Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sue Scheff: Teen Secrets - Should Parents Read Their Teen's Journal?

This is a subject that has many answers and opinions. First and foremost parents need to remember, "When Safety Trumps Privacy!"

Teenagers earn their trust with their parents. Respecting each others privacy should always be priority, however if you fear your teenager is heading down a dark path, and is not willing to talk to you or a third party (therapist, guidance counselor, relative or adult friend), you may have to cross the line of trust.

What are some of the warning signs that may prompt you to cross this line?

  • Is your teen becoming very secretive? Sure, teens do like their privacy, however if you have a "gut feeling" something is deeper than a secret, you may have to cross that line.
  • Is your teen becoming withdrawn? Again, teens will develop some attitudes of not wanting to be with adults, however when it becomes extreme, it may be time to cross that line.
  • Is your teen changing peer groups? And this is not into a better one, however to one that is less than desirable? You will again attempt to talk to your teen and find out why and what happened to the other friends.
  • Is your teens eating habits changing?
  • Is your teen sleeping a lot? Bloodshot eyes? Do you suspect drug use?
  • Is your teen sneaking out? Becoming extremely defiant? Not respecting your boundaries?
  • Overall, is your teen slowly becoming a child you don't recognize?
When safety trumps privacy you are being a responsible parent. On the flip side, if your teen is not giving you any reason to "snoop" then you should respect their journal and/or diary and not open it.

What happens when you read the journal and find out more than you expected? This can be a very scary and shocking time and the last thing you want to do is explode. If your teen is struggling already, you don't need to add to this and possibly escalate it and/or give them reason to continue the negative behavior.

More importantly, if you are reading that your child is being bullied or suffering with depression (whether it is from low self worth or not fitting in), it is imperative you attempt to open lines of communication. Starting a conversation about yourself and maybe some of the feelings you had at her age could be a great conversation opener.

If you don't feel you are able to do this, please reach out and be sure your teen get the help he/she may need. Teens need to know that we do care about them, we are very much concerned about their happiness and we are not trying to stop them from having fun, however if their safety is jeopardized, we need to be a parent first.

Should you read your teen's diary? That is a personal question only you can answer.

Remember writing can be very healthy for teens (and adults for that matter), so if your teen isn't giving you any valid reasons to "invade their privacy" - respect it.

Also on Examiner.