This is the first in our experimental "Parenting Short Takes" Series -- where we will try and respond in short form to questions that come to our Project YES office. Please let us know if you find this helpful and feel free to post your comments and questions. Kindly understand that due to time constraints it will not be possible to respond to your questions directly, other than those selected for this format.
I Found Something Upsetting In My Daughter's Email
Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
From time to time, I check my 15-year-old daughter's email account (I figured out her password) just to make sure she is not getting into trouble.
Just yesterday I read that she is making arrangements to meet up with friends this weekend without my knowledge or approval.
How can I discuss this with her without getting into a pitched battle?
Rabbi Horowitz's response:
The very first thing you ought to be doing is to stop snooping on your daughter. Reading her emails without her permission is an enormous invasion of her privacy.
Teenagers, like adults, feel quite literally violated when they find out this is going on. And, in all likelihood, she will find out one day. And that day will be tomorrow if you have this conversation with her.
There are no guarantees in life, but one can predict with near certainly that should you choose to broach this subject; the entire discussion/argument will be about your snooping, and not about her weekend plans.
Here is another way to look at it: How can you lecture her for meeting her friends behind your back, if you are encroaching on her personal space behind hers?
It is most certainly appropriate for a parent to monitor their children's emails/texts/social media -- but only if you lay out the ground rules in advance. Good fences make good neighbors.
One approach to the inevitable, "Don't you trust me, Mom?" would be to use the analogy of driving a car. Up to a certain age, no driving is permissible. Above a certain age unsupervised driving is OK. The transitional phase is when one can drive with adult supervision.
An added benefit of framing it in these terms is that you are explaining to your daughter that this phase will not last forever, and the time will come when she will need to learn to make good choices on her own.
Your most effective tool in helping guide your daughter through adolescence is a close relationship based on mutual respect and trust.
Trust takes so long to build, and can be completely lost in a moment of betrayal. At this vulnerable time in her life, you just cannot afford to have her trust and faith in you broken.
Dean, Yeshiva Darchei Noam
Director, Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES www.kosherjewishparenting.com
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