Hey, parents… I have some great tips on how to alienate your children, make them really paranoid, and create a rift between you that will take years of therapy to heal!
Start with searching their rooms for illicit substances, embarrassing devices or damning evidence. You can either do this tacitly – waiting for them to be out of the house for a while, then making sure that no piece of underwear is left out of place. Or you can make a big show out of it and proclaim “This is my room while you live under my roof, and I’ll be coming in and rifling through your possessions whenever I damn well feel like it” while you stomp through their piles of clothing to get to their closets, where you are sure they are hiding the good stuff, whatever that good stuff is.
And what parent doesn’t love reading the personal and secret thoughts of the person they are raising? Journals, diaries, notes passed between friends at school and emails all count. Make sure that you take it seriously if the kid says something like “OMG I hate my parents! I wish they would die!” Clearly, this is a death-threat and a SWAT team needs to be called. After all, you never had a thought like this when you were younger, right? If you really like a dramatic entrance, glibly describe a scene or recite a passage, verbatim, from your child’s “private” diary at the family dinner table. It will be fun to watch her choke on her mashed potatoes while she thinks about what else she’s written in there over the past few years.
A new way to keep tabs on your child’s private life is by keeping records of their texts and various media accounts on the internet. Spy on them because you “care for them” and “want to know what’s going on” when you’re not around. As soon as you see something that looks fishy, such as a selfie with a bared shoulder or a phrase that you don’t understand (must be sexting!), make sure to pounce on it. Take away some electronic gadgets and ground them from talking to their peers for months. You know, for their own good.
<HERE ENDS THE SARCASTIC PORTION OF THIS ARTICLE.>
Some parents take the bizarre approach of not actually talking directly to their children, but rather trying to puzzle together their lives by combing through their rooms, hacking into their instagram accounts, and reading their diaries. They take bits and pieces of stuff that they’ve found, and try to construct a idea of what the child’s life is like. They are certain that what they gleam gives a full color picture of everything their kid is… sneaky, drugged up, vicious, and horny.
I have bad news for you, guys. Your kids will realize what you are doing. They will learn to hide the incriminating evidence elsewhere, if there is any to hide. Those of you who think you’re smart by surveying their texts and emails: Did you forget that they can still go to school and talk to their friends *in person*? Children and teens learn quickly to keep their watched conversations clean and move the scary stuff to another media. In the meanwhile, they’re learning to completely stop trusting you and make sure that they will do everything they can to keep 98% of their lives out of your sight. Trust me: for every step you take to peek into their lives, they will take a step further out of your reach. It will be a war of attrition, and they will win. Remember:
1. They are probably more tech savvy than you, and will find a way to communicate that you don’t know about.
2. You can’t keep them locked in their room until they are 18.
3. As soon as they can, they will run as far away from you as possible so that they can start leading a social life free of you and your prying.
4. The vast majority of the time, the kids who end up in serious trouble are the ones who have parents that don’t pay attention to them. And by “them,” I mean the actual person, not their room or texts.
My battle with my own parents started with simple room searching, and then escalated quickly to phone call recording (this was pre-internet), complete with a dead bolt on their door (to keep me from going under their bed to erase the last call I’d made.) The trust level in our household was clearly at an all time low. Meanwhile, they didn’t realize that I had pierced my ears (several times over), and shaved half of my hair off. They also didn’t catch the crippling depression or the multiple suicide attempts. Why not? I guess they were too busy listening to my three hour long phone conversations to see what was happening right in front of them.
Meanwhile, conversations with the parents sounded like this:
Parent: “Hey. How’s it going?”
Parent: “Did you do your homework?”
Parent: “Ok. You’re still grounded for your bad grades, you know.”
Then I would lock myself in my room for the rest of the evening and listen to music. Well, shut the door, anyway, because I wasn’t allowed to lock it. But that’s all right, because I would just sneak out of my second story window at night and climb down the quoins on the sides of our house to walk around the neighborhood alone, or to smoke a cigarette with a friend behind the clubhouse.
The most frustrating thing was this: I wasn’t a horrible kid! I got bad grades, yes – a product of depression and executive dysfunction. But I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t get knocked up, I didn’t run away from home, I didn’t join a gang, I didn’t rob stores, I didn’t try to kill anyone. I was just severely depressed, lonely, and creative. I needed someone to talk to, not someone to spy on me and pounce when they thought I’d finally done something wrong. And having my parents violate my privacy over and over and over again didn’t help… except for giving me more of an excuse to distance myself from them. Their way of communicating with me about my major issues was to pick me up during fourth period class in ninth grade to drive me to a mental institution for a long stay.
Looking back, the place I felt the LEAST safe in my childhood and teen years was in my own home. Having talked to my peers who had the same experience, I know that I’m not alone here.
Parents: TALK TO YOUR KIDS. Discuss stuff with them. Hang with them. Laugh with them. Cry with them. Go shopping, to the movies, to concerts, to martial arts classes, to the local community drama group, on hikes, on road trips…. and get those conversations going. Do this for a portion of their non-school time. Then give them some damn space! Trust that, if something really shitty happens, and your kids are scared, confused, torn, or needing help, they will come to you because you have a solid relationship built on mutual trust. One you wouldn’t have if you repeatedly smashed their faith in you by snooping around instead of talking to them directly.
If you watch your child enough, you will see if something is wrong. If you hang with them, you will know their moods and their behavior, and you will see when it changes. That’s when it’s time to sit them down and ask what’s up. But that’s NOT when it’s time to go through their sock drawer to hunt for crack.
When to worry:
- Pronounced defiance
- School truancy, tardiness, detention, suspension
- Calls from concerned school teachers, counselors, principal
- Change in school performance, extra-curricular activities
- Loss of interest in social activities
- Change in friends
- Increased or loss of appetite
- Avoidance of certain activities
- Drastically increased secretiveness
- Apparent anxiety or worries
Another thing that helps much more than the snooping, spying, and prying is talking. About everything. Sex, drugs, gangs, violence, guns, bullying, body issues, war, alcohol, driving, mental health, eating, relationships, life, the universe, EVERYTHING. Even the stuff that sucks to talk about. In fact, the least comfortable the subject, the more you should be talking about it. This is called “Active Parenting” and it’s the opposite of “Reactive Parenting,” which is where you wait for terrible things to happen before you do something about them. That’s fucking backwards.
There is one area where I can easily see the need to patrol your child’s activities. That would be the arena of the online predator – the assholes who stalk and groom kids, and sometimes actually meet them with thoughts of molestation or kidnapping. My kids are currently 13 and 15, right in the danger-zone age range, so we have frequent discussions about what can happen if one is not careful in cyberspace. I am more than happy to give them examples of how these predators catch their prey: what they are likely to say, do, and how they act, and I don’t sugar-coat the real life impact it has on young people. I do my best to make it easy for my kids to spot one right away, and also to make it easy for them to come to me if that happens. I want them to trust me to the point that they can say “Hey, Mom… something kind of weird happened today.”
So, parents, it comes down to this. Stop the snooping. Engage your kid. If you believe there is a problem, then go to THEM about it. Not their room, not their snapchat, not their diary, and not their friends. In turn, they will come to you if they aren’t doing well. If you already started, then apologize, let them know that you don’t plan on doing any of the spying any more, and attempt to fix the relationship. If you don’t, you’re looking at:
- Broken trust
- Isolating behavior
- Loss of respect
- Inability to confide in the parent
- Modeling snooping behavior
- Increased secrecy
- Provoked defiance and acting out behaviors
Some links on the subject:
Why Spying On Our Kids To Solve Cyberbullying Might Not Work – http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/09/16/223185991/why-spying-on-our-kids-to-solve-cyberbullying-might-not-work
Should parents be allowed to snoop (electronically) on their kids? – http://www.concordmonitor.com/home/4589662-95/kids-law-parents-hill
Snooping… Healthy or Harmful?? –http://www.radicalparenting.com/2011/04/10/snooping%E2%80%A6-healthy-or-harmful/
And, for the opposing viewpoint, read this gem:
Why My Children Have No Right to Privacy – http://www.peopleiwanttopunchinthethroat.com/2013/04/why-my-children-have-no-right-to-privacy.html