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Kids and Privacy: Should I Spy on My Teen?

The decision to look through your child’s things is one that should not be taken lightly. Here we help parents identify the circumstances in which an invasion of privacy is warranted.

The decision to invade your child’s privacy is not one that should be taken lightly. If you have come to a place where you are asking yourself this question, you have at least an inkling that something in your child’s life might be snoop-worthy.

You can uncover the answer by asking yourself this one simple question:

Am I curious, worried or legitimately concerned?

Curiosity is nothing more than piqued interest. Maybe you saw your daughter’s diary when you were straightening up and are curious as to what it contains. Maybe you think that, as the parent, you have the right to take a peek. Resist the temptation. The only thing this type of snooping will achieve is to add some rebar to the wall that your teen is building between the two of you. Curiosity in this case won’t kill the cat, but it will kill your relationship.

Worry is often just as base-less as curiosity. Maybe a friend’s kid is struggling with something and you are worried that your child is engaged in the same type of behavior. You might think that reading her diary, looking through her things or reading her texts (without a previous arrangement that you will do so from time to time) would ease your mind. In this scenario you are spying for you, not for her. You want to feel better. You want your fears to be assuaged. Instead of spying, practice Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” In this situation, resist the urge to snoop. Instead, take a more direct approach: talk to your child. Building up your level of trust through an open and loving relationship is a great antidote for this type of fear.

But maybe you are a parent who is legitimately concerned. Maybe you have some very clear indicators that something is wrong – drugs, pornography, an increase in isolative behavior, depression or anxiety, extreme mood swings, school failure, or a sudden loss of interest in pleasurable activities. These are all real causes for concern.

If you are in this last group, there are three things you can do:

1) As a concerned parent, you have every right to gather as much information about your child as possible. And you have every right to use whatever means possible to gather that information – even if it invades her privacy. You may decide to be upfront about it before you investigate your concerns. You may not. Your responsibility is to get to the bottom of it. If the Sandy Hook school shooting taught us anything, it is that we don’t ignore the warning signs. There are much worse things than having your child upset at you for invading her privacy.

2) Furthermore, if you are at a place where you feel that you have legitimate reasons for going through your child’s things, then you should take this as an indicator that outside help is likely needed. This article explains the circumstances under which you should seek counseling and what types of counseling are available for your child.

3) Finally, surround yourself with people who will support you during this time. Your child is not going to respond well to having had her privacy breeched. Your relationship will likely suffer – temporarily. Remind yourself that sometimes what is best can be very painful. And remember that God is the Master at making beauty from ashes.

The terms snooping and spying have negative connotations. And unless we are doing it for the right reason, it is an undesirable response. If you can get to the bottom of your motive for wanting to invade your child’s privacy, you will be in a much better position to make a good decision on the matter.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

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About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker who offers individual therapy to women and moms in Connecticut. She is the author of More Than a Conqueror, A Christian Kid's Guide to Winning the War on Worry. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of the things she is most passionate about: God's word, parenting and mental health.


  • I have two teenage children and I am a christian woman born again after drug problems. I came from a catholic education and a good home. As a teenager I was a liar, hid things from my parents and did everything I shouldnt have. My parents didn’t ask me about what I was up to. For these reasons I am very protective of my children because I know that we have a sinful nature. More than once I have uncovered situations in my 12 year olds life because I seem to know when she is acting differently but I had to read her diary or messages on her telephone. We confronted her and talked and prayed about the situation. Was it not correct to snoop on her?

    • Hi Jacinta – I can understand your concerns as many parents of teens feel like they are walking a fine line between right and wrong. It sounds like you weren’t just curious, you noticed that she was acting differently. That, in my opinion, is cause for concern and action.

      Our overall goal is to forge an open and trusting relationship with our teens. A relationship where we can say, “Look, I love you and care about you too much to ignore warning signs. If I have a strong suspicion that you are involved in something dangerous or harmful, I will investigate. You can always come to me – with anything – and we will work it out together.”

      Talking and praying was a great way to address it with your daughter. May God continue to give you the direction and wisdom to raise your teens.

      God bless,


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