I bet if you are the parent of a teen, the thought has occurred to you, at one time or another, to “snoop”.
Now, snooping is a challenging subject overall, because there are so many things to consider before you do it. One question many parents ask themselves is, “Will I lose my teen’s trust if they know that I’ve looked through their stuff?” It’s a great question to ask, and one that deserves some careful thought before you make the decision to snoop.
Snooping Is About Boundaries
Quite honestly, I don’t think the issue of snooping can be discussed without having a conversation about boundaries, since snooping is really a boundary issue. Boundaries with teenagers are different than they are with younger children. As the parent of a teen, you begin to let the rope out a little. You begin to trust them more to make their own decisions about things. They are growing up and you want them to have more privacy as they begin to mature and become young adults.
However! They are still kids, and because they are still under your care it is your duty as a parent to know what they are doing. It is perfectly appropriate, even advisable, for a parent to call another parent if your teen is going to their home or staying overnight. In the same sense, it is perfectly appropriate to check their Facebook account to see what they are posting and who they are interacting with. It’s also very appropriate to look at the history in your computer to see what websites they are visiting or put a program on your computer that can track their activities. There is no apology needed. These are appropriate parental limits.
These days, kids are getting drawn into all kinds of worrisome and problematic behavior on the computer, and/or social media sites. Some parents have no idea that their teen has gotten involved in these things. You have the “right”, and the “responsibility”, as the parent to set limits on these issues.
How Should I Set Limits With My Teen on These Issues?
Personally, I think you should make your teen aware that there will be controls on the computer and that you will be looking through these things. Even though your teen might be upset about this, there are advantages to establishing your boundaries upfront and being honest about it. By doing this, you clarify your expectations of them and what the “privacy” rules are. You will have more credibility in the area of honesty if you are honest with them about this issue. If you are being deceptive, and you get upset with THEM for being deceptive, you lose credibility. Role model what you want from them.
I’ve always found that teens respect parents that are strong enough to set limits, be honest about their intentions and concerns and are willing to risk their teen’s anger in order to “do the right thing”.
TIP: Remember; even if your teen “fusses” over this, on a deeper level they most likely feel safe. Children feel safe when they have external limits. Simply put, teens sometimes feel relieved when the limit is set for them.
What Rights To Privacy Does My Teen Have?
Teens really should have more rights to privacy than younger children do. Developmentally, they are trying to become autonomous, and achieve healthy separation from their parents. If you are snooping through your teen’s diary, for example, you have to ask yourself why. If it’s just to satisfy your curiosity, but you have not had any problems with your teen, you might want to rethink your decision and manage the urge to snoop.
The bottom line on snooping in your teen’s room? It’s a “gray area”…
But…If your teen is behaving in problematic or worrisome ways, you need to snoop your head off! All bets are off now. Your teen has waived their right to privacy. It is your duty and responsibility to find out what’s wrong and what is contributing to the problem.
If your teen is “on track”, responsible, polite, motivated, etc., you might want to give them the benefit of the doubt and respect their need for privacy. If you are curious about what’s going on with your teen, just ask. Tell them you had an urge to snoop but you realized that would be a boundary violation and a violation of trust. They may tell you or they may not. By asking, you’ve established something really critical. You role modeled what a boundary looks like, and you’ve respected their boundary and need for privacy. If they are going to tell you anything, they will be more likely to do so under these circumstances than if you violated their trust.
What About Spying?
Some parents report “spying” on their kids, secretly keeping track of their texts, posts on social media and in their diaries. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. If you “track” the problematic behavior, and don’t intervene, you run the risk of something happening during the time you are tracking this. It’s best to “nip it in the bud”. The longer the behavior is present, the more difficult it is to stop it. Parents sometimes use the information to support their position which is okay, but the risk is something could happen in the meantime. I think it’s always best to intervene early. If your teen has exhibited problem behaviors, you may want to consider counseling to help him/her get back on track.