Back off, Sherlock! You don't teach children respect by violating their privacy.
Recently, I read an article about spying on our children and one mother mentioned that she was spying on her soon-to-be 18-year-old. It shocked me, especially because most expert parenting advice warns against this.
I assumed this young man must have had some serious issues for his mom to spy, but according to the article that wasn't the case. Mom just felt that she needed to digitally monitor her kids to keep them safe.
The world certainly does seem like a scary place for children and their nervous parents. If you watch the news, the likelihood of something dreadful happening to your children seems imminent (though statistics suggest this is not at all the case). Monitoring their whereabouts and social interactions via cell phones and social media makes sense, right?
But is it really good for parents to know so much about their children's personal lives, particularly as they enter the teen years? Here's what I think is REALLY going on behind parental spying and why I'm not a fan of it:
1. We reveal (and reinforce) our fears by spying.
Is it possible that our need to spy is more about our own fears than what's best for our children?
Being a parent is the most terrifying life event. These little, helpless humans come into our lives and we feel compelled to keep them safe and healthy for as long as they live with us. Yet, are we so sure that spying on them is really the way to teach them to care for themselves?
Is it possible that spying leaves them feeling inadequate and weak, versus confident and strong?
Is it possible that spying on them is sending a message that we don't think they can find their way, and thus, we need to remain present for all of their activities and relationships?
Is it possible that spying actually teaches them to feel fearful without us, and leads to them being more dependent than independent?
2. We're creating problems, not preventing them.
No doubt you could probably spy without them knowing it, but how would that be helping your child? At some point you'd have to either come clean or let them do something you worry could become problematic for them.
Are you so sure you want to know every detail of their lives? Did your parents know everything about you? Looking back, even now, do you think they had the right to?
When are your children entitled to private lives of their own and the ability to learn and grow from their own mistakes?
3. We owe our children privacy.
The digital age makes spying rather easy, but I'm not so sure it's the healthiest thing for families. Our children deserve to have private, intimate conversations with their peers.
They deserve to learn through mistakes and problems, and deserve a chance to grow toward independence from their parents and into adulthood. If we are monitoring their every movement, how is this really possible for them?
4. We lose their trust.
Spying might only be appropriate if there are genuine other red flags in your child's life—rapid and dramatic decrease in grades, changes in friendships, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and mood issues.
Even in these situations I would opt for an open discussion prior to any type of monitoring or spying. An open discussion leads to better trust in you and gives you an opportunity to guide them through a tough time.
Think carefully about your relationship with your child. If they find out you've been spying on them, do you think they will trust you more? Will they seek you out if when they truly are struggling in some area?
Isn't it more likely you will lose their trust and respect if they catch you spying on them and, as a result, they increase sneaky behavior or lying to you?
Parenting is a big and very daunting undertaking. Who could blame any caring parent for wanting to do their absolute best to keep their children safe?
But perhaps keeping them safe is more about slowly leading them toward strength and independence vs. monitoring their every move. Think carefully about the long-term ramifications of micro-monitoring your children.
What if trusting them, and allowing them to learn and grow (with us nearby, not right on top of them), actually led to confident and capable young adults who still trust and love you?