Straight Talk Advice

Aug 26, 2009

When do parents get green light to snoop?

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: We have two wonderful teenage daughters who give us few problems. However, their email and cell phone accounts are in our names and without their knowledge, we routinely check their messages. Our youngest, age 16, has a friend from a good family who has been texting her very — and I mean VERY — personal questions about female anatomy. He is also 16 and attends a different school. They rarely see each and mainly communicate electronically. To her credit, my daughter has ignored these texts, however, I’m so upset that I’m considering informing his parents — but then I’d have to confess to eavesdropping. I snoop only to keep my minor children safe from cyberjerks. What does your panel think we should do? — Concerned Mom & Dad, Carmel, CA

Hannah 18, Auburn, CA 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 your daughters mad at you for a long time. Seriously, unless you want to get caught, stop snooping now! If you’re concerned about cyberjerks, TALK to your daughters about them!

Jack 18, San Luis Obispo, CA Ask me a question

Sixteen-year-olds often talk about sex and since these two rarely see each other, you have little to worry about. 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.

Lara 18, Moraga, CA Ask me a question

If a guy sends me dirty texts, I ignore them, too. 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, though, had a harder time trusting my decisions. He snooped regularly and found things he couldn’t handle, which led to many long fights. As a consequence, it was hard to be honest with him because he wasn’t honest with me. Don’t snoop. Ask questions and respect the answers you receive.

Nicole 20, Arcata, CA Ask me a question

I am shocked by your actions! You want to raise honest kids, yet you go behind their backs on a regular basis?! The texting you describe is not out of the ordinary. Plus, you think your daughter doesn’t write back? Perhaps she erases her responses because she suspects you.

Lennon 22, Fair Oaks, CA Ask me a question

Parents can barely be faulted. The news media play into their fears that people wanting to hurt their children are lurking behind every corner. It’s so messed up! On topic: Wait. See if the situation progresses.

Brie 18, Ashland, OR 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. And you want that trust so they will come to you when real situations arise.

Julian 17, Auburn, CA Ask me a question

At 16 it’s normal to be curious about female anatomy and to ask a close friend. If they are not close, he is probably strange, but 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.

DEAR CONCERNED: My stance on parental snooping is exactly what Julian says: No snooping without cause. Your daughter appears to be handling these texts maturely, so drop it while you’re ahead. Unjustified snooping can cause terrible damage to your relationship. When do parents have a green light to snoop? For behaviors below which indicate your child needs help:

• Truancy at home or school
• Failing multiple classes
• Out-of-character depression, anger, risk-taking, sleep patterns
• Shunning formerly enjoyed activities
• Withdrawal from family, long-term friends
• Frequent illness, reduced hygiene
• Alcohol or drug paraphernalia

Editor’s Web Note: Parental snooping: When is it okay, when is it not? As usual, the panel responses are spot-on, including empathy for parents misled by the media to think kids are in constant peril and in need of surveillance.

Such great young people! Each one ordinary and extraordinary. It’s an ongoing privilege to work with them. —Lauren

  1. By James Bootsma, age , from Ankeny, IA, USA on 08/28/2009

    Why not find the answers to your questions in Gods’ Holy Word?
    He has all the answers!!!
    Love your daughters and teach them Gods’ Way in which they should go and they will not depart from it.

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  2. By Robert, age , from Seal Beach on 09/02/2009

    If the parents pay for the phone & service they are not snooping because the phone is their property.
    Furthermore, if the teenagers don’t like this they should get jobs and purchase their own phones and service.
    enough said.

    V/R
    R. Thornton

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  3. By Tim Wayne, age , from Mission Viejo, CA on 09/09/2009

    Regarding your parents snooping article:  I am a School Resource Officer at a large high school in Southern California.  As long as the parents are providing these electronic devices for the kids, anything on them belongs to the parents.  The parent should set the rules prior to providing the device.  If the kid doesn’t want to play by the rules, then go get a job and pay for the cellphone or computer service themself.  There are laws against illegal contact with minors because minors do not have the maturity or knowledge to know when someone is trying to take advantage or manipulate them.  Again, as long as the parent provides the service, they should have full access to all that occurs through that service.

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  4. By Melissa Maney, age , from Redding, CA on 09/21/2009

    My parents trusted my brother and I to make good decisions.  Yes, there are people out there who take advantage of teens, I will admit to that; but teenagers NEED privacy.  They’re trying to become adults, and how will they ever do that if they’re told over and over by actions of their parents that they’re not trustworthy, that they can’t handle texting friends or acquaintances, and that they’re incapable of recognizing when they’re in trouble.  There’s always a risk when you let go of your children, but you’ve got to do it sometime or they will fail.

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  5. By Boyd, age , from USA on 04/15/2011

    “As long as the parents are providing these electronic devices for the kids, anything on them belongs to the parents.”

    I think it goes further then this. Parents are legally liable for the actions of their children until the age of majority. And in the US we have laws concerning speach including laws on conspiracy. I don’t think my kids, or any kids I know would fall afoul of those laws. But if I’m the one who could end up bankrupt or in jail don’t I have a right to ask? I’m new to this and not sure about the idea of doing it surreptitiously. I’d rather ask. But if the law holds me accountable I’ll be taking action to ensure the safety of my family and myself.

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  6. By Anonymous, age , from Califnornia on 01/14/2012

    I am shocked by the comments I’ve seen before me.  Seriously?  Do any of you have any idea how damaging it is to think your parents don’t trust you when you’ve done nothing wrong?

    My parents never snooped on my cell phone, because I never gave them a reason to think I was doing something bad.  If I’d been high all the time, or been partying constantly, or sneaking out, god of course they should have gone snooping, but I never did anything like that or gave them a reason to think I was.

    As a matter of fact, it was damaging when my parents didn’t trust me to finish my homework on time even though I had straight A’s in school, badgering me and yelling sometimes when I didn’t do it the second I got home.  We’ve worked past that now, but that was hard enough to get over and it was way less a break of trust then them going through my text messages!

    The responses to this article on the part of the Panelists were spot on, and I agree with wholeheartedly. Lauren’s summary was perfect as well.  The comments other people have made?  I’ve never been so stunned by the ignorance apparent in the adult community.

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