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The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens Excerpt from The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens

by John Duffy

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Why Snooping Never Works

"You do not need to know everything that goes on in my life. No. In fact, I promise you do not want to know everything that goes on in my life. That doesn't mean things aren't okay, you know? It's just that there's some stuff we should keep to ourselves, for everyone's sake."
-- CHRISTINA, 17

After reading the previous section, you may find yourself relieved that you are not one to micromanage. Well, don't be so sure. Through my work I have found that gathering data unduly, collecting "intel" on your child, is akin to micromanagement. Snooping through rooms, journals, Facebook, MySpace, and last night's instant messages and texts -- these intrusions into the privacy of your teen are not the hallmark of the available parent.

Frequently, the therapy room is a confessional. I often hear from sheepish parents, most often mothers, that they have decided to peek into their teenager's journal or Facebook status to get a glimpse into their lives. I have never heard a parent say they were happy with what they read. More often than not, it is alarming. I have personally read a number of teen journals (only because, by the way, I was invited to read them). In one entry, I may read that a teen is so upset with her social life that she is thinking of killing herself. In the next entry, she may be angry about being mistreated by a parent or teacher. In another, she may feel great having connected with a boy. I do not minimize or dismiss any teen's feelings at any time. But you put yourself in a very tough situation when you read your teen's journal without permission.

First, you may find out a lot about your teen's life you did not want or need to know. You also have little context for interpreting what you see, which creates a fertile breeding ground for misunderstandings.

So, peeking parents are in a particular bind. Having read things they were not intended to know, they sell themselves out as snoops if they act on the information they learned. As a result of this quandary, what happens more often than not is that the parent does nothing, but worries more. Nothing solved or resolved, just more fear. Further, your daughter would of course consider it an enormous violation of trust if she were to discover you had peeked -- and, of course, she would be correct. As you might guess by now, I believe talking with your teenager is a far more effective way to know her. It is a genuine, sincere, available approach. Get caught peeking, and no matter what you read, your violation of her trust will become the issue.

Now, updates on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are a bit different. There is an element of public domain here. Inappropriate or overly revealing messages can absolutely present a safety issue, especially for younger children. As parents, we need to stay on top of this issue, as some children may not demonstrate the maturity or control required to be safe and responsible. I encourage you to be on your toes here. Trust your instincts to know when your child is ready, and keep an eye on your child's Facebook page. As far as I'm concerned, for the first couple of years, you should share her password so that you have access anytime. Even better, try what I do with my nieces and nephews: become "friends" with them. This way, you can be a watchdog when necessary, sure, but it can also be kind of fun.

The above is an excerpt from the book The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens by John Duffy. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

© 2011 John Duffy, author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens