How much should parents involve themselves in their teens’ business? How much should parents know about what is going on with their teens? How much privacy is a teen entitled to? How much freedom with regard to electronic communications should a teen have? Should parents give their teens the benefit of the doubt or parent more with a “better safe than sorry” philosophy? Would you be surprised to find that your teen, who has shown her/himself to be a good kid, likes and is actively pursuing a peer of the opposite sex? Or that s/he is involved in discussions with friends about how to impress and engage the attentions of members of the opposite sex?
So, yeah. My email skimming has uncovered some things about my teen that I wasn’t aware of. And I’ll say right off the bat that it all appears to be extremely age appropriate and on the up and up. The first blush of puppy love. It had to happen at some point.
What feels rather unsettling to me, though, is that I didn’t know. We – Michael and I – didn’t know. We’ve figured for quite a while that he’s getting to that age when members of the opposite sex are going to take on a whole new meaning for him, but still, we didn’t know. Despite the fact that we’ve always had a very open-door communication policy with Kevin, and all of our kids. Despite the fact that we’ve always been pretty frank with them about life stuff, about opposite sex stuff. Despite the fact that we’ve always encouraged questions and discussion. The things is, though, that some kids are just by nature more reticent than others. Kevin has always been pretty private about his thoughts and emotions; he’s always played his cards close to the vest. Most of the time, no amount of encouraging him to talk about things going on in his head and his heart yields much more than very cursory non-responses.
And now he likes a girl. A friend of his kissed a girl! Kevin and his friend are engaged in discussions on how to proceed. These discussions are taking place via email. And Kevin is exchanging emails with the girl he likes – innocent thus far, but definitely aimed at attracting her. And I wouldn’t have a clue about any of this if I didn’t periodically skim his email. Yes, there is definitely a sense of guilt on my part – do I really have the right to do this (despite the fact that he is on notice that I reserve the right to check his emails)? Am I encroaching on his rights? Am I violating his privacy? Am I going too far? Am I doing the wrong thing?
The thing about electronic communications is that it’s a pretty new phenomenon in the landscape of parenting. Our kids are the first generation of kids who have access to this plethora of communication avenues: email, texting, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, online chatting, and more. We are the first generation of parents trying to navigate all this, so we don’t even have the luxury of looking to the previous generation to see how they handled it. We and our kids are the test generations.
I don’t know what the right thing to do is as far as how much freedom to give Kevin with regard to electronic communications. What I do know is that it can be dangerous, risky, and overwhelming. The instant nature of it all – having instant access to people at all times – lends itself to impulsiveness in communicating. We’ve all seen, even as adults, how people tend to say things via email or text or chat that they wouldn’t have the nerve to say face-to-face. Throw in some raging hormones, emotional immaturity, and I see a potentially combustible situation. It makes me very uneasy.
I wouldn’t know about these things going on with Kevin if I didn’t skim his email. I guess the question is: do I need to know this stuff? I don’t know. What I do know is that while what is going on now is pretty innocent, it seems, it’s the beginning of . . . more. I was only two years older than Kevin is now when I lost my virginity – and I was a good kid (yes, I experimented and dabbled in controlled substances, but I still say I was a good kid). I have no doubt that kids his age – younger even! – at his school, are already sexually active. How aware of and involved in do parents need to be of their teens’ emotional and sexual maturing, and the escapades that naturally follow? Closing my eyes to it and just trusting doesn’t feel like an option to me.