I often hear from teens bitterly complaining about parents who snoop through their email, playlists and text message exchanges with friends. In case you just thought: “Aren’t I paying for this technology? Don’t I have the right to know everything my kid’s doing with it.” Yes you are. And no you don’t.
If you feel like you’re ‘losing’ your t(w)een because s/he’s always online, do something smart about it. Set reasonable limits and offer positive face-to-face family time to balance teen time in Digital World. But don’t lose sight of the plain fact that teens need the connection with their friends, so don’t feel threatened by it. Get to know their friends. Be interested in what’s going on without an obsessive need to know. If you don’t have probable cause for snooping into your teen’s life, don’t. You’re jeopardizing the foundation of every healthy parent-child relationship, i.e., mutual respect.
When our kids are little we call all the shots. But when they reach the tween years, they’re programmed to test our authority to tell them what to do. You may need to rethink the boundaries you’ve had in place for their first decade.
In case you’re a bit fuzzy about personal boundaries, this may help:
- Your 5 year old says ‘My tooth is loose.” You stick your hand in his mouth and give that baby incisor a jiggle. No problem. But if you try to stick your hand in your 13 year old’s mouth… Boundary alert!
- Your 11 year gets her first period. You congratulate her and give her everything she needs to take care of herself. Good parenting! But if you insist your daughter tell you the start-date of her period each month so you can write it down in a book… Boundary alert!
- Your 14 yr old enters with a dark cloud overhead. He mumbles something about how his stupid coach won’t start him in tomorrow’s game. You immediately call the coach and give him an earful. Boundary alert!
Now you the get idea, right?
We teach respect by setting boundaries and by being respectful. When our kids are disrespectful, we respectfully remind them they have crossed the line. When we disrespect them, we teach nothing positive about the value of respect. Snooping into your teen’s personal stuff without probable cause is a gross sign of disrespect. In that moment you’re violating your kid’s trust. When your son/daughter finds out (and they will), they will blast you with their outrage.
For the record, I’m fine with kids being outraged. Gets their blood pumping and their attention focused on an actual human being instead of a digital facsimile. Good parenting isn’t supposed to win you popularity points. In fact, good parenting sometimes results in kids temporarily resenting the hell out of us! So bring on the anger. You can deal. But if the kid’s outrage is justifiable, then you may have painted yourself into a corner and damaged your child’s trust in you.
We all want our kids to grow up to be responsible and trustworthy. Part of our job is living and teaching by example. How does snooping teach kids to be trustworthy? It doesn’t! All it really does is make teens more secretive. And in case you forgot how crafty you were at that age, let me remind you that any teen can and will beat any parent in the game of “Whose life is it anyway?”
Teens have the right to some privacy. And with it comes the responsibility to act in ways that reflects your parental teaching. A person of good character makes ethical choices even when no one is watching. That’s what you ultimately want from your children.
How do they get from here to there?
You think I’ve got all the answers? Ha! There’s no one right way to parent, but there are plenty of WRONG ways. Assuming it’s your right to know the content of your kid’s every text msg is one wrong way. Not because kids won’t like it but because a healthy parent-teen relationship respects boundaries.