(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

How old is old enough for teenagers to have “private” conversations on social media? I feel like a snoop reading my 14-year-old’s conversations. However, I feel like a neglectful parent if I don’t. My child so far has handled herself well, but there have been some close calls (older boys urging her to play sexual games over Skype, etc.). We have a detente on my reading her stuff. I pretend I don’t and she pretends she doesn’t know I am looking.

Guinea Pig Generation

When they’re 18, they’re adults and you have no business in their correspondence unless they have for some reason forfeited their autonomy (drug abuse, for example).

At 14, I’d have been outraged at having my every exchange monitored. I expect I’d have agreed to the following, though:

1. A minor is at heightened risk on social media and in other online forums; parents have a duty to protect.

2. Any sense of privacy is false security, since anything texted or posted in private can end up everywhere. Having a parent catch your inappropriate exchange is better than having a school administrator, future employer or vindictive peer find it first.

3. A minor is also a person deserving of a social life over which a parent isn’t constantly hovering; parents don’t supervise teens’ every move in life, nor should they do so online.

An approach that encompasses all three is for a parent to have full access that the child knows about, but that the parent uses only for spot checks vs. constant monitoring. How often you check depends on the kid as well as the peer group involved.

Other people’s solutions:

●Here were my mom’s rules (I’m an older millennial): All computer and phone time was with the door open and/or in common areas, all passwords had to be shared, and I was required to “friend” my mom (this was before security settings allowed me to hide posts from her). She never checked, but I also never gave her a reason to check. She also would look over my shoulder frequently when messaging and ask questions — Who’s that? What does he want? How do you know him? That allowed her to monitor, while still giving me space.

— Anonymous 1

●If you haven’t already, you need to have a conversation with your daughter about online behaviors. If you need help, here is a contract/discussion guide from AT&T on appropriate online behaviors: wapo.st/attguide .

— Anonymous 2

●What you would do is what we do, Carolyn, with our 15-year-old daughter. When she isn’t sure she can handle something, she comes to us and reads us the entire exchange and asks for help. We try to remember that our parents didn’t listen in on every conversation or read every note we passed back and forth when we were her age, and we give her some privacy, with the caveat that we will check, but that she can always come to us for help.

— Anonymous 3

True, but your parents also had a family phone line that acted as a gateway through which most of your social life had to pass. It’s not just okay, but in fact necessary, to compensate for the loss of that gateway.

Thanks, everybody.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at bit.ly/haxpost.