I have been secretly reading my 14-year-old daughter’s diary. I don’t like to snoop in this way, but there is such scary stuff going on out there—peer pressure to experiment, all kinds of distractions and temptations—that several of my friends and I feel this is a way of keeping track of what our kids are doing. My daughter recently found out, and is on the warpath now, though I have promised never to do it again. I will try to regain her trust, but what other way do we have to know what’s going on in our kids’ lives?
Children’s privacy, the invasion of it, and what is secretive or sly, are all complex issues in every parent-child relationship. And the rules and parameters change rapidly.
When dealing with issues of privacy with your child, you need to be able to draw a fairly clear line between what respecting his/her privacy involves and what it doesn’t. Reading diaries, snooping in cupboards, listening in on phone conversations—are invasions of a child’s privacy. Many parents justify such acts, saying that’s the only way they know what is going on in their kids’ heads. If that’s the case, then it means the relationship is in a fair amount of trouble, and positive intervention is needed for you and your child to communicate better. Spying is only going to widen the gap.
Sometimes, we inadvertently compromise our child’s privacy. Your child confides in you her feelings, or tells you about some small physical condition that embarrasses her. You then share this with one of your friends, maybe even with several. Most children dislike this deeply, and it does mean that their privacy has been compromised. It is a way of ensuring that your child confides less in you.
If your child is seeing a counsellor, or confides in some other adult that he/she is close to, it is a complete breach of privacy for you and this person to talk about what was said. Sometimes the two adults concerned do need to talk about the issues involved, but this has to be handled sensitively, so that the details of what the child said remain confidential.
That said, there are some areas of interaction that are not a breach of privacy:
? Knowing what company they keep, and being acquainted with their friends is part of building a good relationship with your children. However, this does not mean that you must have access to every conversation they have.
? Keeping a broad tab on your child’s personal hygiene—especially with adolescents—without actually barging in on them, is okay. However, do remember not to bring up and discuss such issues in front of other people.
? Asking for an account of how they spend their pocket money is fine, too. Pocket money is really a small, guided exposure to the world, and you surely need to know where it is going.
Allow your child the emotional private space she needs, or else she will build a fortress around her. Whatever age your child is, it is the expressions, the words, the silences, the tone, the touch and the moods which provide clues to his/her personality and state of mind. Stay tuned in and receptive to all these, and you are sure to remain a connected and yet non-intrusive parent.
(Write to Gouri Dange at email@example.com)