Watching your child pull away is painful. Teens can become furtive, sulky, and uncommunicative. They think they should have more autonomy than their parents feel they can handle.
You might be worried they’re engaging in dangerous behaviors with friends and online. While wanting to snoop comes from a protective place, it can harm your relationship with your child more than help.
What exactly defines snooping?
Snooping on your child is crossing a boundary. Think of it as purposeful prying outside normal behaviors like tidying up their room or doing laundry. If you find yourself looking through their backpack, logging into their computer, or rifling through drawers, you’re probably snooping.
You might be trying to figure out whether your child is getting into drugs, alcohol, or is experiencing online trauma, such as cyberbullying or grooming by an adult. But if there are no indications that this is happening, it’s most likely a violation of their privacy.
They’re in transition from childhood to adulthood
Young children basically have constant supervision. They aren’t concerned with a right to privacy because they need oversight. Part of being a teenager is developing a sense of self and individuating themselves from their parents.
Helicopter parenting can stunt this natural maturing process. Both you and your child setting boundaries is a necessary way of allowing them to gradually separate from you. They want privacy and autonomy, which they can earn over time by being responsible and communicative. Kids who feel they can trust their parents are likelier to become healthy, well-adjusted adults.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should
While your teen is dependent on you, it’s technically your right to know private details. But you risk losing their trust. Once their privacy is violated, they’re more likely to keep more and more information from you. Snooping might say more about how you’re feeling rather than what’s actually happening.
So what can you do?
Have a conversation
Start by asking them what’s going on. Keep the lines of communication open, even when you don’t think something is wrong. If they’re already engaging in risky or unhealthy behaviors, they might fear punishment or disapproval.
Before looking through their room, phone or social media DMs, give them the opportunity to open up about problems they might be having.
Set appropriate boundaries
Part of being a good parent involves modeling appropriate behaviors. Don’t let them in on your interpersonal conflicts and blur the lines between normal family talk and private adult matters.
Validate your child’s feelings when they feel frustrated or ask for more independence. Letting them know you recognize what they’re going through can get them to open up.
Be honest and upfront with them about your general concerns. Don’t wait until something catastrophic happens before keeping the lines of communication open about their privacy, online activity, and relationships. Educate them on the dangers of revealing personal information online.
Teach them about the impact unsafe drug and alcohol use can have, especially on young people. Make sure they know about safe sex, consent, and advocating for themselves. Let them know they can come to a trusted adult if they feel they or a friend might be in danger. When you build this kind of rapport with your teen from an early age, they’re more likely to come to you instead of being withdrawn and secretive.
Consider family therapy
If you feel the impulse to snoop, take a step back and evaluate your relationship with your child. Do they feel comfortable coming to you about sensitive topics? Do they confide in you about problems in their life? If you’re realizing your relationship is strained, family counseling might be a good idea.