Why Snooping Can Cause More Harm Than Good

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at a recent Dutch study, which examines how parental snooping affects teenagers and influences parent-teen communication.

Your teen comes home from school, rushes to their room and spends hours on their phone or laptop. Sound familiar? You’re not alone. The more teens and tweens keep to themselves, the more parents wonder if they’re up to something. It can even be tempting to want to sneak a peek at their phone when it’s left unguarded.

So, if your teen won’t talk to you, is it ok to snoop? A New York Times article recently explored a study by Dr. Skyler Hawk, which answers the question once and for all: Do not snoop. The study found that teenagers with meddling parents weren’t misbehaving more than teenagers whose parents didn’t spy on them. Researchers also found that the more insecure parents felt about their relationship with their teen, the more likely they were to snoop.

A separate study in the Journal of Adolescence supported those findings, stating that teenagers who think their parents were spying on their conversations, shared less information with their parents, causing a continuous cycle of distrust between parents and teens.

Another interesting point to consider are the legal complications involved. Parents have the right to access their children’s information, but according to Avidan Cover, an associate law professor at Case Western Reserve University, if your teen is texting another underage teen, it can infringe on the other teen’s privacy and become “murky legal territory.”

To avoid damaging communication and trust with our teens, here are a few tips to help navigate the tempting urge to snoop:

DO NOT: Snoop on your teen. If your teen discovers this invasion of privacy, they will likely share less information with you and it could damage trust.

DO: Reflect on your relationship with your teen. Dr. Hawk said, “The act of snooping seems to say more about what the parents are feeling than what their kids are doing.” If you feel the need to spy on your teen, instead think about why you feel that way and how you can better connect with them.

DO NOT: Demand access to personal messages and social media. “When parents engage in behaviors that teenagers see as privacy invasions, it backfires because parents end up knowing less,” according to Dr. Hawk. Teens like to be independent and feel like they are making their own choices. Playing the parent card and forcing teens to include you in their private conversations will be met with indignation and reduced communication.

DO: Ask your teen about their choices. To avoid invading your teen’s privacy, have a conversation with them about their free time and friends. Research shows teens believe their parents have the right to know about risky activities, but they want to tell you on their own terms.

DO NOT: Overreact if you find out that your teen is engaging in risky behaviors. As a parent, it can be alarming to hear your teen isn’t making healthy decisions, but overreacting can often lead to more secrecy.

DO: Listen and focus on protecting them. Let your teen know that your main goal is their safety. Often times, open communication will have a more positive effect than overreacting or refusing to hear your teen’s point of view.

DO NOT: Fight. It may be easier to set rules without seeking input from your teen, but take the time to listen to them and work together to set and agree on expectations.

DO: Keep negotiating. Dr. Hawk advises that there will be conflict, but calmly talking and negotiating will lead to better results than loud screaming matches. According to Dr. Judith Smetana, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, “Adolescents consistently think that they should have more autonomy than their parents think they should have and just when parents have worked one thing through, they will find that there’s a new topic to hash out because teenagers’ autonomy is always increasing.” As your teen grows up, you have to trust you raised them well and that they will make good decisions on their own.

Ultimately, whether you choose to snoop or not is your prerogative, but it is best reserved for extreme circumstances. How do you deal with your secretive teenager? Leave your comments below!

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