To Spy or Not to Spy: That is the Question

I haven’t done a parenting post in a while, and I could use some advice from my amazing friends in the blogosphere!

Quick refresher:  I have 2 children, an almost 14-year-old girl, and an 11-year-old boy.  I am blessed that they are extremely healthy, reasonably well-adjusted, intelligent beings who (for the most part) make good choices.  The bad choices they make are largely commons ones to their respective age brackets.

That said, I had a troubling conversation with my daughter that has not been far from my thoughts in the week since we’ve had it.  My daughter, in my opinion, is one of the most rigidly honest people I know, she will not lie when I ask a direct question.  However, upon entering the turbulent teenage years, it has become a dance for me to ask the exact question to get the information I am seeking, because she does possess the ability to evade questions, quite skillfully.  So she has a friend that I worry is not the best influence, she knows this and has subsequently limited the particulars she will give me about the girl in question.  Without going into unnecessary detail, through trial and error (correction:  many trials, many errors), I finally ferreted out some information:  the girl has been transferred to a school that specializes in mental health issues, as she has apparently attempted suicide on more than one occasion.

My reaction, thankfully, was calm and supportive.  I explained to her how sorry I am for her friend’s troubles, but I am equally concerned that my own daughter has been walking around with such a heavy burden, and with no one to help her process.  She admitted that she worries I may judge, so we worked out a system whereby she can use a special code word with me, and I promise to withhold all judgment.  This then led to even more admissions, friends who engage in the activity known as “cutting,” friends who are chronically depressed, friends who question their sexuality.

Okay, lots of new information to process, and I pray that I did the best job that I could.  I continue to ask regular questions, both about the various friends, and about my daughter’s emotional state in dealing with these friends.  As traumatic as the conversation was, the end result was a positive one, in my opinion, because my daughter unloaded some pretty heavy stuff.

So here comes the question to which I am seeking an answer.  When I asked her how she has been processing all these feelings, she indicated that writing in her journal helps.  I asked if she would share some of her entries, she indicated maybe, but was afraid I would be upset by her use of language, and upset about entries in which she was angry with me.  I could tell that she was reluctant to share, and I have not pressed the issue.

But I want to read this journal, to ensure that there is not even more damaging stuff going on in her world outside of my control.  I did make a cursory glance through her room, figuring if it was easily found, then I would read it (I did not find it).  But all the while, I felt horribly guilty about looking, because I felt like I was invading her privacy.

On the other hand, if I had knowledge of the issues she is facing, I know I could better guide her through them.

What do parents in these situations do?  I am sure there are people who are firmly in both camps, but I am genuinely curious on majority opinion… would you actively seek out her journal?  How about cell phone investigation… would you feel comfortable scrolling through texts?  In theory, I understand that cell phone investigation is necessary, as bad choices made online could have horrific consequences (a boy at my daughter’s school was recently suspended for posting naked pictures of himself), but, then again, I leave that cell phone investigation to my husband, so I am really just passing the buck, not the fairest of ways to handle the situation.

I think I would be more comfortable if I could just make a decision, so that’s why I’m writing and reaching out to all of you sage, wiser-than-I-will-ever-be parents:  how do you handle the privacy issue with your children?

Today’s Miracle:

Hope that the comments I receive will help me get comfortable with a decision on how to proceed!

Posted on February 27, 2014, in Parenting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. I feel pretty strongly that my daughter’s journal is off limits. My husband has shared he doesn’t feel this way for similar reasons you mention. I check all of our cell records periodically, which shows numbers called/texted, but not specific messages. How’s that for some unhelpful advice? Sigh. I so get what you’re going through and think the most important thing you’ve done is had open conversations with her and even set a word she can use when things are a little heavier than usual. I wish my oldest would open up like yours has. This is the sort of communication that seems grounded and likely to succeed and help long term. I worry that she’d close up completely if she thought you sought out and read her journal (might seem like a betrayal or breach of trust). Texts are a little different, but those are easy enough to delete when they come in. Curious to hear others’ thoughts. Great post and topic.


    • Thanks, K, I admit that I was hoping I would hear from you, I know we have children in the same age bracket. I could not agree more that if I were to read this journal, and she were to find out, then the lines of communication would abruptly end.

      Thanks for the validation on the communication; for now, that is the path I will pursue, and pray like crazy that it is the right path!

      As always, I can’t thank you enough for your input!


      • I thought more about this after reading the other comments. Your daughter has a great head on her shoulders. She has that unusual blend of sweetness and confidence that maybe comes from speaks of strong character and upbringing. Even good kids still need boundaries and guidance and support, but that character and support will serve her well in those moments when a parent could never realistically expect to be there. Letting go of them – and knowing when to – is but one challenge I will never overcome in parenting. You’ve inspired me to spend more time talking one on one to V. Usually her little sister is around too and I hadn’t realized how much so and why that’s not always best. Thank you. You’ve helped me more than you will ever know.


  2. I don’t have any girls but I do have 2 boys, ages 13 & 16. I have tried to have open talks about sexuality and the whole cyber-age thing. I’ve never read any of their texts and boys just don’t write in journals! My philosophy is one of imparting my value system and then allowing them to experience their own successes and failures without my intervention. I also provide the right opportunity or environment where I know they feel comfortable sharing personal stuff and talking with me. My sixteen year old likes to talk in the car when he’s coming home from soccer practice so that’s when I bring up the big issues. My 13 year old still wants me to rub his back at night and it’s a good time to chat because he feels safe. I ask about drugs, girls, teachers, pretty much anything. I just keep the conversation focused on them and what teenager doesn’t like to tell you their view of things? Most do if given a safe, non-judgmental situation. I’m lucky that so far it’s been good and it’s working. They haven’t tried drugs, drinking or sex. it’s probably only a matter of time but time is all I need to keep imparting a strong moral foundation.

    But I was a teenage girl who struggled with depression and anger issues and I can’t tell you how much I wished my mother was more involved. I love how you made a code word so she can talk to you without judgment. That’s the stuff that will build trust in your relationship.

    I feel, personally, you should not read her journal. In fact, I would unequivocally tell my daughter, “I’m so glad you use writing as a way to get your feelings and thoughts out. I understand that a journal is really personal and I would never read it without your permission. I want you to know that I respect your privacy.” But, then the mother in me would come out and say, “I would love to hear one of your journal entries if you ever feel like you want to share with me. And if ever there was a huge issue with you or a friend and you didn’t know how to tell me but you did know how to write it to yourself, it would be okay and even great if you just read the one page to me.”

    I wish I had a girl to say, “I remember the teenage years and I could help you work through your feelings and thoughts if you ever feel as mixed up and confused as I sometimes felt when I was your age.” Finally, during safe moments I might inquire if she ever thought about showing me a journal page so we could talk about it. If she said no then I would say, “okay I respect that. But don’t forget I’m always available if you wanted to.”



    • Fern, I don’t know what it was about this comment, but I have tears in my eyes reading it. Thank you so much for this… it was exactly what I needed to read. I think you are dead on with your assessment… just keep talking, encourage her to share entries, but do not breach the trust that she has bestowed upon me.

      It means more than I can say to have you validate my communication, I’m not sure I can say more than that, but, sincerely, I have a lump in my throat even as I am typing. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!


  3. I must say I have on occasion read my teenage son’s texts just to make sure nothing too problematic was going on. I also read a passage he wrote for school about something difficult he was going through (he did not share it voluntarily). My daughter password protected her phone (my son never figured that out) so I was not able to check hers. My kids like yours are for the most part solid but these are difficult years and more so for this generation. My feeling is journal off limits but complete privacy maybe not. It’s our job to make sure they’re safe and they may not always open up.


    • Trisha, thanks so much for reaching out and sharing your experience on this subject. It looks like you are in the majority on this subject, and I feel so much better knowing I have caring parents validating the decision to respect her boundaries.

      Great to hear from you!


  4. Gotta say I have read my now 17-year-old daughter’s journal. I don’t read it now, but I did a few times when she was in middle school and a freshman in high school. She had a couple of friends who I was unsure of and I wanted to make sure she was doing ok. Once or twice I found something that I was able to bring about in casual conversation thanks to my awesome talk-to-the-teen skillz. I would just sort of work around to the topic at hand. I would always try to focus on her and how she was doing. I figure I am her mom; I am the person who cares about her most in the world and her well-being is my priority. Thankfully I never found anything too troubling. But if I had, I would have acted on it.


    • Jenni, it sounds like you were in the exact boat I am currently in, and you acted on what I wanted to act on. Thanks so much for sharing this, it’s good to know that if something were amiss, I wouldn’t be alone in trying to seek out more information.

      Again, thanks so much for commenting! I will absolutely be posting updates to this situation!


  5. When I was a teen, I wrote a lot of things in my journal that I secretly wanted my parents to read but that’s because we didn’t have open communication and I was desperate for guidance. It sounds like you and your daughter have great communication so her journal is probably her most private thoughts and feelings. It would break your trust if you read it and she finds out. Monitoring social media and texts is different and I think you have an obligation to keep her safe like you said. You know, of course, that my kids are too young to write anything beyond their names so take what I say with a grain of salt!


    • Karen, this is such an interesting perspective, and I am so grateful you shared it. I wonder now if my daughter telling me was her subconscious need to unburden this load she has been carrying. For now, I am in complete agreement… the journal is in a completely different category than social media, and I will respect her privacy, but encourage her to share selected entries with me.

      I can’t tell you how much better I feel having unburdened this load, and hearing from caring parents like yourself!


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