Maintaining a Balance Between Monitoring Your Teen and Snooping
As a parent of a teenager, you’re most likely walking a fine line between letting your teen have independence and monitoring their activities to ensure their safety. It’s hard to know where that line should be, and there are many differing opinions on the matter. Teens protest that they need more privacy, while the news tells you everything that could possibly go wrong in your teen’s life. Experts say that respectful and thoughtful parenting can sidestep many of these concerns. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Be Up Front About Privacy Expectations
The most important thing parents can do is to talk with their teen about their expectations. If the two of you can agree about what privacy they are entitled to and what information you are entitled to, you will avoid many arguments over “snooping.”
It is not snooping if you review your teen’s social media use, check out cellphone text messages or computer history, and/or verify your teen’s location. This is reasonable information for parents to have, BUT you should tell your teen upfront that you will have access to this material. Check it right in front of them and praise them when you see that they are using their electronic devices appropriately.
It is also not snooping if you enter your teen’s room to complete chores, such as laundry or cleaning. Again, let your teen know that you will be doing this on a regular basis. However, it IS snooping to enter your teen’s room to look through their drawers or read their journal just to see what you find. That is violating your teen’s privacy, so instead, start a conversation with your teen if you suspect that something is going on.
Be a Good “Friend” on Social Media
While parents have a right to keep their teens safe, there is a line when it comes to interacting with your child on their social media accounts. Adding comments to a post among teens is a “no-no.” No matter how cool you think your comment is, teens will feel your comments are an intrusion. It will embarrass your child. In addition, constantly checking your teen’s social media posts will feel like “spying” to your teen. These types of actions will likely hurt your relationship. Instead, be discreet and choose your battles. You do not need to offer your teen your opinion on every post you see – complaining about parents or cussing are typical teen activities that do not need intervention. If you see a post that truly concerns you, such as cyberbullying or planning a party where parents won’t be supervising, talk to your teen about it offline.
Respect Privacy of Digital Conversations
Once upon a time, teens talked on the phone or got together after school, which kept their conversations generally private. These days, boys and girls converse online, sharing some of their deepest feelings in texts and tweets. These digital conversations feel private to kids. It’s important that you talk to your teens about responsible use of texting and social media and establish the right to review their messages. But, in general, you should avoid reading the things that they are confiding with their friends, which will ultimately hurt your relationship.
Offer Moderate Privacy with Friends and Dates
When teens have friends or dates over to the house, you must offer them a moderate amount of privacy. The best idea is to sit down with your teen and negotiate ground rules that align with your values, but also provides your teen with some privacy. For example, you might establish that dates are welcome in your home, but closed doors are not allowed. Obviously, you shouldn’t allow a teen couple to hang out in their bedroom behind closed doors, but it is completely reasonable for a teen girl to expect to watch a movie in the living room with her boyfriend without her parents or siblings present. With friends, try to allow them to enjoy each other’s company without too much intrusion. If they do or say anything that concerns you, wait until your teen’s friends have left to discuss it calmly with your teen in private.
Remember that, as the parent, you should model the behavior you want to see. Deciding to snoop in your teen’s room or on their phone before talking to your teen about concerns you may have demonstrates disrespect. Besides, a teen that feels he or she is being spied on will go to great lengths to hide information from you – both dangerous and innocent. You will break the communication between you.
Most experts agree that there should be a direct link between the amount of responsibility, consistency, and honesty that kids show and the amount of privacy they’re allowed to have. Children who are trustworthy should have privacy about what is in their dresser drawers and on their cell phone. However, teens should know that if they violate your trust, you will be monitoring them more closely – that is an appropriate consequence for dishonest behavior.