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Should I Spy On My Child?

As the world becomes more technologically advanced, it’s getting easier than ever to invade each other’s privacy. 

Features like location sharing combined with our phones’ ability to store every thought, post, or message we send make it possible to know what people are doing, thinking, or feeling at any given moment.

This gradual erosion of privacy has obvious implications for raising children—especially older kids and teenagers. Years ago, parents may have been able to glean information about their kids by eavesdropping on phone calls or searching their rooms. But nowadays, there’s a digital footprint for nearly everything.

Snooping on your kids can be tempting, especially at times when you feel out of the loop or have concerns about them, but is it ever an appropriate thing to do? Let’s talk about it.

What Feeds Parents’ Urge to Invade Their Children’s Privacy?

It’s natural for parents to worry about their kids. But there are times when those worries might feel more urgent. Maybe your teen seems more quiet or detached than usual, or they’ve started hanging out with a new group of friends who rub you the wrong way. You just wish they’d offer up more information so you could breathe a little easier.

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Nancy Darling, a psychology professor at Oberlin who has been studying adolescents for over 30 years, makes a distinction between routine disclosure and self-disclosure in parent/child relationships. 

Routine disclosure covers the information that’s necessary for parents to do their jobs, like who their child will be with, where they’re going, and what time they’ll be home. Self-disclosure, on the other hand, covers less critical information, such as what a child talks about when they’re with friends.

The urge to invade privacy may appear when your child isn’t disclosing information in the way you feel is necessary. 

But the reality is that parents and children are likely to disagree about what counts as a routine disclosure versus a self-disclosure. It’s important to have an open dialogue with your kid so everyone is on the same page and can create shared boundaries and expectations. 

You should both come to an agreement on what constitutes critical information and why you need to know it, versus what your child can keep to themselves. 

Including your child in these conversations gives them a sense of autonomy and choice, and makes them less likely to feel that the questions you do ask are invading their privacy. 

What Happens When Parents Invade Their Children’s Privacy? 

Once you’ve set boundaries and expectations together for what constitutes routine or self-disclosures, it’s important not to violate those boundaries. Invading your child’s privacy is one of the biggest parenting mistakes you can make.

Research has shown that invading a kid’s privacy will ultimately have a negative impact. When children feel their parents are overstepping, their response is often to lie or hide information. 

The more your child hides information from you, the more you’ll feel compelled to overstep their boundaries. This cycle of distrust is unhealthy for your parent-child relationship and can potentially put your child in danger, since they’ll be less likely to disclose information when they really need help. 

What Can Parents Do To Facilitate Trust with Their Children?

At the end of the day, one of the best things you can do for your relationship with your child is to build trust. Here are a few tips to create safe spaces that facilitate trust with kids:

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  • Keep private information private. Just because your child told you something, doesn’t mean you have the right to tell anyone else. Your child should feel secure in the fact that you respect their privacy.
  • Avoid punishment. If your kid fears that disclosing information will result in automatic punishment, they’ll feel less inclined to share that information with you, no matter how badly they might need your guidance. 
  • Respect their autonomy. Kids as early as toddler age have a desire for autonomy. It’s never too early to start showing your child that you acknowledge and respect their need for independence. Practice backing off slightly when you can and paying attention to the boundaries they set.

The more you can show your child that they can trust you, the less you’ll have the urge to invade their privacy, and the more they’ll want to let you into their private lives. 

Love and Blessings,


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