What I think is that privacy is a privelege but one that is granted by default, not earned. Once a child is old enough to want privacy, she should have a little--not a whole room that nobody else ever enters, but some space (such as underwear drawer or jewelry box) that nobody else will look in without permission, plus an agreement that people knock on closed doors. That privacy should not be violated routinely, only if there is a serious concern for her safety AND all other attempts to get information have failed, e.g. she's acting suicidal but insists nothing is wrong.
Kathy, I'm glad to hear you don't read your kids' diaries. What if you found the sexual fantasy RainbowMom found--would you read that, or would you drop it the moment you realized what it was? How about a letter from a penpal, if your child had put it away in a drawer? (If she left it lying on the kitchen table, it would be fair game, IMO.) I'm just wondering what you think is reasonable.
Knowing who her friends are, listening to her music with her, and knowing where she is when not at home are not snooping, IMO. Listening in on her phone conversations, reading stuff she has put away in a private place, peeking over the windowsill when she's in her room with a friend with the door closed, calling her friends and interrogating them, or opening her mail is snooping. The difference is between being alert and caring about what is going on in her life and insisting that she communicate some of it to you, vs. invading her privacy because you don't trust what she tells you. I can't tell whether you (Kathy) are actually doing the latter kind of thing, or you think it's "snooping" to glance in your child's open doorway to see if there's a pack of cigarettes lying out in plain view.
My dad once showed me an essay he'd written in ~2nd grade titled "My Good Drooer". It was about how much he loved having one drawer, in the dresser shared w/his brother, that was his alone, where he could keep anything he wanted and not have anyone mess w/it. At that age, it was more about keeping little brother from ruining stuff and neatnik mom from throwing it away ("But that was my very favorite rock! How could you!") than about having nobody know he owned it...but one item he mentioned was "my list of secret dreams". IMO, it doesn't matter if your child's secret dreams are totally acceptable to you; if he wants to keep them secret, you should respect that. Even if he has needle tracks on his arms but insists they're just zits and therefore you are searching his room for drugs, if you come across "my list of secret dreams" I think you should put it down without reading any further.
I've known many families in which parents routinely snooped on teenagers without justification or apology, and in EVERY case, the teens went out of their way to have SOMEthing going on that their parents didn't know about. They sometimes did things they otherwise wouldn't have done, just for the "victory" of getting away with something their parents wouldn't approve, and their parents never found out about ~75% of those things. The teens also became very resistant to talking with their parents about anything even remotely important to them. The snooping didn't result in any net gain of insight into the teen's life and permanently damaged the relationship. Not worth it, IMO. But you are entitled to a different opinion.
Mama to a boy EnviroKid
10 years old and a little girl EnviroBaby
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