I’m a pretty private person. Maybe that sounds weird coming from someone who has shared many intimate details about her life over the past several years, but I am. Not just when it comes to my personal relationships (though certainly, I’m private about those too) but also regarding some of the things I have on my laptop, and in my phone, and in my desk. And it’s not that I’m hiding anything or ashamed of anything, or feel I’m doing anything “bad”. It’s just that some things are… well, private. I keep journals, I’m constantly writing little notes and reminders to myself, I often write emails and potential blog posts that don’t ever make it out for public consumption. Over the past three months, I’ve also been keeping a notebook for therapy. I’ll carry it back and forth every week and jot down notes of things I want to remember, homework he’s given me, issues that come up for me during the week, and things I want to talk about next time. Sometimes it’s in my purse or in the car, but most often it’s sitting right out on my desk, so it’s easily accessible throughout the week. As personal as it is, I never worry that anyone’s going to open it. Why? Because we all respect each other’s privacy. On those rare occasions that Mike needs something out of my purse, or from my desk, or to access something in my email, he’ll ask. I trust and expect and appreciate that within the four walls of my own home, I have a modicum of privacy.
Why wouldn’t I give my teens the same consideration? (I’ll get back to that later).
I remember being a teenager. Quite well in fact. It’s been 26 years since I was 16, but for as fresh as the memories are, it may as well have been two. It was fun and exciting. Difficult and hurtful. Confusing and overwhelming. I remember feeling like life was an emergency… like it was all just SO MUCH. Such blindingly beautiful high highs, and such agonizingly painful low lows (In hindsight, I don’t know how much of that was normal teenage angst, and how much was the fact that I had an untreated mental illness. But I digress.)
I don’t agree with all the decisions my parents made when it came to raising me – not because they weren’t good parents, but just because evaluating and re-evaluating and learning ways to improve on what was done before us is what evolved humans do. But one area where I feel they absolutely got it right was how they parented me as a teen. They gave me space. They respected my privacy. They respected my friendships. They allowed me the room to have my own relationships, and my own conversations, and my own whispered late-night phone calls. They trusted that they’d raised me with a good head on my shoulders. They gave me the freedom I needed to learn what it meant to be independent, to make my own decisions, and yes, to make mistakes and ultimately grow from them. They did all of that while still letting me know that they were there for me, that they loved me, and that when I had a problem… they’d have my back.
Now that I think about it, that’s the way most of my friends were raised as well. And I can’t but wonder: When did we stop trusting our teens?
I see article after article warning parents to keep stricter tabs. Know all their social media passwords (if you even let them have social media), read through their texts, monitor their photos. In short: Don’t let them have a private life at all.
And I get it (kind of.) We all want to keep our kids – of all ages – safe. We want them to be happy and healthy. We want them to make good decisions. But did you ever stop to think about the fact that in order to learn to make good decisions, they at some point have to be given the trust and the freedom to actually practice making those decisions in the first place? Monitoring their every move actually robs them of the chance to grow, to mature, and to make healthy decisions in the absence of someone looking over their shoulder.
But it’s more than that.
Teens are human beings who are deserving of their own space, their own privacy, and their own right to have personal conversations and exchanges with their friends. Full stop. And when it comes to things like reading their text messages, you’re not just inserting yourself into your OWN teen’s private life, but into the private lives of their friends as well. Even if you fully believe it’s your right as your teen’s parent (something I strongly disagree with, to be clear), is it right to read the private words of someone else’s teen? Words that he or she believed would be for one person, and one person only? Where does it stop?
Right before I started writing this post, I went for a run with my 12 year old. As we were cooling down, we talked about the pros and cons of the different ways of keeping in touch online. (He’s a Skype fan, and I pretty much avoid it at all costs) He told me about some new games he’s been playing, and which friends he’s been chatting with. I told him about what I was about to go home and write about, and he was initially aghast at the idea of parents reading their kids’ private things. He thought about it for a few seconds, and eventually asked me why anyone would do that. I answered that they just want to keep their kids safe. As usual, he responded more succinctly and with much fewer words than I could ever muster: “Or they could just raise them right so that they know how to keep themselves safe.” Indeed.
You know what else helps keep your teens safe? An open line of communication with their parents, one that’s born of trust, mutual respect, and genuine relationship. Breaching that trust and snooping through private correspondence is pretty antithetical towards that end.
And listen, I know people are going to disagree. That’s okay. But for me and my teens: I’m going to keep talking to them. Keep being involved. Keep listening. Keep being a safe sounding board. Keep loving them unconditionally. But ultimately giving them the trust and the space and the freedom to have their own private lives; lives I’ll occasionally be invited to visit, but that will otherwise grow and flourish and exist without me.