• In the early days of our marriage my husband noticed an unopened envelope from a credit card company sitting on the desk. It was addressed only to him. He asked why I didn’t open it to which I replied that my name wasn’t on it. He seemed confused. I don’t believe in opening or reading other people’s mail. I believe in knocking on closed doors too.

    Relinquishing privacy is a delicate boundary to be crossed within relationships, whether between spouses, siblings, parents or children. The challenge is when you are in a family and everyone is aware of everyone’s business, day in and day out.  To some people, opening another’s mail or reading emails over shoulders is not considered an invasion of privacy. To others, having mail or emails read can feel as though they have nothing that is their own, even though there is nothing to be secretive about – just knowing that they have their privacy respected is enough for them.

    When I was 14 I kept a diary in which I wrote the details of my pubescent days. Mostly it was boring. Sometimes, I would happen upon an exciting or rebellious activity and jot down those details. I thought my diary was private. Even still, I didn’t want to take any chances. So, I would write the thoughts or events I really wanted to be kept private, in another language. I would attempt to confuse my imaginary reader by switching between two other languages for a self-created Morse code.

    One afternoon, I came home to find my parents questioning me with furrowed brows, asking leading questions that they couldn’t have possibly thought of unless…they had read my diary!? I also knew that neither of them spoke one of the languages I used for code (one reason not to educate your child more than yourself), so my secrets were momentarily safe. None the less, I felt violated and believed that I had no personal space of my own. From that point on, I knew that my diary was no longer a private affair and although I continued to write in it, I never really wrote freely, the way that could have been revealing to a reader. Mind you, these were the days before Face book and internet sites. Privacy meant something entirely different back then.

    Nowadays, what should a parent do? Read your child’s emails or give them the privacy they need to develop relationships under the teenage umbrella with the seasonal raining of mistakes? It is a question I pose, but there isn’t a right way or a wrong way. If your child is messing up and you suspect that they need monitoring, then they probably do. I have a friend who tells her kids that she has to have the password to their email account so she can make sure that they aren’t being cyber-bullied and that only on occasion will their email be checked. This creates a problem and a benefit. The problem being that they will never reveal any misguided behavior over email because they know that they are being monitored. The benefit is that they learn at an early age that nothing on the internet they do is ever really private. Maybe this is a solution.

    In the end, if they give you a reason to be suspicious and snooping around keeps your kids safe, I say do it. You won’t always find the information you need and this might only give you a false sense of security that your child is behaving as they should. The real rebellions won’t always take place on their email or phones. Remember: Preserving trust in both directions, goes a long way. So, be honest with them if you do snoop around, and they’ll reciprocate. The best snooping could be to make a concerted effort to remain highly attuned to your child’s moods to detect any subtle changes in behavior. It’s time to perk up our Sherlock Holmes antennas and stay connected to our children, with some good old-fashioned communication.