How Much Privacy Should We Give Our Kids – Is Snooping Ever Ok?
Snooping on our kids – teens in particular – is a bit of a gray area for many parents. Some feel as the owners of the home and the heads of the household, they have a right or even an obligation to check up on their kids. Others feel they have to promote trust with their kids and are adamant that snooping isn’t something they want to do at all, ever. Balancing the need for trust and independence with the need for safety and instruction is a tricky thing.
There are some situations that require more hands-on supervision, and those should be discussed openly. Especially when kids are younger, let them know that you have a moral and legal obligation to keep them safe, which includes monitoring their online presence and knowing where they are at all times. Be upfront with the fact that you have their online passwords and that you’ll be checking social media accounts and cell phone use. It’s not snooping when you have let your kids know that you’ll be monitoring their actions this way.
As your children age into teens, you might find that you feel the need to monitor less. That’s ok; this is an exercise in trust and building skills in decision-making. We would hope that as kids gain more experience in these areas, they would be able to make good choices for themselves because it’s the right thing to do, not just because they know someone is looking over their shoulders.
But what about if you’re worried about your child’s behaviour or are concerned that he’s in some trouble? Resist the urge to snoop, even then. Anything you learn through snooping becomes difficult to discuss with your child without having to admit how you found out. He’ll know you’ve been snooping through his things, which is hardly the best start to this kind of conversation. All he’s going to hear is, “Mom rooted through my room.”
If you have a reason for concern, use that as a springboard for a conversation with your child. There must be some reason you’re worried about drugs, or smoking, or shoplifting, or anything else that causes you to panic. Just talk directly to your child, using whatever you’ve noticed as a conversation starter, and reassure him that what matters most to you is his health and safety. Maybe he’ll come clean. Maybe he won’t. Be open and patient, and let him know you’re always available and you’ll wait until he’s ready to talk.
You can’t make a child come to you with a problem, but you can create an environment between the two of you that makes it really easy for him to. In the meantime, having the space as a teen to make some mistakes and figure things out on your own is an important part of transitioning from child to adult, and as a parent, you want to be there to provide guidance whenever it’s called for. Snooping works against the trust that’s needed for that openness to flourish.