Q. Is it OK for me to read my kids' text messages on their phones? I want to stay on top of what's going on with them and make sure they aren't getting into anything too risky.
A. This is tricky. On the one hand, you want to protect them. On the other hand, kids consider their phones as private as a diary.
There's no absolute right answer here. It depends on your kid's age, personality, and behavior. The most important thing is that you discuss responsible texting behavior. Remind them that any text can be forwarded to an unintended audience -- and texts that involve drugs, sexting, or other illegal things can get kids into real legal trouble.
The ideal time to establish rules around how the phone will be monitored is at the very beginning, when you give it to your kid. It's easier to relax your rules as you go along, rather than suddenly introduce new ones.
You can always simply ask to see their messages. If your kids recoil in horror, ask why they don't want you to see them -- it's very likely that there's nothing bad.
If you have reason to suspect that your kid is going through something dodgy that he or she won't discuss -- and you notice changes in his or her behavior, appearance, and actions -- then you might have probable cause. You can also consider purchasing a text-monitoring service through your wireless carrier. If there's a real concern about your child's secrecy and behavior, this might be an option for you.
Bottom line? Discuss appropriate cell phone behavior, set consequences for infractions, and monitor your kid's behavior. Every parent faces this dilemma at one time or another -- whether it's text messages or Facebook posts. If you do decide to sneak a peek, be prepared to see things you won't like -- and to have to choose whether or not to confront your child about what you've discovered.
Be honest: Do you read your kids' texts? Have you ever had to confront them about something you saw on their cell phone?