Teen's Journal: Off Limits or Not???

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We disagree whether it's OK to read teen daughter's journal

June 2002

My boyfriend and I are both single parents. We have 2 children who are in their teens. We are currently having a tough time overcoming an issue. He recently read his teen daughters journal and told me about it. I shared with him that I did not agree with that and thought it was not the best way to find out what's going on in her life and that it's a trust thing. He is adamant about it being o.k. so long as he is doing it with the right intent and that intent is to make sure she's o.k. I'm not trying to have someone tell me who's right or who's wrong. I just need some other views or guidelines regarding this issue. I'm a young parent, and haven't come across this before. Thanks.

Oh, boy, I would never look in my son's diary or journal! He is 15, and very clear about his journal being private. My father read my diary when I was that age and I never got over the invasion of my privacy and was furious. Some folks can justify anything based on good intentions, but unless a child is suicidal or deeply troubled and you have tried everything, including therapists, I would stay out. If you don't, you risk losing his/her trust and they simply will hide things and/or stop writing. R.
Our 12 year old's journal was off limits to us until he was caught in two elaborate lies. Now he has it back but knows that the journal is available to us if we cannot trust him.
Whatever you do, don't read your child's journal. Years ago I peeped into my sister's journal and read how much I was bothering her. It still makes me cringe. Journals are private and liable to hurt the reader as much as reveal the writer. People of all ages use journals to record, but also to vent, to fantasize, to agonize. I write things in journals I would hate anyone to ever read. I write in anger, in tension, in tears and when I am done I feel better. But I would not feel better if I knew the people about whom I was writing read what I wrote because I know my feelings are exaggerated in the journal. Janet
As you have realized, this sort of thing is a very personal issue, and I believe you will find fine adults all over the map on it! That said, here's my own location on that map -

I figure that when my teen leaves her journal out, open, on the living room couch, for a day, or two, or leaves her email open, on my computer, it is almost an invitation to peek and get a glimpse at her inner life. But, like what I imagine to be protocol in Japanese houses where the walls are paper and the doorways bits of hanging cloth, obscuring only faces, I do not turn the page, or act as though I have any inside knowledge, preserving a level of privacy, or a facade thereof.

I do not search for, or open, a closed journal, wherever it may be, or wherever I may find it.

We have a reasonably close, open relationship, though it has not been without some storms and rocky shoals. I believe that everyone, even a teen, deserves a zone of privacy. I try to express, verbally, and by my actions, that my primary concern is for her well-being, and that I will be there for her, any time of day or night, if there is trouble and she wants a rescue, and that she can even tell those with her that it's *my fault* if I come get her. I will pick her up at a discreet distance, etc, if that helps.

But when my instinct tells me that she is dissembling, or up to something detrimental, I swoop. So far, I have been right on, and we've been lucky.

I have never written to something like this before but after reading the story about the father reading his daughter's journal, I felt compelled to write. The father is doing long-term, considerable damage to his daughter. When she finds out that he has invaded her privacy, and she WILL find out, she will have trust issues forever. I know. This happened to me. It wasn't my father but a boyfriend. I have never truly trusted men again after this incredible invasion to my privacy. One day, when my boyfriend was angry with me, he inadvertently started quoting from my diary. I can't explain the pain I felt at that moment. I plead with that father to stop reading his daughter's journal immediately. If he wants to know about his daughter's life, ASK HER. This open communication is what makes a relationship strong between parent and child, not deceit. Good luck.
I'm also a young mom. I have a 14 y/o daughter who religiously writes in her journal - I read it ONCE, a few weeks ago when she left it on the couch - it was SO tempting! I felt awful after. Having been a teenage girl who poured my heart out to my journal, I knew immediately what an invasion of privacy that was and what a huge boundary I'd crossed. I told her about it and we discussed what I'd read, how sorry I was, that I would not do it again, and how she could keep her sense of security around her journal. I have given my daughter a lock-box (got it at Target for around $15-$20) and ALL the keys so that she can lock her journals and any other personal belongings away. This way she has her privacy and I'm no longer tempted. There is no reason that I see for a parent to read their teenagers personal and private journal...By the time our kids get to their teen years, we've raised them to the best of our ability and now our job is to set and keep boundaries. Over most other things, we are powerless. Lucy
Its important to have a place in a life that is private for children and adults. A journal, a bedroom, a desk, a chair, a place in the park, a restaurant window.

What the father risks is the trust and respect of his daughter and the harm of taking back her developing sense of control and confidence in her ideas, her feelings, her world.

What the father gains is a glimpse into her private life and a chance to intervene if she is in some kind of danger.

Its the place these two ideas meet; His right to the information and her right to her thoughts and ideas.

If he felt like she was in danger, then a look at her journal seems more justified. But, if it was just to keep tabs on her, it seems invasive.

What if you reverse/adjust the situation to see if it offers any new perspective.

1. What would happen if you decided to tell the daughter about her father because you thought it was best? (What are his rights to private acts?)

2. How would he feel if you looked at his private journal without permission?

3. What if his daughter decided she was worried about her father, and invaded his privacy.

If the father wants more information from his daughter, maybe they could set up a public journal. I have a friend who is single mom, and she recently started writing notes and letters to her teen age son. He writes back, sometimes on computer, and somehow they find it easier to speak the truth, admit things, apologize, get angry...its a safe place, less personal, direct, honest, unjudged, uninterrupted...

Good luck with your family. Definitely a complicated issue.

This is an interesting dilemma. I agree with you that from a moral standpoint one should not read other people's private thoughts. I am very adamant about our family not opening each other's mail. On the other hand I feel parents this day and age need all the inside information possible to help teens stay safe and healthy. Many times I hear from parents in shock when their child's mental health has deteriorated, they are cutting themselves or taking drugs or are depressed. We never saw it coming they say. Would a peek into a diary foretold and they could have done something about it? I tell my kids that whatever notes I find in their jeans while I am doing a wash get read. And they keep leaving them in their jeans.They are not very consistent in keeping a diary but I have glimpsed at pages when diaries/notebooks were left lying around. SOmetimes it seems the kids leave them in places easily accessible to parents as if they want ! th! em to be read so thoughts that are not easily communicated verbally get shared. I have never gone snooping around their rooms looking for hidden diaries, though if I felt my kids were not doing well mentally or socially I would climb under beds and into closets to find clues be it in diaries or secret stashes of pot. I would also read their old email if I could and put my ear to the door and listen to their phone conversations. And listen to the conversations in the car when they are there with their friends and talk to other moms about what was said and done at their houses. Call me overbearing but it is really easy to let them be only to find out you have no idea who their friends are and what their thought are.
I want to support the parent who wrote that she considered reading someone else's journal unacceptable as the issue is trust. I agree completely. I'm an old parent (near 60) with teenaged children. I, too, have faced this issue, when my daughter would leave her journal accessible to me (on the kitchen table!). I steeled myself and vowed I would never touch it -- that she had so trusted me not to that I would never look. I also thought of the issue from the other side of the coiin when I was writing in my own journal and thought about the possibility of my kids coming into my bedroom and being tempted to read it. I think it's imperative that we honor each other's privacy. It's both an ethical issue and an issue of parenting: role-modeling is the most important part of parenting as far as I'm concerned. If we don't want them to invade our privacy, we had better show them we won't invade theirs.

Besides -- if you read the journal you won't ask the hard questions, which will start the important conversations, like: so, is anyone you know and care about using drugs? What do you think? Or: so, how's you love life? If we don't ask these hard questions, we don't learn. And, did it ever occur to your partner that what's in his daughter's journal is not true -- that she's using it to try on stances. He might become alarmed and react to something that's not even happening . . .

Good luck. Parenting is really hard. Sorry to be anonymous

I say the teen's journal (or anyone's journal) is absolutely off limits! Not only is it an invasion of privacy, it's also a very flawed way of finding out what's going on with a teen. Teens will write all kinds of things in their diaries: gossip, fantasies, wild exaggerations, etc. I speak more as a former teen than the parent of one. When I was in high school my friends and I would write long, melodramatic soul-baring journal entries which we would let each other read, but I would have been totally mortified and humiliated if my parents had read them! I see journal writing as a way of safely exploring one's inner life, safely experimenting with attitudes and opinions. If my parents had told me they were going to read my journal, I would never have felt as free to express myself honestly and creatively. If they read it without telling me (& I later found out) I'd have felt terribly betrayed. Melinda
Before looking at someone's journal, think of the consequences. My mother looked at my journal once; I burned all my journals and never wrote another personal word.
From my experience with my mom snooping in my dresser one day when I was 15 and finding a letter that was very incriminating, I totally cringe at the idea of snooping through my childrens' personal things. At that time, I was so angry at my mom that I ran away all night. She punished me by grounding me, but I just snuck out every chance I had from then on, and that began a very rocky 10-year relationship with my mom where I left home at 17, didn't talk to her or see her for five years. It still makes me so angry thinking about it. I don't believe it is ever justified, except nowadays with computer chat rooms, I might make an exception if I thought my child was having a relationship on-line and was being trapped into meeting a stranger. It's very tough to keep your child safe so I understand you want to use whatever is at hand, but even with the best intentions I don' believe a parent should read their child's diary. It's better to talk with them as much as possible. It's really important to make them feel they can talk with you about anything without your being judgmental -- all of this is what you should foster before even thinking about reading their most personal thoughts in a diary. If my child's life was in danger and he/she ran away from home, then I wouldn't hesitate in order to find a clue as to their whereabouts. However, if you want to know if they're having sex, or taking drugs, or drinking too much, then ask them, or inquire in a discrete way. Listen carefully to what they say, watch their behavior and behavior patterns, use all your senses, and trust your instincts about them first before looking for writings. There's that expression, the writing is on the wall -- if you can sense your child changing and going down a dark path, look for the writing on the wall, not a diary. --j
There were periods when I was extremely worried about my teens and I did search through their things looking for some clue as to what they were up to. I didn't feel this gave me carte blanche to read a whole journal, but I found some things that allowed me get more serious and direct with them about issues of danger and the law. These were periods when I was getting little or no communication from them and I justified my actions (to myself) by saying that I had a right to know what they were doing and if they would not talk to me then I had a right and an obligation to find out in any way I could. I did not do this regularly, but once I found a box of neat little packets of marijuana all ready for sale and another time I found a journal entry about tripping on LSD. (two different teens) I confiscated the pot and had some very direct conversations with him that I think put an end to his entrepreneurship. I was very discreet about reading personal information and did not divulge my knowledge to them. I used the information to be more pro-active and cautious with my daughter. Remember that social workers and teachers are required by law to divulge personal information if they think that a child will harm himself or others. I think we as parents have a similar obligation if we sense that our children are involved in activities that could harm themselves or others.
I had to add this exhaustive response. I was a ravenous journal writer in my teens. While my thoughts were so personal, I had hoped that someone would read them, because most of my writing was of how painful it was to be alive, how miserable and lonely life was. No one in my family knew the many near suicide attempts I had made. I was an A student, was popular. I feel that if someone had looked, they would have known I needed help then. There are careful ways to bring up concerns without revealing that the journals had been read. The only reason I would ever read my sons journal is out of worry for his safety.