When I was a teenager, I kept a journal. I wrote in it a lot. I sometimes worried about my parents reading it, so I hid it—in various places, to throw them off the scent. And sometimes I would do things like place it in just such a way that I would know if someone had moved it. To this day, I don’t know whether they ever read my journals.
About a year ago, when I was home visiting, I opened the cabinets of the built-ins in my old bedroom and was surprised to see them, still stacked up, leaning to one side. I pulled one out, blew off the dust, and cracked the pages.
I started with my sixth grade journal. I’ve had a (shamefully?) easy, uneventful life, so it was riotously funny to read what I had written: the drama! the misery! my parents just didn’t understand (so cliché!).
I brought the journals home. I will finish reading them some day. Maybe more than once even.
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Despite laughing about it now, I would not have liked knowing that my parents were reading them or had read them. My journal was private. It was a place for me to vent and to be (overly) dramatic—about them, about my siblings, my girlfriends, and my boyfriends—which I had quite a few of (a detail which my kids found absolutely shocking when we spent our before-bed reading time one night reading snippets from my journals).
It was not a place (from my perspective) for them to spy on me. It was not an avenue through which they could find out about my darkest secrets.
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Now I’m a parent of one teenager and one soon-to-be-teenager. They both keep journals pretty regularly. I feel like reading their journals is off limits. I feel similarly about reading their emails, their text messages, and reading their Facebook business.
I think this viewpoint is unpopular. I’ve read numerous articles in Family Circle and been in many conversations with friends who say it’s our responsibility as parents to read this stuff. Technology and social networking has made it so that we have to keep tabs on our kids this way. We are bad parents if we don’t.
A condition of our kids getting cell phones was the understanding that we might read their texts. Same with getting a Facebook account. Same with email (although boy, those email accounts of theirs are dormant—but for piles of junk mail that passes through every day). But I have never done it. Nor do I anticipate doing it. It doesn’t feel right.
For many of my friends, reading a teenager’s journal is still up for debate; reading their texts/IMs/Facebook is not. Good parents do this.
So what’s the difference between me reading my tween’s/teen’s text messages and my parents reading my journal? What is it about the online technology that makes reading our children’s private missives necessarily the right thing to do?
What do we risk or jeopardize by not reading their journals/Facebook/text messages?
Do we risk or jeopardize anything by reading them?