As kids get older, they begin to develop a concept of privacy. This typically occurs naturally and of its own accord. It’s appropriate, healthy and to be encouraged. However, absolute privacy, for any person living on my dime and in my home, will never be granted so long as I’m physically able to prevent it.
Kids are immature. This is not their fault. It is part of human development. We are responsible for overseeing their development into fully competent adults over a time frame stretching nearly two decades. This is no simple task. Sometime during the second decade, they will no doubt begin to think the process has reached completion. Of course, they will overlook vital details such as: lack of education, lack of financial resources, lack of life skills, etc.
I do not believe in teenagers having absolute privacy. It is a risk to themselves and to us a parents. Teenagers are not fully developed yet as human beings and have immature brains. As such, they are risk-takers and are unable to predict the consequences of their actions. We can teach them these skills, often in childhood, but we cannot underestimate the differences in their brains and ours. It is unfair to expect them to think and act as we do, when they are not done growing.
I am legally responsible for the actions of my children as well. If, god forbid, my child has been swayed by some crazy person to build bombs, yet I believe in privacy and have no knowledge of same, that may not mean a darn thing when I am facing criminal charges.
I have always searched my children’s rooms. Since they were little. Back then, it was to make sure there were no small pieces of anything they would choke on. As they became teenagers, it was to make sure there were no illegal substances that they could get arrested for. It’s not much of a difference.
It’s not about trust. It’s about responsibility. My responsibility. I am responsible to know what is going on with them. At all times. They are responsible to test, try and push boundaries. They will make mistakes. It’s going to happen. It’s my job to catch them quickly and before they crash so hard they might not be able to make it back.
When my daughter was 17, I found some evidence in her room that she had gone to parties, had used marijuana, and had possibly had unsafe sex. I gathered it all up, called her home and confronted her immediately. She couldn’t lie. The evidence was right in front of her. She faced immediate consequences. Her car was off-limits for the next six months. Her friends who were involved in the partying activities were off-limits permanently. Her boyfriend, who I already knew was doing those things, was out-the-door. And we discussed what happened that led her to a clinic after a sexual encounter.
The end result was that she never went down that path again. She had only experimented a few times but it ended up VERY BADLY for her. I wasn’t going to fool around with this stuff and she had been duly warned. I followed through. She thanked me later, although she admitted it was a tough time, for intervening. She never wanted to walk the path she was headed down but she didn’t know how to stop.
I have two young sons starting their teen years now. They hate my interference at times but mostly they accept it. I want them to be independent adults, like their sister is now, but I don’t want them making life-altering mistakes. I never make a big deal out of it. That would be embarrassing. I rarely reveal anything I’ve found unless it’s a problem. Also, embarrassing. I keep it on the lowdown. But they know that they can only expect a certain level of privacy. I have all passwords to every account or the account gets closed. We talk about safety online and safety in the world together. But I also monitor. It’s required. I don’t leave it up to them because they are not equipped to make these decisions alone, yet.
There have been a few times I revealed what I found when it was positive. I’m not entirely sure I should have but I was so proud I couldn’t help myself.
My son, Adrian, now 14 years old, likes to text girls a lot. He’s a real ladies man. I’m not super fond of this activity but I’ve compromised. When going through his phone one day (I don’t do it daily) I noticed that he was anti-drugs, anti-alcohol, even anti-teen clubs. He said something especially poignant to his friend who happens to be a girl, as he was trying to convince her to avoid some potentially negative people and places:
“I’m not trying to tell you what to do. I’m just telling you that while I know you will make mistakes, you are full of potential and have so much to offer the world. I will always be there for you. So do the best you can. And I’ll be here to help.”
I started crying. It was almost word-for-word what I say to him. It made me realize that for all the times he’s nasty to his brother or all the worries I have about him being online, he really is listening. I waited three days, but I finally told him, through tears, that I was deeply proud of who he was when I wasn’t looking. He smiled from ear to ear.
So while I keep close tabs on my teens with the purpose of preventing them from making mistakes that could ruin their lives, I’ve found that there is an unexpected side benefit: finding out, from time to time, they just might be turning out pretty great after all. Fingers crossed.
- Teens and Privacy: Should I Spy on My Child? (empoweringparents.com)
- Would You Spy on Your Teen with a Hidden Camera? (thetruthaboutmotherhood.com)
- How I Spy on My Kids Online (huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff)
- Should parents be allowed to read teens’ text messages? (debate.org)
- Kids and Privacy: Should I Spy on My Teen? (cornerstonesforparents.com)