Do Your Kids Have a Right to Privacy?

Child sitting in chair, writing in a journal

We had just moved, and our 14-year-old daughter, Murphy, wasn't coping well. We couldn't get her to open up. My wife, Erin, and I were concerned.

One day, Erin was putting Murphy's laundry away and noticed her journal on the bed. Erin was instantly faced with a dilemma: Should she respect Murphy's privacy and ignore the journal, or should she read it—based on Murphy's unwillingness to talk?

No rights?

Some parents believe they have the absolute right to go through their children's belongings, check social media accounts, etc. Other parents say we shouldn't invade our children's privacy, but should trust them unless they give us a reason not to.

At the center of this debate lies the question, "Do our children have a right to privacy?" I don't think there is a black-and-white answer to this question. It is important to build relationships with our kids that are based on trust and mutual respect, affording them as much privacy as we can. However, God has entrusted us to parent our children, and it is our job to love and care for them. So a dependent child really has no "right" to privacy.

The right expectations

The key to finding a healthy balance in this area is to set the right expectations. Erin and I don't allow our kids to close their bedroom doors when they're using a computer or when friends are over, and we check their phones and social media accounts from time to time.

We've also talked with them about their diaries. We want our kids to have somewhere to process life without fear of being exposed, so we've assured them that we will not read their private thoughts simply because we're curious. But our children also know that we will do whatever is necessary to protect them.

The goal

Make it your goal to err on the side of trusting your children. But red flags in their behavior mean you need to keep them safe. I encourage you to have a family meeting to discuss what "privacy" means for your family.

After a quick prayer that day in Murphy's room, Erin decided to read the journal and discovered some disconcerting things. She was being a responsible mom who accepted the relational consequences when Murphy felt hurt and betrayed. Ultimately, Erin repaired their relationship, and Murphy got the help she needed.

This first appeared in the June/July 2015 issue of Focus on the Family's Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.
Copyright © 2015 Focus on the Family

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