Is it okay for parents to look through their child's phone? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Lara Estep:
My youngest children are now in their last years of high school and I would never look through their phones at this point, but when they were younger I always reserved the right to go through phones and Facebook accounts if I suspected they were in an unsafe situation. I only exercised this right once and I can truly say that I will always be grateful that I did. I am certain that what I found on my daughter's Facebook messenger and phone that day several years ago saved her from harm.
We were relatively new in the neighbourhood so I wasn't familiar with the neighbourhood children or their families. I was still figuring out who her friends were. After a few months something just didn't feel right with my daughter and her friends. But I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
I talked to my ex about it and told him I was thinking of going through her phone and Facebook account (when they were younger I made them give me their passwords to all accounts ... just in case. I only used them this one time). He was adamantly opposed to my plan. He talked about her privacy and her rights and all the standard moral and ethical considerations. I agreed with everything he said, but still, something just didn't feel right.
Finally one day I decided that I would rather have my daughter hate me for the rest of her long life than spare myself her anger and possibly allow her to go down a dangerous path and end up harmed or even dead. I think she was 13.
She had fallen asleep one Saturday afternoon with her phone tucked in her arms. I managed to get the phone and what I found sent chills through my body.
I will shorten this and tell you what I found: a chain of Facebook messages and texts from the father of one of her school friends. The friend was a boy. The messages told her how her mother was too strict. That she should go spend the night at his house and he would lie for her. He told her he would bring her cookies, McDonald's, or whatever she wanted but she would need to sneak out of the house and meet him at the end of the street, at night or during lunchtime at school. The messages came at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes early in the morning to wish her a good day at school. This was a 40-something-year-old man who I had never met! Texting my daughter! He was clearly grooming her for some bigger plan. It was all I could do not to drive straight to his house and do to him whatever an enraged mama bear does to anyone who threatens her children's safety. It took a lot of convincing to keep her dad from doing something stupid as well.
In the end I scheduled a meeting with the principal of her school the following Monday. After showing him what I had found he had no words. He said in all of his years he had never seen anything like it. I called the police and made a report but they couldn't do anything because he hadn't yet harmed her. I alerted all of the other parents (most of whom didn't seem to care much, sadly). And the hardest of all was telling her she was no longer allowed to see any of those friends.
She hated me for a few months. She told me I ruined her life and would barely speak to me. But I knew in my heart what she couldn't know. I knew I had saved her from a predator.
She soon made new friends and I wasted no time in learning about their families. She is a happy, well-adjusted, intelligent, ambitious, charming, carefree young lady, unscathed by the intentions of a predator, all because I did the unthinkable - I tossed aside her right to privacy and looked through her phone. I will never regret doing it. And I don't suggest doing it on a whim. As I stated previously, I had always had their passwords to any account but had never used them. It was my safety net for the "just in case" situation.
My point is that sometimes we, as parents, need to trust our instincts and do what is best for our children despite what anyone might say. I shudder to think where she would be today if I had listened to her well-intentioned father and not invaded her privacy. Best case scenario, we would be in counseling for sexually abused children. Worst case, she would be dead.
I expect some judgement for this, and guess what? I am perfectly fine with that! My daughter still doesn't understand what happened, and for that good fortune I will trade any judgement that comes my way.