"Should I Spy on My Kids?"
You've wondered what your daughter is constantly scribbling in her journal and you're dying to know who your son keeps texting on his phone. So when your child leaves their journal or cell phone on the kitchen table in their haste to get to school, do you sneak a peek?
Jana and Don West read their daughters' journals and e-mails, and even listen in on their phone calls. Jana says, "To the outsider it may look like we're being intrusive. It's because we love them and want to protect them." And their kids say they appreciate what mom and dad do: "It makes me feel loved," says one of their daughters.
Lisa and David Fantau have never spied on their kids, and say they never will. "It's important for me not to spy on my kids because they trust me," says Lisa. "I'm not a lenient parent by any means. Parents that feel like they have to snoop on their kids are sending a message, and that message is: I don't trust you."
Psychiatrist and author Dr. Gail Saltz weighs in on both sides of the argument: "This is really tough stuff. It's difficult because we remember what we did ... The question you want to ask yourself is: How can I be a good parent, instill values in my kid to trust their own judgement and at the same time be somewhat protective?"
Is spying OK? Is it ever OK? How much is too much?
"There's no one right answer," says Dr. Saltz. "The right answer is ultimately how you can best respect your child's judgment and instill them with good judgment. As they grow up, they have to separate from you to be healthy human beings. If you're all over them about everything, they get the message: 'I must not be able to do it on my own. I must not be OK or have great judgment.' You don't want to send them that message."
Jana stands by her decision to know everything that's going on in her daughters' lives. "It's not that I've never trusted them," says Jana, "I don't trust the world. There are too many traps out there and yes, something still might harm them but it's gonna be harder to get to them because I'm going to be checking as much as I possibly can. It makes them feel protected and I think more secure."
While Lisa believes in respecting her sons' privacy, she doesn't think that makes her any less of a responsible parent. "I think that certainly I don't pass judgment on any other parent," says Lisa. "I can only go by my own instincts, my own parenting techniques. I believe in trust and boundaries. From the time they were young children I raised them with clear-cut boundaries that made them feel very safe."
While there is no one way to parent, Dr. Saltz reiterates that it's all about keeping the lines of communication open between parent and child. "It's clear that while you kept the boundaries that made them feel safe, you also gave them the message: 'As long as you show me you're using good judgment.' That's really the key," says Dr. Saltz. "In these conversations between the child and the parent, there has to be a message from both sides with the child saying, 'Let me show you what I can do' and the parent saying, 'That you did really well. That ... maybe you could tweak that.'" Those kinds of conversations really help them grow. Both of you kind of did that in different ways."
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