Why it's important not to be a sneaky parent

I remember like it was yesterday....walking in the door after school near the end of my junior year in high school to see my mom standing in the kitchen waiting for me.  My dad was still at work, but she told me they'd found and read my diary.  I felt as if I'd physically been kicked in the stomach.  So many emotions swirled inside of me...shame, humiliation, sadness, betrayal, anger...

My mom told me they'd done this because they were "worried about me".  My decision-making at the time was indeed questionable, at times, even reckless. I knew part of what they'd learned in those pages was my habit of frequenting bars in a very seedy area of town (yes, I was seventeen).  Also that I was gambling with my health and my future in the choices I was making with the boys I dated.  In looking back, it's no wonder my parents were concerned.

But, to this day, I think what they did was very, very wrong.

I felt my parents had violated my trust by reading thoughts and feelings I hadn't intended ANYONE read.   Equally true, I had blatantly disregarded my parents faith and trust in me as well.  They absolutely would not have condoned my weekly trips to the downtown drinking hole or my behavior with boys.  Like a lot of kids, high school was a period of time when I cared much more about fitting in with the crowd than pleasing my parents.  Most of the time that meant conjuring up the right circumstances to be let out of the house so I could socialize as I pleased.

Later in the evening, when my dad returned home to lecture me on my teen adventures in mayhem and romance, he added insult to injury.  If I wanted to create a list of "NEVER DOs FOR DADS", #1 would definitely be never, under any circumstances, call your daughter a whore.

Because she will never forget how that made her feel.

The punishment for my crimes:  grounded for the summer.  This seemed very unreasonable to me.  So, in response, I befriended a guy my parents liked/trusted and approved of, and it wasn't long before they allowed me out of the house, but only to go on dates with him.  

Do you see how this is being played out?  

Despite these conditions, it was still a very l-o-n-g summer.

Never again did I pick up another diary.  In fact, I shied away from writing anything for a long, long time.

In hindsight (from the point-of-view of being a parent myself for the last twenty-seven years), what do I think my parents should have done if they were worried about me instead of finding and reading my diary?  

Sitting me down to say they were worried about where I was really going and what I was really doing would have caused me to lie more, especially if my dad were at the table.  You see, by that age I understood my mom loved me no matter what, but my dad seemed to love me only when I met the criteria.  And the older I got, the less I measured up.

What I really think might have turned the situation around at that time was for my parents to spend more time with me.  Without telling me they were worried about me.  Because when I think about the essence of what I was looking for during those years, it was connection.  Especially with my dad who I felt was merely my disciplinarian.  And the man who provided a roof/clothes/food/car/private school education/family vacations.

The moral of my story is this:  When parents decide to be sneaky to find out what is going on in their teen's life (whether it is well intended or not) there is already a problem.  And the best antidote to that is not to ramp up the game, but to make the time and the effort to work on the relationship with your child. Even if they literally tell you they want no part of it.  YOU are the adult, YOU are the one who needs to work consistently towards a better relationship.  

Kimberly MuenchComment