Do Your Kids Have a Right to Privacy?

By Greg Smalley
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What are their rights vs. your responsibility?

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.

Copyright © 2015 Focus on the Family

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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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About the Author

dr greg smalley vp of marriage
Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as president of the …

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