artist and mother of 2. But my money problems are a small price to pay for the immeasurable joy and fulfillment I get from my art and my kids. My friend’s ex probably feels the same way about her husband and kids. So I really was an ass to judge her. And I did it because I’ve read a bunch of stats about women who marry young. That sucks.

            Most middle class girls do not have kids or marry young. Why? I think it’s because that doesn’t fit in with the identity and values of the community they see themselves as part of. Many have certain career ambitions that make putting off childbearing and marriage impractical, sure. Others want to be stay-at-home-moms while maintaining the lifestyle they are accustomed to. Marrying a hs boyfriend has a lot less financial guarantees than going to college or even better graduate school and finding a life-partner who is almost certainly going to earn a nice, fat paycheck. It is telling that large percentages of women with law and advanced business degrees who can afford the best day care, still drop out of the workforce right after they have kids. Apparently they wanted the same thing my friend’s ex wanted, just at a higher income bracket.

            Girls who grow up in poverty or lower middle class have different prospects, and so they have different aspirations. With the unemployment rate several times higher for poor, young men, especially black young men, and the wages for those who are employed so low, the educational system in economically depressed areas so bad, and the stressors of poverty being so hard on the mental and emotional development of children that apparently poor kids are worse off than crack babies (seriously, Google that. It’s horrible.) for the poorest American women, putting off marriage and kids might slightly increase long-term financial prospects, but really how much? Enough that it’s worth putting off the immeasurable joy and fulfillment they see other young women in their community getting from their children? Young, poor women have enough stacked against them, they don’t deserve to be told that if they just adopted the values and made the same choices as middle class women with middle class resources that they’d escape poverty. I said it in the other thread, and I’ll say it again, if a couple out of high school who just want to start a family and make an honest living can’t reasonably hope to provide adequate basic necessities for that family, it is our society that needs to change, not them.

            When you make the argument that women putting off marriage and kids until they are 25 could significantly alleviate poverty, I take issue, because such an argument could be used to not only shame women who marry and have children young – thus further hurting their chances of success and happiness in life – but it could potentially be used as justification for cruel laws and public policies. If the conditions of poverty cause incredible suffering and disadvantage (which they clearly do), and pushing off marriage and kids until 25 can significantly reduce poverty, then, gee, why not raise the legal marrying age to 25 and publicly fund a public service campaign warning all women about the dangers of having children young. But that would be cruel, wouldn’t it? It would be cruel because it would exacerbate already harmful stereotypes about young mothers, and it would punish young people who really are ready to start their married and family lives. See, I’d actually support such absurdity if I thought your argument had any credibility. But I don’t.

            I think that in your “Against Marriage’ column you were just way oversimplifying very complex issues that impact a very large and diverse population, confusing personal interest with public interest, and contributing to harmful stereotypes of women who marry and have children young. And in this column I think you make some very good general points, but you stumble again when you presume to know what parenting choices are better for families you don’t know nearly enough about. You gloss over differences based on culture, race, class, and interpersonal family dynamics.

            Sorry if I’m wordy and redundant, but I’m trying very hard to get my thoughts across without further misinterpretation on your part.

          2. I think we’re done here, Martha.

            Your constant insistence that I’m misinterpreting what you write is insulting, frankly.

            I don’t see any point in taking this further when everything I say is dismissed because you have decided your interpretation of language and the world is the only valid one.

          3. delagar, every time you put words in my mouth I respond saying EXACTLY where you are wrong about what I’ve said. Here’s the list from this thread:

            1. Accused me of “slut shaming”
            2. Rephrased a detail from my original anecdote as ““the first boy was in mortal peril due to the wiles of this girl” so it would really really look like “slut shaming.”
            3. Insisted again that I really was “slut shaming” but that I had “walked this back” after you called me on it
            4. Dragged comments I made on another thread about a totally different topic into this thread, and then characterized what I said in that thread as “arguing rather vehemently that early marriage was not a significant factor in poverty.”
            5. Claimed that here, I’m “arguing that early marriage causes poverty.”

            You blew this up between us. When I read this post, I didn’t even realize you were the same blogger as from the “Against Marriage” article. I usually lurk, but here I made a comment that was mostly praise and agreement with this article, but then added that I think there are exceptions, and then I attempted to support my opinion with a personal anecdote as an example of an exception. You responded right from the get-go with your slut shaming comment.

            But you feel *insulted* by me?

  13. As it seems the point I attempted to make in my original comment failed because the details of the personal anecdote were too distracting, I just restate it like this:

    I think this article makes many good points and expresses some good basic principles to keep in mind while parenting pre-teens and teenagers. That said, given all the variety in everything from cultural traditions to personal temperaments of both parents and young people making the transition from childhood to adulthood, I would suggest no hard and fast specific rules regarding boundaries for every family. Insisting on knowing passwords might be right for some families, even if it is not right for others. The real issue is having our children’s best interests in mind, while knowing them well enough as they grow and change to understand what are those best interests. Not an easy task for any parent, and truly grueling for some.

  14. I haven’t totally sussed out how I feel about passwords yet, long term. Right now I have the password to what passes as my son’s email account because I started it for him, it is linked to my primary non-work email, and he’s 10 and just learning about how this whole internet thing works. He is comfortable with it and doesn’t really even have that much interest in checking his email or using technology in that way so it’s not been an issue. While he’s under 13, I feel like I have a legal responsibility to check up on not just him, but on what might be coming into him as well. As a parent, it’s my job to help him learn how to use technology responsibly – and in some jurisdictions, I could have civil and criminal legal liability over his activity, so there’s external incentives as well. (The fact that part of my profession involves privacy compliance doesn’t help my pretzel thinking here, at all. 😉

  15. The legal issue is a good point, Em. My nephew (when he was six or seven) bought a couple hundred dollars worth of Pokemon cards & toys online, using his father’s credit card. Definitely with younger kids, that’s a sensible precaution.

    Though I did wonder about my nephew’s father. Who lets their six year old have access to his credit card?

  16. I’m reminded a bit of when people came out in droves to viciously criticize the parenting style described in Amy Chua’s memoir “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” After all the media hubbub, I read the book to see what the storm was about. I found it to be a very engaging and at times funny and other times touching memoir. Chua said that part of her motivation for writing the book was to strongly defend herself against other middle class liberals wagging their fingers at her strict parenting style. I found the book to be very much written as a memoir. Certainly not some kind of guidebook or manifesto, as many of her critiques seemed to take it. The attacks on Chua were so strong that her older daughter started a blog just to defend her. It just amazed me that people were so willing to attack Chua just for being proud of her and sharing stories about own parenting style. I’m not raising my kids as Chua did (I can’t really. It’s not my culture.) But I can say that I get why she wrote it, as I’m sick and tired of both people telling me how to parent my kids, and people assuming that because I have adopted a specific parenting style I must be advocating my style for everyone. Pluralism is a good thing. Especially for a society that is as diverse as the United States. There might be one right way for each family, but there is no one right way for all of us.

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