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Snooping

Air Date: 07/13/10 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net.Not long ago, I sat and talked with a teenaged boy and his parents. They'd had a huge argument the night before, and the young man was still furious at his mother. Her offense? She'd actually gone into his room. Not only that she'd moved things and looked around. "That's my private space," the boy said indignantly. "She has no right to snoop around in my room!"But does she? Do parents have the right to search their children's belongings, sift through their backpacks, read their diaries, and eavesdrop on their conversations? Should you read your child's emails? Check out his MySpace page? Empty his pockets when you're doing the wash? Well, it depends. I doubt there's a parent out there these days who isn't aware of the risks children face each day of their lives. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and sex are everywhere. Many young people, even those with loving and committed parents, are depressed or anxious. There is no school, no group of kids, where illegal and illicit substances and activities aren't available, even commonplace. And parents worry. In fact, some parents are downright panicked. They love their children and want to protect them. And yes, sometimes they go too far.One young man I knew came home from school every day to find the contents of all his drawers emptied out on his bedroom floor. He'd been caught smoking pot once, and this was his father's way of letting him know he was being watched. It certainly may have kept this young man from stashing marijuana in his drawers, but it did nothing to increase trust or improve the boy's behavior. On the other hand, parents most certainly need to be aware of their children's activities; it's entirely possible we would have fewer school shootings and less juvenile crime if parents were paying more attention. More important, too many parents and children are completely disconnected; adults don't know who their children's friends are, how to contact their parents, or what the kids do when they get together. When parents finally figure out that they need to know more than they do, they may decide that snooping and prying are the only options. But snooping at the wrong time or in the wrong way can damage the fragile trust between a child and a parent. Many adults can remember times their own parents violated their privacy. More than one parent has told me how betrayed he felt--and then confessed that he's done the same thing to his own children, always in the name of loving and protecting them. There's another issue here, too. What should you do if you find what you're looking for? If you discover condoms, drugs, marijuana pipes, or disturbing poems in your teenager's possession, how do you confront your child with the fact that you've ransacked her belongings without making matters worse? Well, the best answer is to begin from your child's earliest years to build a relationship of trust and mutual respect. Parents need to spend time regularly getting into their child's world, understanding her perceptions, and learning to understand the young adult she is becoming. Trust and respect often make it possible to simply ask kids what they're up to or to openly share your concerns. Youngsters are surprisingly willing to tell the truth and even to ask for help with everything from alcohol use to stolen candy when they believe their parents are willing to listen and work with them to solve problems.Remember, once the trust between a parent and child is damaged, it takes time and patience to rebuild--and children aren't always the ones who damage that trust. Law enforcement officers need to have reasonable suspicion and, usually, a warrant, to search homes and property; perhaps parents should be willing to follow the same guidelines. You do need to educate yourself about the warning signs of problem behavior. Unexplained absences, irrational behavior, or drastic changes in sleep, eating, or school habits can be signals to pay closer attention. It's usually wise to approach your child directly, with respect and caring, and to let her know that you're concerned about her safety and welfare and are willing to help. But if you have good reason to suspect that your child is in trouble, then you may also have good reason to look for evidence in her private possessions. If you find something troubling, talk to your child directly and tell her honestly that you searched her room, and why. Then work towards finding solutions, whatever that may mean. If you don't have good reasons to snoop, however, it's usually better to honor your child's privacy in the same way that you expect her to honor yours. If you focus on listening, being available, understanding, and truly connecting with your child, you just might find that snooping through her possessions is never necessary. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.