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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Don’t I have the right to know everything my kid is doing?

February 5, 2012

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.


Filed under: Parenting,Technology — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 12:22 pm


  1. Very helpful information here, Annie. With three grown children, I’ve been through those years and made plenty of mistakes. (But there are no do-overs in parenting.) Fortunately, my kids all have children now and understand how complicated it becomes when you would do anything to protect your children, but it’s not always necessary, or even right.

    You have given your readers some wonderful points to consider! Thanks!!

    Comment by Patti Mallett — February 5, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

  2. I love your choice of topics. I love how you get to the heart of what parents and teens struggle about. I’ll being passing on your wonderful post to those who have teens.
    Appreciate your taking the time to share such valuable information.
    Malika Bourne

    Comment by Malika Bourne — February 5, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

  3. All parents make plenty of mistakes, Patti and if we’re paying attention and willing to bend and grow, we’re also likely to do plenty of things right! Like you, our two children are grown and out in the world doing their thing… and doing it very well. And like you, I know there were times I let my need to protect cloud my judgment of what was really necessary. It’s a lot easier to parent from hindsight, isn’t it? ;O)

    Comment by Annie — February 5, 2012 @ 11:17 pm

  4. Hi Malika, I’m happy to hear that my blog is of interest to you. Thank you also for your kind words and your willingness to share what you find here.

    Comment by Annie — February 5, 2012 @ 11:20 pm

  5. Really great perspective on this, Annie. I am filing this one away for when my kids reach the tween years!

    Comment by Laird Sapir — February 6, 2012 @ 7:35 am

  6. Love this post! Thank you.

    Comment by Keri Mathews — February 6, 2012 @ 9:38 am

  7. Hi Laird. Glad you found this one useful. Instead of filing it away until your kids reach the tweens years, you might want to think of this ‘healthy boundaries’ as a gradual continuum toward the ultimate goal… which is to support our adult children in their complete autonomy. For each year of our children’s lives, as they gain emotional maturity and master age-appropriate life skills, we should be stepping back. Always loving. Always supportive. But from a safe distance so that they have more space and independence to think for themselves.

    Comment by Annie — February 6, 2012 @ 9:44 am

  8. Great post!I have one tween daughter and another daughter whom is just about at the tween stage. I strive to give them some breathing room and trust that everything I have taught them thus far will help them make good choices. I also try to remember that my kids will make mistakes. It’s my job to help them learn from them.

    Comment by Angela — February 6, 2012 @ 9:45 am

  9. Great post! As a middle/high school teacher, I think that parents and teachers need to work together to allow kids to grow by guiding them rather than forcing them to make the right decisions. I am often shocked by the way that all of us tend to forget what it was like to be kids and repeat the same actions we despised our parents doing. The toughest part of parenting teenagers is trusting that you instilled in them the ability to know right from wrong.

    Comment by Laurence Mechanic — February 6, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

  10. Hi Angela, i picked up your use of the word “strive”… because it’s a process and often a challenge for us parents to give them breathing room and trust, as you say, that they will make good choices. Our daughter and son are all grown-up and I hope, if you asked them, they’d say that we made our expectations clear and learned to trust their judgment. You might enjoy this blog post: What My Children Taught Me

    Comment by Annie — February 6, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  11. So glad you found your way here, Laurence. Thank you for being a teacher who gets what tweens and teens need most… caring mentors who help guide them in the right direction without ever forgetting what it’s like to be a teen.

    Comment by Annie — February 6, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

  12. I recently had a conversation with a mother who has a fifteen year old son. Her son had run away, and she did not hear from him for several weeks. When he returned her husband, who is a computer tech, had made several changes to their son’s electronics. He downloaded an App in his phone. The App could be used to determine the location of the phone and ultimately the child who had it in his pocket. In addition, his computer and his phone were set up so that everything could be monitored. All this was done without her son’s knowledge. She claimed that she now knew where he was and what he was up to at all times. I asked her how she could confront him with his lack of truthfulness when she was less than truthful herself. Her response was that he had demonstrated that he couldn’t be trusted so he had to be monitored. I’m not sure that I would be successful carrying on a relationship like this with my child. Whatever happened to, “Trust me to always tell you the truth.” On the other hand, I have not lived through several weeks of not knowing if my child is safe. I may be far less philosophical if I were in her shoes.

    Comment by mjhighroad — February 10, 2012 @ 8:08 am

  13. Mjhighroad, I haven’t had to live through that experience either. And can only imagine how gut-wrenching that would be! That said, I do know from experience (both of our children are adults) that trust is at the core of every healthy relationship. Trust and trustworthiness develop over time and have to be mutual.

    A teen’s running away is a huge red flag. A teen in trouble (for whatever reason) needs support and understanding and a safe place to talk and problem-solve. We all strive to be at the center of our children’s support network. We want them to come to us when they need help. That’s one of the reasons we need to dedicate ourselves to teaching about trust, through conversations, teachable moments and the way we conduct our lives and relationships. When a child runs FROM home instead of running TO home and parents for support, something within the family dynamic need fixing.

    Comment by Annie — February 10, 2012 @ 9:31 am

  14. Agreed we must respect our children’s privacy. I have never picked up my daughter’s phone to check something. Gone into her emails or read her diary. I hope more parents respect their teenagers need to feel free to express themselves without being judged by a parent, fearing what they might think about what they read, or misunderstand rants or fears or emotions.

    Comment by shallow sister — February 12, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

  15. I think this is great and on the whole, I completely agree with respecting boundaries etc. But with the advent of the Internet and cyberbullying, as parents I think we have to be a little more vigilant or at least have tools on our computers to be sure our kids are not going on websites they shouldn’t and posting things we don’t want them to. Last week I read an article on about tween/teen girls posting videos on YouTube asking for people to tell them if they are ugly or not. I find that quite disturbing and worrisome. There is definitely plenty to focus on in terms of self-esteem and confidence being the key issue here…but how much supervision should there be in terms of allowing kids to make videos of themselves and post them on the internet? I know I wouldn’t want my own daughter to be posting video or photos of herself on the Internet (once she’s older of course) without my knowledge or permission.

    Comment by Dr. Samantha Madhosingh — February 27, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

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