This is a question from a friend who is looking for advice. He noticed that his teenage daughter had been spending a lot of time on a site called LiveJournal.com. When he checked the internet browser’s history, he discovered that she keeps an online journal. Should he read it?
Well, he did. And he told me that he didn’t find anything disturbing. It’s mostly an account of her interactions with her friends. The audience seems to be those friends, but the journal is open to anyone with internet access.
I told him that it sounds like a blog, one of the early blogs, in fact, which were filled with all sorts of private details that one normally wouldn’t disclose in conversations with strangers. Yet, there they are. Of course, most such journals are largely hidden from the world anyway because most people are not interested in reading about a random teenager’s lunchroom conversations or math-class crushes. (If that sort of thing appeals to you, I highly recommend Live Journal, which seems to be filled with such journals.) Anyway, I told him that I didn’t see any problem with him reading his daughter’s journal, and no, this was not the same as going into her room and seeing an open journal on her desk. If this were truly intended to be private, she wouldn’t publish it on the internet.
This seemed pretty straightforward to me until I started imagining scenarios where this might become dicey. Suppose he discovers that his daughter is dating a boy he doesn’t approve of or has gotten into alcohol or drugs. Does he act on that information? Does he tell his wife about the journal? What if they let it slip that they know a little too much about what she is doing before she has told them? Would she feel betrayed if she finds out that they have been reading her journal?
Now you know why I am not an advice columnist.