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Jewish World Review March 19, 1999 /2 Nissan 5759

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Snooping can be healthy if it saves a child in trouble

(JWR) ---- (
IN A CONTINUING OBSESSION to teach our children to put the fantasy of limitless rights before responsibility and accountability, some folks have actually coined the term "family espionage," to pejoratively describe parents who "snoop."

I have had innumerable calls from parents who either innocently or with intent discovered evidence of their child's involvement with sex, drugs or crimes. Almost to the parent (unbelievable to me), their major reason for calling my radio program was less their child's misdemeanors, felonies or high-risk behavior than their own guilt over having read a note in a pair of jeans or pages in a diary, or having looked through a drawer to find drug paraphernalia, birth control devices or receipts for an abortion.

It is thoroughly amazing that these parents are so absorbed in their own perceived "wrongdoing" over the means of finding out their child is off-track that they are considering not dealing with the facts. Who intimidated parents into thinking that their home is subject to the same rules of illegal search that derail perfectly good cases against the bad guys on "Law & Order"?

One 15-year-old girl recently called my program after talking to her school counselor about this very subject. It seems she was irate that her mother had gone through her room. The school psychologist confirmed her opinion that her room was her private turf and that her parents should never go into it without permission. Fortunately, she had the good sense to ask for a second opinion.

I told her that her room was not hers, nor, for the most part, were the contents. I reminded her that her parents earn a living to pay for the mortgage, utilities, food, clothes, car, medicine, television, stereo, haircuts, field trips, vacations, CDs, computers and so on. Even if she earned money by baby-sitting or mowing lawns, such paid-for perks wouldn't be possible if she had to pay her own rent. I suggested that gratitude and respect were more due her parents than her current mind-set of arrogant separatism.

I asked her if her mother had any reason to be concerned about her activities. "Are your grades falling? Are you behaving in a sullen or combative manner? Are you getting notes of concern from teachers?" The point I made to this young woman is that in addition to providing her with life and a life, her parents had the monumental responsibility of making sure that if she is behaving in any destructive, illegal or immoral way, they intercede as soon as possible to help her get back on track.

I tell parents all the time that if they have reason to be concerned about their child's activities, they should do whatever is necessary to determine the facts so they can help their child. If that means going through their room and its contents, so be it. To draw a parallel between this God-given responsibility of parents to love and direct their children into responsible adulthood and the abuses of a police state is just stupid.

No parent should constantly intrude upon a child's space. That will set up an adversarial relationship. However, when the situation seems to beg for it, only a negligent parent will not read a diary or letter, look under the bed and so forth. If they find nothing, they should not reveal that they "looked," and they will feel due relief. If they find something (a joint, a used condom, a suicide note, a gun receipt, pornography, etc.) they have to act in the best interest of their minor, immature, impulsive, out-of-control, off-track, weak, depressed, confused or dangerous child.

As a responsible mother recently wrote to me: "It is so refreshing to hear a respected media person tell parents that teens must earn the right to a private life. When I smelled a strange odor in our son's bedroom, I did some snooping and found marijuana under a drawer. Our daughter thought it would be a lark to try shoplifting. There were other dicey incidents, many caught by our 'snooping.' After all that, we checked bedrooms, read diaries and listened to phone calls. Whenever we made a discovery, we discussed it with the offender and consequences were paid. Our actions may have saved our children. All of our diligence paid off. Both our children worked their way through college, graduated cum laude, and are on their own, starting careers. We get daily e-mail, weekly calls and frequent visits. We feel loved and respected as parents."

Here is my bottom line: A steady diet of bugging a kid's life will eventually destroy family unity. An act of snooping when there is the sense of a serious problem can turn a child's life around.


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©1999, Universal Press Syndicate