you dont know my password go away

Your tween or teen refuses to give up their smartphone passwords, now what?

So, parents, there is no one size fits all solution to this problem, but here are 7 things you need to keep in mind if your child refuses to give you their passwords on their smartphones or other internet devices.

1. It is important for you to know that not only do you pay for the phone, but you are responsible for the phone and whatever information it accesses, or stores online. Parents have every right and the responsibility to ensure safe and legal use of a smartphone that they “lend” to their child.

2. For a tween or teen who has been in trouble for inappropriate use of their mobile device, the solution is easy. They have already demonstrated that they can’t handle the responsibility of having the device, so as a parent your job is to turn the phone off until they can demonstrate the impulse control, emotional maturity and decision making skills necessary for safe smartphone and internet use. Simply go to your cell phone carrier’s website, log in to your account and choose to temporarily turn off your child’s line. That way you don’t have to pay the expense of terminating a contract, and your child should get the message pretty quickly. Passwords are information you absolutely need.

3. If your child is older, 17 years old for example, make an agreement that all of his/her usernames and passwords will be put in a sealed envelope, only to be accessed by parents if there is a problem, or the child’s safety is a risk.

4. Remember, it’s your phone, you bought it, you pay the monthly bill, and because you are a kind parent, you are loaning it to your child. But all things smartphone related, go through you because it is yours.

5. If your child is refusing to give you password information, it is probably because they have something to hide. Kids who are using social media responsibly may be annoyed that you are asking, but they won’t risk losing their phone by keeping this information from you.

6. The advice I give parents that come to my office with this issue is to think about passwords, and smartphone information as the same as asking your child where he or she is physically going, who they are going with and when they will be home. Parenting in cyberspace is no different than parenting in the physical space your child occupies.

7. Negotiations with your child are smart, everybody likes to feel that they are winning something right? Start parenting your child on their smartphone when they get their first one, 9-10 years old. Then, as your child grows, develops maturity, better impulse control, you can limit what you are alerted to, offering your child more room for privacy, but not setting them up for failure.

iphone screen

To those parents who say, “I trust my child” or “my kid wouldn’t sext, bully or engage in other inappropriate behavior online,” I say, as a licensed clinical social worker who sits with your kids every day, good for you.

Having faith in your child to do the right thing sends them the very important message that you believe in them. However, they are still developmentally not ready to handle some of the situations they will encounter online and on social media. Your kid may be solid in the morals and values that you have instilled in them, but never forget, they are still children, capable of making the same mistakes you did as a tween or a teen. But the consequences for this generation of kids are far more serious than the consequences when we were kids.

The days of making a mistake, dealing with it and moving on are long gone. Today, the smartphone keeps track of and disperses evidence of the typical mistakes made by adolescents. Your job is to protect them, from themselves as well as from external threats, and parenting in cyberspace is the only way you can do your job effectively.


Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.