You Only Know What You Know . . . You Know?

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.


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8 Comments on “You Only Know What You Know . . . You Know?”

  1. Kara
    February 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    Thank you.

    Thank you for fighting this battle first. My oldest is 8. But a girl. And at 8, she’s basically a baby with the mind of a teenager. She talks about the boys who like her. The boys that ask her for her phone number, and ask her for her email address (she doesn’t have one, she’s 8). I have no idea how I will deal with this when it is my turn to do so, but I think you are dealing with it with confidence and grace that I’m not sure I’ll have.


  2. christina
    February 8, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    does kevin know you have a blog? does he ever read it? do you think he could find out that you are reading his emails through this blog? i would talk to him. tell him you have read them and you know he’s interested in a girl, and don’t make him feel like there is anything wrong with that. it might just be a good opportunity to have a talk about birds and bees, or a reinforcement on a talk you may have already had with him. this parenting thing sure is tough.

    • Lisa
      February 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      Christina, Kevin knows I have a blog, yes, although I don’t know that he’s interested in or curious enough about it to go looking for it. But yes, that is obviously a risk I take every time I write about my kids – the possibility of them eventually stumbling across it. With regard to his emails, he is aware that I reserve the right to periodically check his emails – so anything he writes or receives via email is subject to the risk of my reading it, and he is aware of that. I won’t bring anything to his attention specifically stemming from his email account unless it’s something that his dad and I feel warrants specific discussion with him. At this point, he likes a girl at school, and they are exchanging innocent emails. He, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel comfortable telling us that he likes a girl, so I’m not going to bring it up to him unless I see that the communications between them are crossing some line. It’s tricky, I admit, to breathe down their necks without letting on that you’re breathing down their necks.

  3. Stacey
    February 9, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    I don’t believe kids have a right to privacy from their parents. Privacy is just like money & driving, it is a privilege that comes slowly as you show me that you are being responsible with the limited amounts I give you at first. We start out changing their diapers; when they take over the potty routine & do a good job, we stop wiping their butts. You’ve given Kevin some freedom to converse with his friends somewhat privately, but you’re monitoring his use of that freedom to ensure that he’s being responsible. That’s not invading his privacy, it’s being a good mom. (Back in our day, we had to use the phone in the kitchen while mom cooked dinner, and you could only get as far away as the cord would reach!) And being a good mom might mean reminding him about appropriate behavior in general, being respectful of others and himself, remembering that email is different than a phone call because it stays “out there” forever, and not feeling pressured into anything because “everyone” does it, it’s OK to be individual.

    I also think you are very wise in limiting Kevin’s access to a cell phone & email, and for supervising his use of those things. Did you see Frontline on PBS last night? The episode was called, “Digital Nation: Life on the virtual frontier.” It was very scary in many ways. Check it out online if you didn’t see it. My husband & I are re-committed to our notion of not allowing our children to have too much technology too soon, but we’re still trying to figure what exactly that means. You’re my role model, so far!

    • Lisa
      February 9, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      Thanks so much for this, Stacey. It’s a nice feeling to get supportive feedback from other parents.

    • Stephanie
      February 9, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

      Excellent comment. I agree wholeheartedly. I think it is important to give them some freedom and independence when they’re ready. Shelter them too much and there’s always the risk they’ll rebel and go crazy when they finally do taste freedom. You’re right Lisa, it’s a tricky business.

  4. Asha
    February 10, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    I do the same thing. I read his emails and texts and my almost 15 y-o is not allowed on FB or myspace. I did run into a girl he texts with at my DD’s dance class and **I** was the one turning red. ( Their conversations are just friendly, but I felt kind of awkward).
    So, I think it’s only wise to monitor them and know what they are doing.
    Are you a little excited for him, to be in this stage of his life?

    • Lisa
      February 10, 2011 at 1:02 am #

      Oh, Asha … excited, worried, sad. A lot of mixed emotions. In all honesty, there is a part of me that would give anything to keep all of my kids little forever.

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