To Snoop or Not to Snoop
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A recent parenting article I read depicted a mum vacuuming her daughter’s bedroom, and seeing her diary on her desk. “If I accidentally knock it off and pick it up to put it back, ‘accidentally’ seeing some of her recent posts, that’s not an invasion of privacy, right?” she’s thinking in this story. ‘Uh-oh, bad idea’, I think. There are two things wrong with this picture:
1. Shouldn’t the teenage daughter be vacuuming the house herself, let alone her own room? She does still live in your house, right? Responsibility always starts with tasks at home, in my opinion (but maybe that’s only the bias view of my own parenting).
2. Are you serious? What if you teenage daughter ‘accidentally’ read your e-mails or TXT messages, or listened in on your private conversations over the phone? Even if none of these contain anything private (and, you’re ready for the challenge because I’ve just put this in your head, and you’re trying to counteract this challenge), remember that a teenager’s wish is to keep aspects of their life private. Not necessarily because they’re being ‘naughty’, but because it’s a matter of principle.
I wanted to tackle the issue of snooping in this article. Over and over again, I get e-mails into my inbox of parents torn between the decision to check up on a teenager in their house through snooping around their stuff, or whether they should just let them run free.
Unfortunately, neither of these are good ideas, but let’s tackle the issue of snooping around a teenager’s stuff.
As a parent or grandparent, you obviously have the teen’s well being at heart.
Mood swings, BO and attitudes are all glorious parts of the wonderful world of teenagers growing up.
But what if you think they’re getting some help from other issues in their life?
Perhaps you want to find out if they’ve written about their active sexual life in their diary.
Will you find a packet of cigarettes in their bag when they come home after being hours away from home?
Do you think the new girlfriend is helping him slowly become an alcoholic and you want to see if he’s hiding a bottle of vodka in his closet.
Before you start considering any of the above (perhaps out of existing worry, or because I’ve just put that worry into your head), take a deep breath. Without trying to make you feel better, you have done the absolute best job of raising this teen, or perhaps even pre-teen. You may have read the books, read the articles like this one, or even taken parenting classes, and have religiously followed rules posed by all of the above – you are doing the best job you can. ‘Not good enough’ is not an option – you absolutely have done your best.
Like I said before, snooping around is a matter of ethics. If you have reason to be concerned because the teen in your life has been playing up more than normal, why not try bringing it up with them first?
Snooping is never the first course of action – if anything, it is the absolute last.
Remembering my teenage years, sure, I was not the angel I tried to pretend I was to my parents. But life is full of experiments, and sometimes, you don’t want your nearest and dearest to find out about your crush on that cute boy in class (you would DIE of embarrassment if your relatives start going all mushy about your ‘first crush’), you may be hiding a lighter your friend who smokes left in your bag (although you’re not smoking, you want to try hide it at the very bottom of your bag, because if your parents find out, you KNOW that your parents would freak out and book you in with a counsellor to rid you of your ‘drug taking ways’ – you KNOW they wouldn’t understand if snooping around was your relatives’ first call to action to find out what you’re doing, or who you’re hanging out with), or you may be ashamed of losing your virginity the other week, and the box of condoms your friend gave you is the last thing you want anyone to find because you know it was a mistake.
Although I can’t say all these things have happened to me personally, or are happening to your own teenager, but these things happen, and this is how we think about them. I wanted to illustrate that because we’re hiding something, you finding it and the reaction and drama we think you’ll have is not worth anyone’s time.
Snooping is bad for two reasons:
1. You may get the wrong end of the stick.
I once found a lighter in my little brother’s room, just chilling out on his desk. I wasn’t snooping, honest, but I instantly jumped to conclusions (I, as well as you are, am just human, right?). “My little brother is smoking… no worse, he’s friends with that girl that always looks dazed… he MUST be taking drugs!”.
I walked around for the rest of the month, wondering how to bring it up with him, or with my parents. It kept eating away at me – I didn’t want to think of my little brother as a little rebel, but I couldn’t help it! I started researching the dangers of smoking and drugs (which was great for the research for my book) but nonetheless, it was a horrible month, wondering what else my little brother was doing behind my back (I AM the big sister – I HAVE to look out for him, right?).
It turns out, that when I finally confronted him, his reaction to my false accusations was to run away from me in a huff. The next week I found out they were practicing fire poi for the school production. I ruined the relationship with my brother, and gained a few white hairs in the meantime, just because I didn’t think to talk to him first. What a waste of time and what a horrible thing to put him through from my side – had I been honest from the start, he could have gently told me that he’s not on his way off the rails. Lesson learned: always communicate first.2. If you find something by snooping the lesson learned for the teen is to hide their private things better next time.
Teens always find out, because how would you have found out some secret fact about them unless you snooped into their private space? How are you supposed to have an honest relationship, when your genuine worry is driving your teen to become a better liar?
I talk a lot about parents breeding better liars when they don’t practice the honesty speech that they always preach. If you happen to come across something, by all means, bring it up straight away (see Point 1). If you are purposely snooping around, don’t hope for a better relationship in the long-run, because the trust will be gone, and with a teenager, it’s a long road to build that trust back.
Have you snooped around before? How did you tackle the issue you came across? I’d love to hear from you! Photo credits: The Times of India