Straight Talk Advice

Nov 12, 2013

When is it okay for parents to snoop?

Dear Straight Talk: Our two teenage daughters give us few problems. However, their phone accounts are in our names and we routinely check their messages without their knowledge. Our youngest, age 16, has a male friend from a good family who has been texting her with extremely personal questions about female anatomy. He is also 16, attends a different school and they rarely see each other. To her credit, my daughter has ignored these texts, however, I’m so upset I’m considering informing his parents — but then I’d have to confess to eavesdropping. I snoop only to keep my children safe. What does your panel think we should do? —Concerned parents, Carmel, Calif.

Hannah 18, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

I was caught sexting freshman year and got in big trouble. Your daughter hasn’t done anything wrong so keep this to yourself — unless you want her mad at you for a long time. Seriously, unless you want to get caught, stop snooping now! If you’re concerned about your daughters' safety, keep them close to you through trust.

Julian 17, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

At 16, it’s normal to be curious about female anatomy and to ask a close friend. The boy is probably harmless. As for snooping, we are all entitled to privacy unless we have done something to sacrifice that privilege. By your own words, your daughters have done nothing to deserve such invasive behavior.

Lara 18, Moraga, Calif. Ask me a question

If a guy sends me dirty texts, I ignore them, just like your daughter is doing. They are immature and dumb and shouldn’t be taken seriously. My relationship with my mother is so accepting that I tell her everything and snooping is unnecessary. My dad had a harder time trusting. He snooped regularly and found things he couldn’t handle, which led to many long fights. As a consequence, it was hard being honest with him because he wasn’t honest with me. Don't snoop. Ask questions and get to know your daughters instead.

Nicole 20, Arcata, Calif. Ask me a question

I'm shocked by your actions! You want to raise honest kids, yet you go behind their backs on a regular basis?! The texts you describe are not out of the ordinary.

Lennon 22, Fair Oaks, Calif. Ask me a question

Parents can barely be faulted. The news plays into their fears that harm to their children is lurking behind every corner. It's so messed up! Wait and see if the situation progresses.

Brie 18, Ashland, Ore. Ask me a question

This guy is obviously not dangerous, so I see no harm. You need to have more trust in your children otherwise they will stop trusting you. You want that trust so they will come to you when real situations arise.

Jack 18, San Luis Obispo, Calif. Ask me a question

Even minor children have the right to know you are snooping. You have “few problems” only because they are unaware of your outlandish breaches of privacy.

Dear Concerned: My stance: No snooping without cause. Your daughter appears to be handling these texts maturely, so drop the snooping while you’re ahead. If you haven't warned your kids upfront that you will be monitoring their texts, going behind their backs with unjustified snooping can cause terrible damage to your relationship. Instead, work on building trust through open dialogue. When can you snoop? For unexplained behaviors that indicate your child needs help, please, snoop away. Some examples: truancy, failing multiple classes, social withdrawal, depression, out-of-character anger, risk-taking, abnormal eating and sleeping patterns, reduced hygiene, frequent illnesses, alcohol or drug paraphernalia.

Editor's Note: When we originally ran this column on AUG 26, 2009, we received a number of comments from parents and official-capacity adults arguing that parents have the "right" to look through the phone records of their minor child. No argument there. Parents do indeed have that right. What we are saying is that if you don't tell your child up front that this will be your practice, you are setting yourself up for a rupture in your relationship. If you feel you must monitor your kids, let them know that's the game. Otherwise, don't snoop unless there is a good reason to, like the ones I mentioned above. Then, it's irresponsible not to snoop. —Lauren

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  1. By Marci, age N/A, from Petaluma, CA on 11/14/2013

    I totally agree that parents should only snoop when they have cause to believe that their kids are doing something wrong.  However, our mom doesn’t agree.  She’s become paranoid about things the kids of some of her friends and relatives have done, so she constantly snoops on my sister and me even though she has no reason to think that we’re doing anything wrong, because we aren’t.  She checks our text messages and emails and snoops in our room when we’re not home and it’s obvious that she goes through our closet and dresser drawers.  She says that if we have nothing to hide we shouldn’t mind, and if we are trying to hide something she needs to know about it.

    Even worse, just because our cousin, her sister’s daughter, got in serious trouble with drugs, she’s decided to randomly drug test us with a home drug testing kit like was discussed in Straight Talk a while back, even though we’re not using drugs and she has not reason to believe we are.  Again, she says that if we’re not using this will prove it and we shouldn’t mind, and if we are using she needs to know.  Even though she’s our mom, we still find it very humiliating and embarrassing to have her stand there and stare at us while we pee into a cup.  She says that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about since she’s our mother who changed our diapers and toilet trained us.  Well, we DO find it embarrassing.  She also points out that my sister and I share the bathroom in the morning and this is no different.  It’s true that since we only have one bathroom we have to share it, sometimes when one of us is on the toilet, and it’s no big deal since we’re sisters.  However, we don’t stand there at stare at each other and in fact do our best not to look at the one on the toilet, so it’s not the same thing.

    We really think that kids should not be subjected to invasions of privacy like this when they have given their parents no reason to think they’ve done anything wrong, and don’t agree with the idea that “if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t care.”

    Marci

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