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Snooping on Your Teenager – Okay or Not Okay?

As parents, the safety of your child is undoubtedly the most important thing to you. But how far can you go to protect them? What boundaries can you cross? Is it ever acceptable to snoop on your teen?

The shift from childhood to adolescence comes as a bit of a shock, if only because you’re bound to see such a drastic change in your child. They become private and distant, unwilling to talk about themselves because they deem their personal lives none of your business anymore.

Is It Okay To Snoop?

Plenty of parents may feel compelled to try and pry into their kids’ lives to get an idea of what they’re up to. Unfortunately, while experts understand where this comes from, it is highly advised against.

In fact, snooping seems to represent more about what the parents feel rather than what the child is actually doing. A study carried out in Dutch families (Hawk, 2015) found that teenagers with parents who had the tendency to snoop didn’t actually misbehave any more than teens who maintained their privacy. 

Research found that snooping around doesn’t solve anything – rather, only serves to make the situation worse because when teenagers feel that their privacy is being violated, they are less likely to leave things around for their parents to find (Hawk, 2013). 

While there will always be some conflict between parents and teenagers about how much privacy and autonomy is appropriate, prying and snooping and making your child feel like their privacy is not being respected will only make this conflict grow bigger. Now, it’s your child’s trust in you that is at stake. 

What Should You Do?

The first step is to ask. Teenagers tend to be very distant about even the simplest of things – from their money to their time and their friends – but research shows that they do see major life choices as something their parents have the right to know. This includes choices that may be unhealthy, like smoking or drinking.

Most often, the choice to hide comes with the fear of disapproval or punishment, which they don’t want. By prying, you may have your child’s safety as your main concern, but your teenager may not see it that way.

The best way to approach this is to have a conversation with your child and preface it with the fact that you are not going to put them in trouble and that their safety is the priority. 

If your teenager is, in fact, not doing very well, they are more likely to talk about their problems if they know you’d be willing to help and protect them rather than simply dish out discipline. Then, depending on the circumstances, you can get them the help they need – whether that’s therapy or your intervention.

Parents should also understand that there will always be disagreements on what aspects of life should be considered private (Rote, 2015). It’s natural to feel anxious about your child; you may be tempted to snoop around if they are keeping something from you.

Undoubtedly, this comes from a place of love, but it also comes with the risk of ruining your relationship with them and the trust they have in you. 

Unless the circumstances are dire and you have no other option, snooping should be a no-no for anyone parenting a teenager. 

References: 

Rote, W. M., & Smetana, J. G. (2015). Beliefs About Parents’ Right to Know: Domain Differences and Associations With Change in Concealment. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(2), 334–344. https://doi.org/10.1111/jora.12194

Hawk, S. T., Becht, A., & Branje, S. (2015). “Snooping” as a Distinct Parental Monitoring Strategy: Comparisons With Overt Solicitation and Control. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(3), 443–458. https://doi.org/10.1111/jora.12204

Hawk, S. T., Keijsers, L., Frijns, T., Hale, W. W., 3rd, Branje, S., & Meeus, W. (2013). “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”: parental privacy invasion predicts reduced parental knowledge. Developmental psychology, 49(7), 1286–1298. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029484