Maintaining a balance between monitoring for safety vs surveillance: Rebuilding lost trust

My 15 year old son had a rough year last year. He made some horrificly poor choices that could have had lifelong effects but thankfully didn’t get him in any trouble outside of the home. I’m trying my hardest to realize that he’ll be 16 soon and then 17 and then 18 and he’ll be off to college. I spent all of the past several months spot checking and doing Bark uploads and he’s been doing fairly well. He’s taken his conversations to DMs in Discord or Instagram, so I can’t really monitor anything that he doesn’t screen shot. (and when he does stupid stuff, he ALWAYS screen shots for his own record of evidence, so yay for that!) What I have seen hasn’t been bad and I’m starting to feel like the mom who’s listening in on 1980s phone conversations with a glass pressed to the door.

He really wants Snapchat and I keep shutting him down. Instagram has so many of the same features and I really can’t come up with a good reason to restrict him from it. What am I missing? If it’s access to porn, that’s a lost cause as long as the internet exists.

Thoughts? He’s a good kid, we’ve made some changes to his prescriptions that I think are really helping and I want to trust him and have a good relationship with him. Is it time to let go a little?

Hi there! My oldest son is 13, so not far behind yours. That’s SO great that you are working on trusting him and he seems to be improving. I know what a “mamma relief” that is! Since you mention he’s already got Instagram & Discord, and – (well, teenage boys / porn / and internet aside) – realistically I don’t see any major differences to Instagram and SnapChat. Many seem to think Instagram is “safer” than SC, but IG now has disappearing images and videos as well. Both can find porn, self harm, drug etc. content. Both have the opportunity for contact with strangers and disappearing DMs. In my humble opinion, at that age the dangers are all around and probably easily accessible at school and talked about by his peers. I think it’s of course up to you and based on your relationship and trust, but my point is-- as long as you are having the TALKS (!!!) ongoing and have that communication, hopefully he will make smart choices.

You might consider signing a “tech contract” of do’s and don’ts. Also, with SnapChat, you can go into each individual message and set the messages to save for 24h instead of immediately disappearing. Of course, there’s no “parental lock” on this and he can easily turn it off, but perhaps that be a condition of him getting SC- he agrees to hold convos for 24h and give you the PIN to the “My Eyes Only” section (where they can PIN lock / hide personal pics) on the understanding that you can and may do random safety checks at will any time. I’d suggest the convo of maybe not having location services in Snap turned on, don’t talk to weirdos, people aren’t always who they say they are (that cute 16y/o girl may really be a 50 y/o creepy man!), and most importantly ANYTHING you send CAN come back to haunt you-- “private” isn’t always private!

I’m sure you may know much of this, just talking it out. :wink: I hope I’ve given some points to think on, and whatever you decide, keep having those talks with him and I wish you the best! :yellow_heart:


I agree with both of you - Instagram does have a lot of the same features as Snapchat these days. Constant reminders that messages and photos even sent to people you trust can be screenshotted and shared easily are important.


Welcome to Bark Connect!

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really skilled youth workers over the years and I’ve seen that undesirable behavior usually stems from external influences. Friends, school pressures, music/culture, etc. I’m totally making some assumptions here but I would bet the desire for Snapchat is driven more from FOMO and peer pressure than any specific desire for features or content. If that is the case I’d spend time talking with him about being independent and making intentional choices instead of just going with the crowd.

Focus on who he is, his value to the family, his friends, his contributions at school, sports if any etc. Have discussions about leadership and independence. Also, spend time encouraging him on who he is and the good decisions he does make. Help him frame his thoughts around what kind of person he wants to be in this world. Ideally after some of these conversations you’d feel comfortable letting him decide if it is healthy or not for him to be on Snapchat (or whatever platform he wants to use). He may decide to just give up IG as well!

It sounds like you have a good relationship with your son and a tactic that has worked with my own kids is to have an explicit “trust transfer” conversation. It really depends on the maturity of your son but in this conversation you would explicitly commit to trusting him in some area (screentime maybe?) and that you expect him to honor that trust. It makes him responsible for knowing and considering boundaries. Kids tend to not want to break trust so they actually try to honor the request and it gives them ownership of their own well being. You can have follow up checks/conversations to ask him to evaluate his choices. Like “How has limiting your screentime affected your relationships with your friends? …schoolwork, …whatever?”