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Should You "Spy" on Your Sneaky Teenager?

“Should you secretly snoop on your teenage child? I am not talking about where you're open with them about your surveillance. I am talking about clandestine snooping: Reading their e-mail …checking their text messages …reading their diaries …eavesdropping on their conversations with friends …searching their room …searching their jeans -- all in secret.”


Probably. The obvious argument for secret snooping is that you might discover something serious that you would not have known about otherwise. Maybe they are having sex with much older partners. Maybe they are selling drugs. Maybe they are thinking about suicide.

Secret snooping has a definite downside. It is dishonest. And if they find out - which they often do - kids feel betrayed.

I don't like snooping. I especially don't like secret snooping. That said, I am a believer in not being too trusting of your teenagers. Mom & dads regularly underestimate their kid's involvement in risky behavior. And teens do all they can do to keep those activities hidden from us. Fortunately, there are many things you can do before resorting to secrecy.

The first is to keep an ongoing relationship with your kids. They may at times push you away, but don't take it personally. Keep going back for more. The closer your relationship with them, the more likely they will share their world with you.

Second, when they go out, ask questions. The parent of a teenager needs to become an expert at asking very specific questions: Where are you going? Who are you going with? What will you be doing? The more specific details you demand, the less room they have for risky behavior.

Third, tell them what you consider serious risks and why - what you really think about sex, drugs, drinking.

Your last tool is open surveillance - in effect, snooping, but with their knowledge.

Snooping is a personal decision based on what you as a parent are comfortable with. Too little oversight risks giving too much wiggle room. Too much risks full rebellion. But you may want to be open about it. This is surveillance they may hate, but they know you are doing it.

Ultimately, snooping is one of those “do-the-ends-justify-the-means” deals.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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