The Parents Yap About Privacy: Whose Life Is It Anyway?
The lives of family members are so intertwined. Where does the privacy of your child end and your right to parent begin? Tricky question, for sure. This week, the Parents Yap about privacy.
“What are you writing about? Are you writing about us??”
My nine year old has become an avid consumer of information not necessarily directed at or intended for him. This is especially aggravating because when I speak to him directly, he absorbs roughly a quarter of the information issuing from my mouth. But, oh, how that boy loves to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, read over my shoulder on Facebook and recite any texts that arrive for me when I’m not near my phone. Thank goodness my husband is not into “sexting…!”
For a boy who has been straining for independence since he was an infant, it has proven to be a very difficult concept to understand why some things in a parent-child relationship are not a two way street. He fancies himself in a category by himself. While he begrudgingly admits he is not a parent (and thus, without authority to “manage” his younger brothers), neither does he consider himself subject to the rules of the household meant for the kids. This makes for many a power struggle between my headstrong Mini-Me and his mother.
One (more) area he is bound to struggle with in the coming years is the notion that his “right to privacy” will be a qualified one. However much it may have pained us to find ourselves repeating our own parents (again), my husband and I have both informed our children, “As long as you live in our house, your business is our business.”
We have no intention of “tossing his bunk” without due cause, but he should be aware of the very broad principle, “If it’s in our house, it’s subject to inspection.”
I will have no qualms about going through my son’s stuff or checking up on him if I feel anything is amiss. I will probably do random, spot checks into various aspects of his life as well, for, you know, quality control. I really liked reading about the mother who gave her thirteen year old son a cell phone contract with the iPhone he got for Christmas. It spells out the nature of rights and responsibilities her son would have with regard to the phone, including reminders that his parents would always know his password and that he was to never ignore his parents’ calls without consequence.
One particular difficulty I have is conveying to my kids the nature and scope of parental authority and their need for parental guidance without seeming like a power hungry, dictatorial tyrant. I would be very interested to hear suggestions of other parents on this. I understand the importance of modeling the behavior we want to see in our kids, as well as interacting with them with respect. When my oldest engages me in a battle about why I should be able to “boss him around” but he can’t tell me what to do, I usually lose patience and resort to the dreaded, “Because I’m your mother and I said so!”
As for my boys’ thoughts on me writing about them each week, I haven’t asked them and don’t intend to do so. I try to frame most of my examples in either a humorous or self-deprecating light, and would never intentionally shame them. Besides doing this column as a personal creative outlet, I assume that the purpose of the column is to offer support or indirect advice- if not outright commiseration- for other parents in the area.
When my kids ask if I’m writing about them, I just say, “Yes,” and explain that I’m helping other people raise perfect kids like them. Perhaps when they are older, they will be more sensitive about it and object, but I’ll deal with that if the time comes. For now, however, I’ll continue to spout my non-expert opinions for the common good of Wakefield and its perfect children.
My kids are at the age where privacy is starting to get little tricky. My oldest daughter will be twelve on Thursday, and although she is definitely not the typical tween, I need to remember that she is not a little kid anymore, either. When my kids were all really little, I never even thought about them needing any real privacy. They depended on me for absolutely everything and the only concept of “privacy” they ever knew was that their mother wanted to have the door closed whilst using the bathroom. As a funny side note, when my daughter was a toddler, she would strip off all her clothes for her bath, then stand in the hallway, buck naked, and scream “I NEED PRIVACY!!!” All that meant to her is that she wanted to use the potty before she got in the bath.
Now that she is older, privacy means something very different. She doesn’t want me or anybody else poking around in her stuff, but she is not super protective of her private things either. She shares a room with her sister, so she doesn’t really have a space that is all her own. She has a phone and she texts with her friends, but she isn’t obsessive about it and she doesn’t keep the phone in her room at night. I have told her that I won’t monitor her phone activity unless I have a “really good reason.” Just being nosy is not a good reason. Being worried because she suddenly has a completely different group of friends might be a good reason. I have tried to instill in my children the difference between privacy and secrecy. I respect my kids’ privacy so they don’t feel that they need to go to any great lengths to hide things from me. I trust them not to do anything too devious and they trust me not to snoop around in their stuff. They are all so open about everything they do that this isn’t much of an issue yet, but I’m sure that it will get trickier to navigate the line between respecting their privacy and keeping them safe as they get older.
I try to let my kids have their own privacy, but as their mother, much of my own life is entangled with theirs. I want to talk to my friends about my mommy trials and tribulations. I want to post funny things (or annoying things) that they say and do on my Facebook page. I want to use stories about their antics as colorful anecdotes here on Patch. At what point does an experience with my kids stop being mine to share? Isn’t it their story too? Luckily for me, my kids don’t get embarrassed easily and they are usually amused that I talk about things that they do. I sincerely try not to share anything that is truly private or potentially embarrassing. As we get deeper into the tween and teen years, the stories I share publicly will probably be more about me than about them. They will have their own stories to tell, if they choose to do so.