Most parents know that there should be a limit to screen time for their kids. Many Michigan families have rules in place, like “no devices in the bedrooms after lights out” or “no phones at the dinner table” that help to manage the amount of time kids spend on their phones. However, for some parents, the concern over their children’s phones goes deeper than just how much time they spend with their eyes glued to the screen. It’s what they’re looking at, and who they’re communicating with that is an issue.
Listening in on the conversations a child is having may seem like perfectly reasonable parenting to some, in fact, parents who are concerned about their kids’ involvement in drugs and other illegal activities may believe that it is their duty. However, Michigan law disagrees. Did you know that in Michigan, it is a two year felony for a parent to eavesdrop on their children’s phone conversations? Surprised? Think it’s ridiculous? So does House Representative Peter Lucido.
Rep. Lucido says it’s the ongoing case in Macomb County that caused him to question the law. In that specific case, a concerned father was worried about activities his son was involved in, and picked up a landline extension to listen in on one of his son’s conversations. The boy’s mother eventually found out and reported the father. In the end, the father was charged with eavesdropping, which is a felony – a situation which Lucido says is too harsh on parents who just want to make sure that their kids are safe.
“I think we have to be strong and be owning up to the fact that we have a responsibility to our children. Not the children ruling the roost. If my child is going to get on the telephone that I’ve paid for, I have every legal right to monitor that phone until that child is 18 years of age – when my legal duty stops. We should stop charging parents for taking parental responsibility and due diligence.” Lucido says.
For those of you parents who may be concerned about the fact that you monitor your children’s social media and cell phone activity – rest assured. The current law about eavesdropping only applies to landlines. There is currently no provision for parents who monitor their children’s cell phones, online activity, and social media accounts. However, the fact that the law provides no allowances for parents when it comes to landlines makes no sense to Lucido. After all, as parents we are responsible for our children, and their choices and behaviors.
“In the eavesdropping statute there was no carve out for the parents at all, or guardians … We have a responsibility as a parent or legal guardian until the child’s seventeen birthday for the child’s criminal acts and the child’s eighteenth birthday for civil, which means; food, clothing, shelter – we have a liability and responsibility to pay for those things under state law.”
In response to this concern, Lucido has introduced HB 4891, which would allow parental eavesdropping as an exception to Michigan’s existing law. The bill has yet to be reviewed by the House of Representatives, so there is currently no progress to share with you. However, we will be keeping a close eye on this bill as it moves through the legislature, and will keep you updated on any developments.