Lindsay Ferrier, "Respect Your Teens' Privacy? Not on Their Lives," Nashville Scene, November 19, 2009. www.nashvillescene.com. Reproduced by permission.
Lindsay Ferrier is the author of the parenting blog Suburban Turmoil.
Parenting teenagers has honed my detective skills to the sharpness of a No. 2 pencil on the first day of school. When my girls mention a new kid in their social circle, I do my best to act casual. But the moment I get a spare second, I'm on the Internet, pulling up his online profile, perusing his contacts and scouring tagged photos of him for any evidence of impropriety. "His Friends list leaves much to be desired," I told Hubs one night not long ago, after he mentioned a new addition to my stepdaughters' group of friends. "Corey Green. Mark Hamilton. Jay Stallings. Stoners, all of them. And look, here's a picture of him laying on a sofa with Rebecca Stevens?! She's, like, a total slut!" I look up at Hubs, exasperated. "This is not someone we want the girls hanging out with." "How do you know all this?" Hubs asks.
A Spying Parent
"Facebook, Hubs," I say dismissively. "Welcome to the new millennium."
When we score an address, which is information we require when the girls are going to someone's home, I can go a step further. Armed only with a street name and number, I can get property tax records, which tell me the kids' parents' names and how much they paid for the house. A Google Maps search provides me with a street-level photo of exactly where the girls are headed. Not long ago, that happened to be a home belonging to a local music mogul. I did a search for his name and found an online publication featuring pictures of the home's interior at another party on the premises, this one for celebrity guests instead of inebriated teenagers.
I view the relationship between a parent and a teen's privacy as similar to that of an employer and employee.
"I hope they enter through the foyer," I murmured to Hubs, enlarging the photos. "There's a Kandinsky [a painting by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky] in there I would love for them to see." I consider texting them, DID U SEE KANDINSKY IN ENTRANCE? But in the end, I decided against it. I didn't want to blow my Clueless Parent façade.
It's a complicated situation, though, because they're my stepdaughters. I may love them as I do my own children, but that doesn't mean I have the same rights and privileges as my husband when it comes to rearing them, and Hubs thinks they deserve their privacy. So with them, I mostly limit my spying to what's publicly available on the Net.
The Parental Relationship
As far as my own kids are concerned, though, when it comes to their privacy, the moment I suspect something's amiss, all bets are off.
I view the relationship between a parent and a teen's privacy as similar to that of an employer and employee. In the workplace, we operate under the impression that our employers may at any time secretly monitor our phone conversations, our e-mails, our computer usage and our on-the-job behavior. Most employers don't do this on a daily basis, but we know the possibility is there if suspicions are raised. I plan to tell my kids to conduct themselves in the exact same way. I'm not interested in monitoring their actions 24-7 when they're older—I'm getting my fill of that with them right now. But they should know that at any time, I may be watching or listening if I suspect they're up to no good.
A Divergence of Views
I realize there are plenty of parents (and even more teenagers) out there who'd disagree with me. Teen privacy is a touchy subject, and whenever I hear opinions on the issue, they run the gamut. In a recent online message board discussion I read on teens' privacy, parents were divided, 50-50.
"One thing that I have always made a conscious effort of in raising my son (who is now 16) is to respect his privacy," wrote one mom. "I will never enter his room without knocking, I don't go through his things if I'm 'looking' for something. I ask him for what I need if it is in his room. If he's not home, I wait."
Another mom countered: "I feel parents this day and age need all the inside information possible to help teens stay safe and healthy. Many times I hear from parents in shock when their child's mental health has deteriorated, they are cutting themselves or taking drugs or are depressed. We never saw it coming, they say. Would a peek into a diary have foretold and they could have done something about it?"
Most interesting to me was a statement from Katie Allison Granju, a parenting author from Knoxville [Tennessee], whose eldest daughter is now 18. In a recent appearance on ABCNews.com, Katie said that looking back on raising her firstborn, "I had a misplaced sense of a teenager's right to privacy, I think. I was a little uncomfortable with violating privacy. I'm not really uncomfortable with that at all anymore. If I have any suspicion that one of my children is in trouble, I'm going to be looking into everything, and they know that."
Been there, been converted. And that's enough for me to keep my Sherlock Holmes hat handy for years to come.