Privacy vs. Secrets: Where Do You Draw The Line?

secretsIf there’s one thing I’ve learned about parenting, it’s to trust your gut.

And mine was telling me something against the norm.

Or maybe the norm is something my kids convinced me of. “Everyone gets to do that,” or “Why can’t you be like normal parents?”

Lately, I’ve been thinking, “Well if that’s normal, I’d rather be weird.”

Today’s post is about kids and privacy. How much privacy is healthy for kids? And where do you draw the line?

I got to thinking that if I wasn’t sure, probably lots of moms feel the same way.

Could be the answer isn’t black or white, like most things with parenting. It probably depends on their maturity levels, background and your own morals. Because yeah, I’ve seen kids handle privacy great – and others that mess up their lives for a while.

Do I think restricting kids will guarantee they won’t do things behind your back? No.

But do I think you have draw a line and say, “This is my house, not your friend’s house. Here’s where I stand. Let’s talk.” Yes, yes and yes.

Take my kids, ages 10 and 12 – Mr. Right and I have decided not to allow cell phones yet for two reasons. One, they’re expensive and two, we’ve seen some very negative things happen to kids with cell phones. A cell phone turns into a way for instant freedom. A way to plan things and talk about things and connect – instantly. Faster than any parent can monitor.

Maybe you’re thinking – so what! That’s fine with me, I don’t need to monitor conversations between my kids and their friends. In fact, Melissa, you sound like a really controlling parent. (Not going to deny or admit that.)

If so, the rest of this post might not be for you.

The point is, we decided – we don’t want to deal with cell phones yet.

During Christmas, each of the kids pooled their money to buy an iTouch. It never dawned on us that was like allowing a form of texting – there’s even a free texting app and a link to their personal email – conversations were happening a lot like they would on a cell phone. They even had the hunched-over teenager look as they spent every free minute texting and emailing their friends.

As the weeks went on, I started to feel less and less ok with the new toys. First, Little Boy hid his iTouch passcode from me. Then, when I asked to play one of the apps for fun, he had to delete some emails first before handing it over.

Parenting red flag? Yup.

So here’s what we’ve decided: No more email apps. No texting apps. If you want to have an iTouch, your parents need the passcodes. If you don’t like it, we promise to help you find someone to buy your iTouch.

*Cue dose of uncertain parenting guilt. I mean, the kids deserve some privacy, right? I remember hating when my parents intervened in my “business.” Don’t I trust the kids to make good decisions?

Then again: These are my children. These are the people I’m trying to guide in the right direction so they can be successful adults. Will they make mistakes? Yes. Will I be able to prevent them? No. But maybe I can make it harder. Because I wouldn’t put them in a room with pornography playing and expect them not to look. It’s my job to intervene. It’s my job to turn it off.

And when it comes to secrets, I’ve decided it’s my job to make it harder. Instant secrets are too easy. Secrets on the home computer with parental controls in a room that doesn’t lock … well that’s a lot harder.

And personally, my gut says “yes” to the second scenario.

To me, it makes sense that privacy is a natural process … Something that expands as you grow up and need to figure things out alone. It doesn’t mean handing you the gun in my own house.

As the kids grow and mature, our rules will inevitably change … disclaimer: maybe.

What do you think? How much privacy is healthy? How much is trouble? I’d love to hear what non-parents think, too.

Photo by Marc : ” En el pais de los sueños…”

Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.


1 Geoff March 23, 2010 at 5:25 am

First a confession – I am NOT a parent.

That said, I fully agree with the post. Being a parent is something you do, not just are.

2 Melissa March 23, 2010 at 7:49 am

@ Geoff – Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I like how you say that … being a parent is something you do.

3 Samantha March 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm

I am a parent–DS is only three. BUT I work in a high school and many parents have no idea how much information is passed between their children via technology. I totally agree with this post. It is your job as a parent to monitor your child. You will know in your gut when to back off. The “red flag” comment is right on.

4 Melissa March 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm

@ Samantha – That is so true, parents that aren’t “techies” will definitely be in the dark. Another red flag for me is when I see a teen in my family that spends all of family time on a cell phone. Obviously (to me) they are not mature enough to handle the phone. (Although some adults might do that, too!)

5 Lynn March 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm

I am dreading the days that I have to deal with these issues….right now I’m just trying to get her to stop putting food in her hair or chewing on her shoes. I feel for ya! I don’t think you’re being too strict…my parents had rules too and as much as I didn’t like them, now I see why they needed to be in place. My only gripe about their rules is that they were a little too strict and there was no option of compromise. Like no phone calls after 9pm. I didn’t want to talk at midnight! But a lot of my friends called at 9:30. It would have been nice if they could have met me part way, like no calls after 10pm.

6 Melissa March 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm

@ Lynn – We definitely talk about these issues and we explain our point of view. Lets just say – there were tears at the iTouch meeting.
They DO grow out of chewing on shoes, haha.

7 DEEG March 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I know where you got some of your great wisdom from. Too bad it had to be that way. Anyway, technology is here to stay and I recently was told at work we had to stay off facebook, and truthfully, it was getting in the way at times of work, so even as adults, it’s still not easy to find a balance and be disciplined and I guess becoming that perfect adult is high on my list, because I know me too well, and it would be impossible. lol My advice is if you see something, don’t let it go too long before you deal with it because the longer you don’t, the harder it can be.

8 Melissa March 25, 2010 at 8:32 pm

@ Deeg – I do feel sometimes that we become afraid to take hard topics head on with our kids. Best to just get it in the open is what I’m learning.

9 Karen March 26, 2010 at 11:54 am

Oh gosh, emotive subject and one we’re going through from being allowed out of school for lunch to being on facebook. Re the former have compromised with pack lunch 4 days, out of school friday and I think it’s working as he really looks forward to that one day. It also has to be earned; tidy room, homework done which I also think has raised it’s value. Re the latter/technology I’m a technophobe so it’s a difficult one. My partner is more in tune which helps and again compromise seems to work. Time limits and parental passwords on internet/facebook and no texting at home or table. I agree also with comment on being aware of it ourselves. We have to look at the time we spend on the computer/phone/etc. Do as I do in other words. Far more powerful than do what I say.

10 Melissa March 28, 2010 at 10:22 pm

@ Karen – A good reminder to start the week – thanks for sharing your story.

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