To read or not to read… my daughter’s diary
There it lay, wide open on the kitchen table. I could hardly believe… my luck? There was no one home bar the cats and me, and they would never tell. She’d probably never know.
If there were anything untoward going on in her sixteen-year-old life that I needed to know about, now was my chance. It wasn’t a Dear Diary kind of book, more a schedule diary; but still, I could see where and with whom she’d been spending her time. If I wanted to.
And it could easily be justified as a no brainer.
What if, say, she disappeared? The police would ask for her diary and immediately find out that she had been groomed on the net by some lowlife potential murderer that now had my daughter. And I would have to live with the knowledge that I could have found this out weeks ago… if only I had read her diary. The regret would be unbearable, wouldn’t it?
Teens are paradoxical creatures. They lock up their diaries and lock down their computers with passwords and fingerprints to prevent those who love and want to protect them most from violating their precious private lives; yet some – and by no means all – are obligingly keen to share footage and photos of their drunken whereabouts with the cyber world faster than we can say ‘Don’t post it!’ It’s a sobering thought.
Raising children and keeping teens safe has always been fraught with great opportunity for going disastrously wrong, and never more so than today when a quick fag or shag behind the bike shed – which were about as outrageous as it got back in my ‘70s grammar school days – have become more socially acceptable among too many mid-teenagers who now openly smoke a cigarette and sex it up while secretly turning to drugs and alcohol for kicks or means to rebel. Peer pressure is huge, as teens want nothing more than to fit in with their new pack and be as far away from their old one as possible. Yet one little pill can kill. And I want to know what’s going on.
So where do we draw the line between respecting their privacy and demanding information? That’s a difficult one.
If we parents push or punish too hard, the kids will shut down all communication and up their dodgy-deed camouflage. We’ll be regarded as the enemy rather than the cavalry if things really do go wrong, which places our teens at potentially greater risk.
Try telling any teen worth her salt that you need to know exactly where she’s going, and she’ll roll her eyes in exaggerated exasperation before pointing out once again that she doesn’t know yet because ‘we’ haven’t decided. ‘We’ being the maybe-I’m-coming-tonight pack members. And even when they do know, they may well change their minds and push off to another location. They seem to live in a world of permanent flux, dependent on and welded to mobile technology.
So we turn it around and use their technology to our advantage. And build up a mutual trust with clear rules on both sides.
It goes something like this:
I want to know where the party is and be given the phone number to that house, but promise not to interfere. Unless you are late.
That’s not a safe neighbourhood so I’m picking you up, but yes, I can text you when I’ve arrived and wait around the corner.
Text me when you get there and tell me where you are. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll start ringing around to the other parents.
If you don’t come out at the time we agreed, I’ll come in.
Our teens feel free and in control, and we know enough to start looking in the right places if necessary.
And I strongly believe that mutual trust is the best protection we can give our teens. I try not to judge so they will continue to talk and thereby give us a chance to gently guide them. I struck a deal – yes, I admit it – with my then14 year-old; I’ll buy the cider if you stay away from everything else. I’d rather she drank 2% cider than 12% wine. Go ahead, judge me.
So back to that diary.
No, I didn’t read it. I closed it and returned it to her room. Setting all the huge moral aspects of respecting her privacy aside, I think the dangers of shattering her trust in me were far greater than the chance that I would discover a killer in her midst. God forbid I’m ever proven wrong.
And so far, so good.
I shall continue to trust in trust.