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Friday, March 25, 2011

Privacy and Parenting

My daughter rolls her eyes every time I ask to speak with the parent of the friend with whom she is making plans. She has a similar reaction when I ask her to call me from the land-line of the home she is visiting so I can make sure she is where she is supposed to be. Naturally, this falls into my “trust but verify” philosophy and even though she’s only in Junior High, my intention is to get her used to my parenting style for her upcoming high school years.

Now that I am embarking on being the parent of a teenager, I feel as though I’ve earned the right of passage to use the phrase, “Back in my day.” Back in my day, my parents’ greatest challenge (from my vantage point of-course) was my tying up the home telephone while talking to my best friend for hours at a time. Things were pretty transparent back then and the worst breach of privacy was my mom reading a handwritten note that I inadvertently left in the pocket of my jeans that made it to the laundry. If we weren’t careful with these secret notes they even got intercepted by teachers from time to time !

Today we have to contend with cell phones that are used to rack up enormous amounts of text-messages back and forth. Kids can delete their texts thereby erasing any evidence of malfeasance. Their Facebook in-boxes contain their inner-most thoughts and even the most attentive parents can be completely ignorant to the teenage underworld because technology provides the venue to be secretive.

Having cops as parents mean my children are subject to searches at any time. It is not unlike me to randomly say, “Hand over your phone” and inspect a sampling of text messages when the urge strikes me. My daughter thinks this is a privacy breach but I disagree. I tell her that I pay for her phone and the bill for her unlimited texting capabilities so I have full access to the content. If she were to pay for her own services, I might capitulate to her privacy argument. By the time she is able to pay her own way, I surmise that she’ll be in her late 20’s and my vested interest in her communication will have waned.

As I wrote in a previous column, my daughter doesn’t have a Facebook page--- yet. She will be getting one in a few months when she turns 13. However, I will ensure that she has “friended” me so I can see her news feed. I do vow to practice restraint from posting anything that would embarrass her on her wall but I will be voyeuristic in my pursuits. Furthermore, I will insist on her password in the event I want to check her in-box. Once again, I apply the same logic. I pay for the computer and the internet therefore I own the content.

There are some parents who believe kids should be given the same privacy rights as adults. As a police officer, I have come to the conclusion over the years that this philosophy is good in theory but not in practice. The parents who claim to “respect privacy” are usually the last ones to know why the police are knocking at their door. Worse yet, they might not see a serious problem involving drugs or bullying that their child is having before it is too late.

There is a fine line between being an informed parent and giving your children space. I try very hard to balance it so they can make and learn from their own mistakes in judgment while simultaneously protecting them from harm. As parents, it is our responsibility to be intrusive in our child’s lives --- even if it they deem it unfair. Remember, you are their parent - not their friend.

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