As a parent, there is a somewhat constant struggle over what is acceptable when it comes to invading and respecting your child’s privacy. During a lunch conversation with colleagues, we discussed the subject of teens and their privacy, and whether they are entitled to any privacy at all. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to how much is too much. You truly have to do what is best for you and your family; it is not ‘one size fits all.’
I ‘invade’ my teenager’s privacy on a regular basis — with his full cooperation. He knows why I do what I do, and while he may not like it, he understands that it is only because I love him. One of the main reasons I am committed to invading my teenager’s so-called privacy is that, although we repeatedly have many life discussions, on every topic under the sun, there is nothing like a real-time situation to bring a conversation full-circle.
Phone check is a random search of his iPhone and all its contents. I review the text messages, call log, photo album, and notes. When I see something questionable, I ask him to explain (in a non-accusatory tone) and we engage in very productive conversations. It was a phone check last year that led us to have the ‘distribution of child pornography’ conversation — you know, the whole “I just forwarded the pic to my friends so they could see what she sent me” thing, well it’s actually a crime.
At any time, I will search his bedroom. Every drawer, jean pocket, shelf, under the mattress, you name it — and always without warning. A room search led us to a conversation about staying focused and not allowing girls to entice and distract him, after I found a note from a female classmate who was inviting my son to sneak into her house one late night. Being able to talk about how he felt about this actual situation was far more impactful than any hypothetical convo we have had.
You want to go to your friend’s house? Let me talk to their parents. You’re staying after school for what? Let me talk to your teacher. I try my best to know who his friends are, know who their parents are, know his teachers, and be aware of what is going on in his daily life. This level of involvement led us to have a conversation about one of his friends that, while a nice young man, was constantly making choices that led to negative results for himself and those around him. When my teen wanted to back away from this friend, he came to me and we discussed his thoughts. My advice would have been far less insightful if I did not know who his friends are and the types of issues he was dealing with in his friendships.
When I read this article by Dr. Phil, titled “Develop a Healthy Relationship with Your Teen/Parent,” I felt confident that I am on the right track. My teenager looks to me for advice, respects the rules that I have set forth, and is on-target to discover his passion and purpose in life. He sometimes says that I just don’t want him to have any fun (taking it to the extreme … this is a teenager we are talking about). I readily admit that the amount of fun he has is at the bottom of the importance list; I would rather my teen be safe and make the right choices than to have privacy and freedom. Don’t get me wrong, he regularly hangs out with his friends, attends parties, plays sports, video games, and hits the mall with his buddies.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, I feel that it’s more important that I know as close to everything that is going on in his life as possible. If he makes the right decisions now — for example, focus on school and extracurricular activities — then I suspect he will be having lots of fun when he goes to college in a few years. Hmm, I wonder if I can fit in his carry-on!