…I’m often asked my professional opinion about spying on our kids, and I always answer the same way, “ if you ask a Private Investigator, someone who earns her living through investigating other people, whether she thinks parents should spy on their kids, what do you think the answer will be?”
Spy, spy, spy, my fellow parents…
As you see I’ve written about this before, and while my opinion hasn’t changed, I am willing to revisit and explore both sides. As my own child moves into his teen years, I understand his need for independence includes some rights to privacy. But how much, and at what expense?
I’ve listened to the arguments against spying, especially on teens. Many of them from the teens themselves! But a surprising amount of parents also believe spying on their teenagers is a violation of their privacy. Privacy, that they argue, we had when we were young.
I agree. Spying on our kids IS a clear violation of their privacy. But, who ever said privacy was a right of the under 18 crowd? We know that the adolescent brain is only about 80% developed and that includes decision-making skills. In fact, the teen brain is specially designed to take chances, make mistakes, and test limits. So, it follows that if we give this group privacy, we are also knowingly allowing the very people who make bad choices free reign to make these choices – whatever the consequences.
I’m just not willing to do that. And, you know why? Because the primary job of being a parent is to protect our children as we guide them through childhood into adulthood. Guide, as I understand it, means to be involved, not just hold your breath and hope. It goes without saying that it will be us, as parents, who are called in to pick up the pieces after a crisis, so why shouldn’t it follow that it is the same parents who should be sure irreversible damage is avoided when possible?
Take the teen that knows her parents never check her social media accounts. Now take the one who knows her parents check regularly. Who is more likely to post nude photos of herself? They both know it’s wrong, but the one who is afraid of getting caught is far less likely. And even if she goes ahead and posts, she has a better chance of being stopped before too much damage is done.
So how do we strike this balance between spying and allowing some sort of private life? I admit it is harder the older they get. We do want them to assert their independence, try things, and even fail, all while we can still save them from long-term consequences.
A study by the National Crime Prevention Council says it so simply:
…the main reason that kids don’t use alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, basically stay out of trouble, is because of their parents — because of their positive influence and because they know it would disappoint them.
Now, that makes sense. Let them know they are being watched, but build a relationship where they are not afraid of you. And don’t be afraid of them! Let them know who you are and what you stand for. You don’t have to jump on every bad choice, but be aware. Spying allows you to know what’s going on but gives you the luxury of choosing when to step in.
Some Teen Spying Do’s and Don’ts
Do check texts and emails, be their friend on Facebook, follow them on Twitter.
Don’t expect they will tell you what is going on or wrong in their life.
Do watch for changes in behavior including mood changes, sleep changes, eating habits, and even big shifts in socializing habits.
Don’t listen in on their phone calls. That was something even we didn’t allow!
Do ask them who they are speaking to and try to engage them in discussions about what they talk about with their friends.
Don’t put off confronting them about a concern you have.
Do know their friends.
Don’t push when they say nothing is wrong, but keep a watchful eye.
Do talk to them about drugs, sex, and alcohol as young as middle school.
Don’t be afraid to check further if you suspect something.
Do remember what it was like to be their age.
Don’t judge to harshly.
Do forgive them when they mess up!
So, that’s it. We’ve solved the age-old problem of parenting through the teen years, right?
Not so fast. We’ve left out a critical fact of this generation.
Most of our kids are way more tech savvy then all of us put together! If they really want to keep a secret they can. The job of today’s parents is that much more difficult because you have to build a foundation where it remains more appealing to let you in than keep you out – even during the my parent embarrasses me to no end years.
So when the going gets tough, stick with them. They are worth it.
And remember, a good relationship does not take the place of spying, it simply makes it act more as an insurance policy for your teen’s safe entry into adulthood.