Thoughts on Kids, Passwords, Rights and Responsibilities

AKA: Rights and responsibilities for kids with computers

Part II of “Childproofing your Mac”. These are more general thoughts, and apply to PCs as well.

To recap, last week, we setup separate accounts for everyone.  Now the kids have their own accounts, and we’ve set up things so everyone has to enter a password to get back in (to keep them out of each others’ and our stuff).

But wait – that means my kids have their own stuff, and I can’t see it.

There is a wide spectrum of opinion on this issue, ranging from kids should have absolute privacy, to kids are kids, parents know best, and  I’ll look at anything, any time.

Personally, I tend toward the middle here.

We started out with “ask before using the computer, period.” and “The computer lives in the living room / dining room”. So the kids are using the computers with permission in public space.

This has worked well. The girls, despite an occasional tendency to want to continue on with whatever game they’re playing, have not abused the privilege.

Starting sometime last year, I relaxed my rule. As they began using the computer for schoolwork  and personal research more often, I acquired a second Mac, and expanded their privileges and responsibilities.

If they had homework or research (crafts, cooking, hobby) or were emailing friends and family, they could use the spare Mac without asking.  Its a laptop, so they were allowed to take the laptop to any available seating area in public space – living room, dining room, landing, etc.

We still required permission to a) use the computer for games, or b) remove the computer to a private space.

Will we? Depends. There are two schools of thought in the house currently – one is “not unless behavior or demeanor indicates more than the usual teen/preteen issues” and the other is “that’s the duty of a parent of a teen.”  I suspect we’ll be somewhere in the middle. Perhaps an occasional check, but no daily/weekly/all-the-time checks. On occasion,we’ll have a short dialog something like this:

"What are you doing?"
"Really, what about?"
"I'm emailing my friend/teacher/grandparent about  our project / homework / birthday gifts".
"All right".

I’ll be wanting a closer look if  that last answer becomes “nothing” or “Roowr! None of your business!!!”

I’m voting for extending reasonable amounts of trust and privileges  to my teens, until and unless they abuse that trust. Then we reign them in.

Keeping the computing happening in public space, and encouraging ongoing dialog about their usage seems to be working well so far.

Do I need to know their passwords? Not really, in my case. However, I do. Being the admin user of the computers, I could change their passwords at need and login, but that’s a bit of  a pain. Also, if they know that I know, I think that instills a small sense of “better not go there…”.

I do think parents should know their kids’ email login and password, and should be ‘friends’ on social networks. While this may not always be necessary, it does help instill a sense of responsibility in what one posts online, or at least a tendency to think first, before clicking “post”.


We’ve chosen a middle ground for our kids. Some kids have full contol of their own computers (and sometimes the parental computers too – really, don’t do this.) and some are severely restricted. Some of those in either set should really be in the other. In some cases, when inappropriate computer use impacts grades, home life, or behavior, parents do need to step in and set hard limits, up to and including taking away the gadgets for a time.

Need help setting things up, or even deciding how strict to be?  Give me a call.

I can help with the former, and advise (but not decide for you) for the latter.


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