Kelly Ripa keeps tabs on her kids' social media -- but I won't

The host says her teen's online life is "not private," but should a mom be there anyway?

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published November 24, 2014 7:28PM (EST)
Kelly Ripa       (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)
Kelly Ripa (Reuters/Danny Moloshok)

Like many moms of teens, Kelly Ripa frequently finds herself flying by the seat of her pants. "We're in outer space as parents," she told People recently. "We are in uncharted territory." But the mother of 13-year-old Lola is very clear on a few things -- including keeping tabs of her daughter's social media presence.

Ripa says, "My daughter always says she wants more privacy, and I respect that, I understand that. I said, 'If you want to keep a diary instead of Instagram, then you will have privacy. I will not read your diary, but if you're going to be on Instagram, I'm going to read that, because that's not private. That is social media.' That's how we work it out in our house."

The question of how far to delve into our children's online lives is a relatively new one. As Ripa admits, when she was a kid, "There was no social media, no distractions like they have now. We had one phone; it was in the kitchen, and if we wanted privacy, then we would have to stretch the phone cord as far as it could go down the basement stairs." And as the mom of a 14-year-old and a 10-year-old daughter myself, I know how easy it is to feel in outer space as a parent, especially now that we no longer have long phone cords to keep our children close by. I'm also generally in agreement with Ripa's tough love stance – including her recent admission that she tells her daughter, "I'm not your friend. I'm your mom." But where we part company is in how we walk the line between respecting our children's privacy and making sure we know what goes on in their lives.

When my older daughter first began exploring on social media a few years ago, I vowed I wouldn't follow her around on it, and I still rarely do. I'm happy and proud to look at her online creative endeavors when she chooses to share them with me, but for the most part, we keep our Internet lives separate. Her younger sister barely has a social media presence, but I already follow the same policy with her as well. Why? Because I want my kids to have a degree of freedom that comes from expressing themselves without feeling like Mom is always in the room -- just like I like having the freedom to post a grown-up anecdote on Facebook without considering if it's appropriate for my children's eyes.

I've worked in online community since before my children were born, and I've raised my kids to be cautious and responsible. I've talked to them about the information they share online, and whom they share it with. I've tried to teach them to be good netizens. I understand fully that a social media feed is indeed a public thing. But there's a difference between what you share with the world, and what you share with your mother -- and that means that sometimes Mom needs to get out of the way. And as they grow into young women, I feel acutely that my job in protecting my daughters online begins with me. That means I talk to them before I write things that involve them and their personal lives. I don't document every experience we have together, or rush to share it online. I don't post their photographs or discuss their relationships or activities. From the time they were small, I've tried to model respect for their privacy. I've tried to show them that their real, breathing, beautiful lives are not anybody's social media show – not theirs, not mine -- and that to me is one of the most important lessons I can give them.

We all find our ways of parenting our kids, and each family has to figure out what works best for its members. But in our house, conscientious parenting doesn’t mean watching my kids' every move. It means watching my own.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Kelly Ripa Motherhood Parenting Social Media