Merridith Frediani encourages parents to foster trust and communication with their children to avoid the need to snoop.
Is it ok to “snoop” on our teens? To check their social media, emails, and direct messages? The short answer is “yes.” However …
When our darlings are young we are convinced they are geniuses who will change the world. They are potty trained and reading well before their peers, their artwork is inspired, and we are agog at their math prowess. What glorious creatures they are!
When they hit adolescence, whether it is because they are doing what nature calls them to do or because everyone else is complaining about their own kids, we assume they are lying, sneaky tyrants, hell bent on defying us. While it is natural for them to be more peer focused (and really we should be glad because we certainly don’t want them dependent on us for the rest of their lives) it doesn’t mean they no longer need or want us.
It does teenagers a disservice to assume they will do stupid things just because they are teens. They are at risk because they are still growing and developing but I have known a decent number of teens and the majority of them are good kids. The media tell of the ones who shoot schools, are addicted to heroin, get pregnant, and drive drunk. We don’t hear about the ones who quietly navigate the teen years and emerge on the other side with minimal scarring. There are more of them than we realize.
As a parent, how do I balance trusting my child to make good choices in a world full of temptation and living without blinders on? Do I impose strict rules and technological watch dogs? Will that deter my kid who wants to be sneaky or will he or she figure out a way around my attempts at protection? As digital natives, teens are more technologically savvy than their digital immigrant parents. If I require my son to turn his phone in each night what is to stop him from getting a burner phone on the sly? If I expect my daughter to let me be her Instagram or Snapchat friend, how will I know she doesn’t have another account elsewhere? Back in the 80s our parents told us not to drink, but many of us did anyway.
We have to acknowledge that the internet carries risks that many of us didn’t have to be aware of in our own teen years. As the adults in the outfit we need to educate ourselves so we can educate our kids.
Research has shown that the rational, prefrontal cortex area of the human brain is not fully developed until age twenty-five (University of Rochester Medical Center). “The prefrontal cortex functions in cognitive control (e.g. planning, attention, problem-solving, error-monitoring, decision-making, social cognition, and working memory)” (Nature.com). These are skills that keep people safe and help avoid temptation.
So when asked if it’s okay to “snoop” on teens, I think the short answer is “Yes” followed immediately with “but …” As parents we have a moral, God-given responsibility to raise our kids safely to adulthood. We are not their friends, we are their parents, and along with that responsibility comes rights. We have the right to go through their rooms or backpacks or cars. We have the right to know what they are up to, where they are going, who they are with, and when they will arrive home again.
Said a wise friend of eight kids: they are not mature enough to make the right decisions and the devil is tempting them. We need to guide them through the dangerous territory that social media and the internet have become.
But that “yes” is followed by “but it’s not desirable.” By building a trusting relationship with our children and creating a strong family environment, we can avoid having to snoop. The reality is that if kids want to be sneaky, they are going to be sneaky. Each child in a family is different. Some are extreme communicators and as a parent, you know you can trust them. Some are more private and more work needs to be done to keep the communication alive.
If, from the beginning, we create a relationship where trust and respect runs both ways, we can lessen the likelihood of having to be surreptitious. An article in the Orange County Register discusses the importance of parents having good relationships with their children and how critical it is to know their friends.
The article quotes Bob Lotter, the founder and CEO of eAgency Mobile Security.
“The single most important thing for a parent is to know who is in their child’s life and to know the moment a new person enters their life. In more than 80 percent of cases we’ve been involved in, if a parent had known, it wouldn’t have gotten out of hand.”
How do we foster this healthy relationship?
It starts when our children are young. We teach them they can trust us. We apologize when we mess up. We help them identify their feelings. While this will not guarantee that our kids will talk to us, it helps. It also helps to recognize that teens are naturally going to pull away and as the parent we may need to push a little to get them to talk. We don’t have to accept “fine” as the answer to every question.
Make attending weekly Sunday Mass a requirement.
Our rule: if you live in this house, you go to church. There is no negotiation. Ideally we attend together but we recognize that some weekends it is not possible.
Hold the family dinner sacred.
This can be challenging with work and sports schedules but we do our best and sometimes we eat dinner at 9 PM when everyone gets home. We also declare family nights where we plan something for just us. Admittedly these are sometimes greeted with groans but we embrace our role as the adults and slog forward.
Know who your kids are friends with.
Meet these kids. Make them come into your house and chat with them. Volunteer at their school, and attend sports and theater events so you see them in action. Vet the friends by talking to parents and teachers. If something doesn’t sit right, trust your intuition and get more information.
By investing time, energy, and heart into our relationships with them from birth we can create the ultimate safe space where they can retreat when the world gets overwhelming and they can be assured of our unconditional, steady love.
The most important thing my husband and I do to invest in our children is pray. We noticed a difference in how they acted with us and each other when we started regularly praying a Rosary for them. As Catholics we have a heavenly cheering section of saints and angels just waiting for us to ask for intercession.
At various times, I have given kids to both the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Monica. Who knows better than St. Monica about intercessory prayer for sons? She prayed St. Augustine back to the Lord. I have begged Jesus to surround my darlings with good people who will help them make good decisions. I have asked for the grace to be the mother they deserve because I cannot do it on my own and the strength to make hard decisions.
The saints and angels desire to pray for us. The Catholic Church, in the Catechism, (CCC 328-336) affirms the existence of angels. St. Thomas Aquinas said we are each assigned a guardian angel at birth. They are real and they are with us. My guardian angel has a standing request to be with my children any time they are in a car.
So, yes, we can “snoop” on our kids without feeling guilty. We may have to if things turn sour. But I am of the opinion that by intentionally investing in our relationship with each child and consecrating that child to Christ, along with the intercession of Mary, the saints, and the angels, we can lessen or avoid the need to snoop because we have built trust. We need to be smart. We need to teach our children and have faith that God loves them more than we do. We need to remember we are not alone and use the assistance we are offered.
Copyright 2022 Merridith Frediani
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About the Author
Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. Merridith writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book, Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration, is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can read more at MerridithFrediani.com.