Your Teenager’s Journal … Online

May 6, 2005 | 67 comments
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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.

67 Responses to Your Teenager’s Journal … Online

  1. Rosalynde Welch on May 6, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    I don’t think a teenager has any right to privacy. A wise parent will probably allow the child some forms of privacy, but I don’t think it need be absolute or sacred. My mother made my bed almost every day of my life until I moved away–and I think she did this to maintain an “open door” policy, so that she could keep an eye on things in my room. Similarly, I don’t think a parent should hesitate to read a child’s journal, if other kinds of communication are closed or unsatisfactory. I’m always amused at sitcoms that feature teenagers in a family setting: the plot points almost always turn on an issue of the parent violating the teen’s privacy and “trust.” I think this is wrong-headed.

    (Of course, I know everything about raising teenagers, since I have a four-year-old and a 20-month-old, so take my comments for the very little they’re worth!)

  2. Kaimi on May 6, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    And I was all ready to go set up “deargordon.com” as an advice page.

    It’s dicey. Internet caches are tricky things. And this is an important topic. What do you do when you find out that a family member has been looking at online p0rn, for instance, or gambling? Those are always tricky questions (and only likely to come up more and more often, as more people become computer savvy).

    Personally, I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. (I think). The downside of telling is that the teen will probably feel betrayed that her dad is reading her journal. Parent-teen relationships are tricky enough without that.

    Unless it looked like a serious problem. If I thought that it indicated drug use, criminal activity, suicide, then I would act on it in a second. If I thought that it indicated sexual activity — that’s a tough one. Particularly if it’s low-end sexual activity. Maybe I would make general comments about the importance of chastity, etc — though I think those are often ineffective.

  3. Steve Evans on May 6, 2005 at 12:19 pm

    Blogs aren’t private journals — they’re online public sites. I don’t see how reading a blog is an invasion of privacy.

  4. Kevin Barney on May 6, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    I think your initial reaction is the correct one. If it is published on the internet, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in it. That’s not just a lawyer’s answer, it is a pragmatic one as well. Even a teenager knows that if you want to keep something truly private you don’t publish it on the internet.

    Both of my kids have kept live journals. I read some of my son’s entries, simply because for awhile he used it has his home page on the computer I shared with him before he got his own computer last Christmas. Its intended audience was his friends, and most of what it talked about were things they had done together. But I think he has stopped writing in it. I suspect he never had the sense that anyone was actually reading, so why bother? Whereas with blogs that allow comments, you get near-instant validation and interaction with others.

    Live journals are fair game for parental reading, in my view.

  5. Gordon Smith on May 6, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    We have our internet-connected computer in the family room, and I think that probably reduces many temptations that Kaimi mentions. We have also told our children that they should have no expectation of privacy in their rooms or on the computers. As a practical matter, however, we try to govern by consent rather than force, asking for information rather than conducting clandestine raids.

  6. Bill on May 6, 2005 at 12:48 pm

    Of course a teenager has a right to privacy. Parents who err on the side of intrusiveness will soon find that their children no longer communicate with them. But no one, teenager or not, should reasonably expect something they post online for all the world to see to remain private. Now if the father was going into the contents of personal emails or other password-protected or encrypted information, that would be another story — and a job for the FBI.

  7. The Only True and Living Nathan on May 6, 2005 at 1:01 pm

    Despite the name “LiveJournal,” blogs hosted there are not akin to journals or diaries, in which one might have a fair expectation of privacy. Unless his daughter has instituted a “friends only” journal (which only those to whom she’s given an access code can view), she would have no grounds for complaint* if he read her LiveJournal. She is literally making it publicly available to any doofus with an internet connection; privacy has been removed from consideration.

    *Not that that would stop a teenager from complaining; it would only remove the justification for it.

  8. Kaimi on May 6, 2005 at 1:06 pm

    TOTAL Nathan implies something that’s really important. _If_ someone _has_ instituted a password, then they have very good reason for complaint. If Gordon discovers my passworded Live Journal and guesses my password and reads it, then he has unreasonably invaded my privacy.

    But yeah, if I don’t password it, it’s my own fault if anyone reads it.

  9. Kaimi on May 6, 2005 at 1:11 pm

    By the way, if you’re someone who has a private online journal –

    DON’T assume that no one will see it if you don’t publicize the URL. In particular, if you want your private journal to remain private, DON’T link to anyone.

    When someone clicks through to T & S (say, from bycommonconsent.com) our Site Meter tells us where the visitor comes from.

    So if you’ve got a journal site and you’re not publicizing the URL, and you want it to remain private, don’t link to T & S (or anyone else) from that site.

    We have had multiple people set up blogs that they thought were private, and link to T & S from those blogs. At that point, we saw referrals from those sites, and we followed them back.

    (Note that we’re not out to deliberately invade anyone’s privacy. But if I see a link to T & S from any place that I don’t recognize, I’m likely to check it out. I like to know what people are saying about my blog — there are fans, there are haters, there are random crazies).

  10. gst on May 6, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    I concur wholeheartedly with Rosalynde. And, Bill, I strongly doubt that any crime is committed by a parent penetrating the password-protected email account of his child.

  11. Bill on May 6, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    gst –

    I can think of few spectacles more unseemly than a parent reduced to spying on a child. This would become necessary more likely than not because of a previous period of neglect. That’s why my lame little joke about the FBI wasn’t referring to any possible crime by the parent (not knowing the law, I have no idea what sorts of invasion of privacy would qualify as such), but to the newly expanded powers of that agency to listen in everywhere in the hopes of preempting something destructive.

  12. Eric James Stone on May 6, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    Of course the teenager has no expectation of privacy with regard to the contents of an online journal that can be read by anyone.

    However, there may be an expectation of anonymity. While her friends may know that she is the one writing as “itsme23456,” she may not expect her parents to know.

    That said, I don’t think the father did anything wrong in reading it.

  13. Jonathan Green on May 6, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    Shouldn’t the first step be to ask the daughter something like, “You sure spend a lot of time reading LiveJournal. Are you keeping a journal there yourself? If I run across it sometime, would you mind if I read it?” Whatever the response, it lets her know that what she writes is available to anyone on the Internet. If she asks her father not to read it, he should respect her wishes–barring an extremely good reason to the contrary–for the simple reason that it’s better to trust one’s child than not to.

    Rosalynde, teenagers may not have a legal right to privacy, but they need privacy nonetheless and will create a sphere of privacy if they have to. My seven-year old already has a sense for what he’s going to tell me about his day at school, and what he’s just going to “forget,” whatever I may want to know about it. By the time he’s a teenager, that internal sense of privacy will expand to include books he reads and things he owns, if he’s like I was. Searching your kid’s room and reading his or her journal is a good way to destroy any trust he or she has in you. It’s a high price to pay, so whatever you find had better be worth it. (Drugs? Yes. Late-career Heinlein? No.) Please, teach your kids to make their own beds, because some things really are none of your business, even as their mother.

  14. Jordan on May 6, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    There was an article just the other day in the Dallas Morning News about the danger of teenager journal blogs.

    Here was the lead-in:

    No longer are the most personal of thoughts scrawled in diaries kept under lock and key and hidden under a mattress. The musings are now on Internet blogs and blog host sites such as xanga.com for everyone to see, including – some fear – child predators who can use teens’ intimate thoughts against them.

    It was on the cover of the May 4, 2005 Dallas Morning News. I would say that a parent ought not to only read it for their child’s safety, but to tactfully let the child know how dangerous it is to keep an online journal.

  15. gst on May 6, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    My wholehearted concurrence with Rosalynde includes concurring with this sentence: “A wise parent will probably allow the child some forms of privacy, but I don’t think it need be absolute or sacred.”

    To the extent that intra-family privacy fetishists believe that by maintaining “open lines of communication” with their kids that those kids will tell them when they’re about to go over the edge, I think they’re deluded.

  16. Bryce I on May 6, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    I agree that if the journal is public, then there’s nothing wrong with the parent reading it. I agree with the ‘teenagers need private spaces’ crowd as well.

    I also think that your friend should probably talk to his daughter about it openly. Most of us understand that online we present versions of ourselves that are not necessarily accurate reflections of what others might call objective reality. I can imagine a situation where the daughter is trying a persona on for size, and the father misinterprets what he reads (without his daughter’s knowledge).

    At any rate, kids (and adults) need to be taught to think about the possible consequences of airing thoughts, opinions, and ideas publicly. Otherwise, they may end up like the stupid commenters on this thread, complaining how their privacy is being compromised, at the same time posting their personal information on a public forum (link from TOTAL Nathan’s blog)

  17. John Morley on May 6, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    There are two questions: First, is the journal private, and second, if the journal is private, is it ethically wrong for a parent to to read it? As everyone’s answers demonstrate, the first question is easy: clearly, this particular journal wasn’t private. Let’s imagine, then, a harder scenario to get at the second question: What if it was a diary, handwritten in a book, that a parent found hidden in the teenager’s room?

    I agree with Rosalynde here: a teenager has no “right” to privacy. In response, Bill points out that looking at a private journal might do more harm than good to a teen. In many (perhaps most) cases this will undoubtedly be true. But in other cases, parental intrusions might benefit everybody.

    The problem with taking Bill’s next step and assigning teenagers a “right” to privacy is that it would make teens’ privacy inviolable in ALL cases, even the ones where intrusion benefits everybody. At the very least, a “right” to privacy would make a parent’s decision revolve around respect for a teen’s autonomy and freedom of choice, rather than the teen’s welfare. I think, though, that situational and instrumental concerns about a teen’s welfare ought to trump. A parent should sensitively consider the teen’s reaction and the likely effect of the intrusion, not the teen’s autonomy.

  18. Kingsley on May 6, 2005 at 5:39 pm

    Let me say, as a former teenager whose parents not only read his journals but overreactively took them to a psychologist, that the idea of a teenager not having “any right to privacy” seems naïve at the least, perverse at the worst. If you’ve got to raid a person’s diary in order to communicate with them, you’ve obviously screwed up the trust issue badly somewhere along the line; another sweaty blunder isn’t going to fix things. Teenagers sloppily spill their sloppy souls into diaries, they exaggerate, vent, weep & wail, moan & groan, sigh, curse, lie, write bad poetry, & so forth. The diary is a sort of Holy of Holies where all their unholiness can come out. They can be naked there. When a parent forces the lock to that place, lumbering in on their too-big feet, the feeling for the teenager is not unlike that of being looked at naked by uninvited eyes. Big, big mistake. A parent looking into a teenager’s diary for answers will only find angst (creating a lot more of it in the meantime).

    When does a child’s “right to privacy” begin, anyhow?

  19. Daylan Darby on May 6, 2005 at 5:45 pm

    In my house the kids have to ask me to put a URL on the ‘permitted’ list. I allowed livejournal for a while. It is now no longer on the permitted list.

  20. NFlanders on May 6, 2005 at 5:58 pm

    Add me to the group that thinks reading your kid’s diary is a bad idea. Most teenagers already have issues with their parents; reading something so private is a good way to completely lose their trust and make them uncomfortable in the one place that should be a haven to them.

    I wrote some pretty scary things in my teenage (and even mission) journals. I was able to be both brutally honest and totally over-the-top outrageous precisely because I knew no one would ever see them. I think it’s important that kids have a totally safe place to explore what they’re feeling, and snooping around will force them to hide it within themselves.

    I would say that your friend should not read his daughter’s diary. The only way he found it was by going through the browser history, so I would say it’s not public information. If his daughter was saying the same things to her friends over the phone lines, I don’t think anyone would advocate tapping the line. Sure, it’s on the internet for anyone to see, but I doubt anyone besides her friends are reading.

    Give your kids some space. They just might surprise you and turn out normal.

  21. Kingsley on May 6, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    Amen, NFlanders. I like the telephone analogy. Parents who read a child’s journal should think of themselves as the mysterious, creepy, heavy breathing of an an invisible third party to a two-party conversation.

  22. Katie on May 6, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    I’d also like to concur with those who have argued that the parental reading of a diary is a bad idea. When I became interest in the church at the tender age of 16, my Catholic parents flipped their wig. They ended up reading my journal and I found out. Their excuse was that they needed more information on how to protect me from the cult and snatch me back to sanity. That breach of privacy absolutely devastated what was at the time an already fragile relationship. It took a long time for me to trust them again and only exacerbated the tense situation. As has been mentioned, teenagers are prone to hyperbole and wacky emotions which they pour forth into their journal. My parents, not understanding the church, took many of my entries the wrong way, and my diary made it seem as though my new faith was even worse than it was. Teenagers may not have a right to privacy but the wise parent will give them that privilege.

  23. Katie on May 6, 2005 at 6:49 pm

    …come to think of it, I have never heard a story of a parent reading a teenager’s diary that turned out well. Anyone have one to share?

  24. AMW on May 6, 2005 at 6:52 pm

    Our daughter kept online journals for most of her high school experience. She learned the hard way about the pitfalls of keeping a journal on the Internet (or Web, I can’t remember the distinction) when some kids at school found out the name of her online journal, read it and ridiculed her. Now she has a “friends only” spot on livejournal.

    I think I weigh in on the side of the folks who advocate for treating these — and hard copy journals –as private documents. I was certainly very eager to read my daughter’s online journal and asked her if she’d give me access, which she did. There were many times, particularly during her senior year and her first year of college, when it was the best way to know and understand what she was feeling. We’ve had good discussions with her about some of her entries and believe they gave us important insights into how she was processing the changes she was experiencing.

  25. Timotheus on May 6, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    I think looking at her internet history is probably more problematic for me. There can’t really be any expectation of privacy for things you are publishing over the internet. Who would put anything online that they didn’t think others might see. I just looked at a bunch of the random journals on there and I agree they are just individual web logs.

    Anyway, it is probably important that you establish some understanding with your children about the degree of privacy they can and cannot expect when using the internet. Sort of like posting a “This dressing room is monitored by live video surveillance” in the store. I personally don’t think they should have much privacy, if anything at all, but it should be talked about nonetheless so that they know what to expect (like that you will be looking at their browser history).

  26. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 6, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    a story of a parent reading a teenager’s diary that turned out well. yes, and a suicide was averted.

    But, most live journal types actually expect some privacy, even without an expectation of it. Consider all the blow-ups that have occured because of foolish mistakes people have made about their posts.

    ….

  27. Abner Doon on May 6, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    I’m amazed that some parents actually think teens don’t need or deserve the privacy of their bedroom or personal writings. No matter how wonderful or horrid you think your kid is, give them the benefit of the doubt. They desperately need a safe space where mommy and daddy aren’t watching, disapproving, or judging.

    But, like everyone else has said, a LiveJournal probably doesn’t fit the category of personal space, it still wouldn’t hurt to simply ask first.

  28. Carleh on May 6, 2005 at 7:25 pm

    Two experiences about reading journals:
    1.) Once, when I was in the midst of a gloomy stage of life, I wrote a journal entry in green pen expressing my loneliness and depression. I deliberately left it out on my desk only slightly tucked under some papers in the hopes that my mom would read it. I don’t know if she ever did, but sometime after that, I did go through some therapy. Not for very long, and not very effectively, but it could have been a response to my desperation. This is a bit melodramatic, and I was in fourth grade, so it perhaps isn’t appplicable here. But still, I WANTED somebody to penetrate my isolation. I don’t think it is so different for teenagers.
    2.) When I was a freshman in college, I read a bit of my roommate’s journal after she had casually left it on her bed. From her journal I learned some troubling things about her past, and I was able to guide her to further help. Of course, I don’t feel proud of having read her journal; I felt very, very guilty about it, and she later found out (ironically by reading MY journal, where I had written about it), which was very messy, but we’re friends now. Good friends. Moral of the story: you can break someone’s privacy and still mend the relationship. If I were to live those weeks over again, though, I might have read her journal, but maybe not. I don’t know. The act itself was disingenuous and even hurtful, but the outcome was so positive that I think any damage was wiped away (of course, I had no way of knowing the situation would have turned out so fortunately). I certainly would have told her right away what I had found out rather than slyly getting her to confess something I already knew just so we could talk about it in the open.

    So, should we read journals? Only if you are sure that your heart is so full of love that you can take whatever pain might be in there, but I think talking is always a better way to go. Subterfuge is just so . . . guilty.

  29. Rosalynde Welch on May 6, 2005 at 8:45 pm

    Let me clarify: I don’t think a parent should assure a child that a given space or forum is private, and then sneakily penetrate to surveille and gain information. It seems to me that the best policy is Gordon’s: let the child understand that he or she has no absolute guarantee of privacy, but then wisely allow the child as much space as she seems to require and seems prudent. A parent ought never to taunt or threaten a child with an invasion of privacy–but a parent ought never taunt or threaten a child about anything.

    I suspect–and most of the comments here have borne this out–that for anyone who isn’t currently parenting a teenager, this question is mostly going to be good for reflecting the teenage experiences of the commenter himself. (And of course I’m included in this category, as someone who (deep down) appreciated and benefited from her parents’ close involvement in all regions of her life.)

  30. Carrie on May 6, 2005 at 9:23 pm

    It seems to me that a parent reading a child’s diary–online or off–had better be thick-skinned, because it’s entirely possible that the diary includes entries about how horrible, pathetic, stupid, ugly, cruel, ignorant, boring, and lame the parent is.

  31. EEIEinf on May 6, 2005 at 10:43 pm

    I’m high-school age and a lot of my friends maintain journals like these. I started one myself when we moved away; it’s not a bad way to keep in contact. I’m fairly confident that teenagers do not expect an unreasonable amount of privacy regarding online journals. They don’t post publically what they don’t want to be read. Most parents don’t read these journals and I think most kids would be a little surprised if they had found out that their’s had read there’s, but I don’t believe that it’d cause anything too cataclysmic. The very personal things are kept in passworded areas if they’re posted, but most people don’t bother with that. But, on the other hand, I’ve had peers that were grounded after their parents found their blogs, so yeah.

    I’m pretty grateful for the LiveJournals and Xangas of the world. I think they add an interesting dimension for teenagers of today. It’s your own space where you can spill your guts as much as you want to and if you aren’t extremely bland, a lot of people will read them and a few will post comments. That probably sounds familiar to you. It’s a good way to spread ideas between friends, a good catalyst for conversation, and it really helps you get to know each other. Maybe that’s a little funny to you guys, but I think it’s a blessing.

    And with respect to the privacy of teens, they deserve some. Admittedly, parents aren’t entirely obsolete by 15 or 16 or 17, but 15 and 16 and 17 year-olds are people too and they deserve respect just like any other person.

  32. EEIEinf on May 6, 2005 at 10:44 pm

    I’m high-school age and a lot of my friends maintain journals like these. I started one myself when we moved away; it’s not a bad way to keep in contact. I’m fairly confident that teenagers do not expect an unreasonable amount of privacy regarding online journals. They don’t post publically what they don’t want to be read. Most parents don’t read these journals and I think most kids would be a little surprised if they had found out that their’s had read there’s, but I don’t believe that it’d cause anything too cataclysmic. The very personal things are kept in passworded areas if they’re posted, but most people don’t bother with that. But, on the other hand, I’ve had peers that were grounded after their parents found their blogs, so yeah.

    I’m pretty grateful for the LiveJournals and Xangas of the world. I think they add an interesting dimension for teenagers of today. It’s your own space where you can spill your guts as much as you want to and if you aren’t extremely bland, a lot of people will read them and a few will post comments. That probably sounds familiar to you. It’s a good way to spread ideas between friends, a good catalyst for conversation, and it really helps you get to know each other. Maybe that’s a little funny to you guys, but I think it’s a blessing.

    And with respect to the privacy of teens, they deserve some. Admittedly, parents aren’t entirely obsolete by 15 or 16 or 17, but 15 and 16 and 17 year-olds are people too and they deserve respect just like any other person.

  33. EEIEinf on May 6, 2005 at 10:44 pm

    I’m high-school age and a lot of my friends maintain journals like these. I started one myself when we moved away; it’s not a bad way to keep in contact. I’m fairly confident that teenagers do not expect an unreasonable amount of privacy regarding online journals. They don’t post publically what they don’t want to be read. Most parents don’t read these journals and I think most kids would be a little surprised if they had found out that their’s had read there’s, but I don’t believe that it’d cause anything too cataclysmic. The very personal things are kept in passworded areas if they’re posted, but most people don’t bother with that. But, on the other hand, I’ve had peers that were grounded after their parents found their blogs, so yeah.

    I’m pretty grateful for the LiveJournals and Xangas of the world. I think they add an interesting dimension for teenagers of today. It’s your own space where you can spill your guts as much as you want to and if you aren’t extremely bland, a lot of people will read them and a few will post comments. That probably sounds familiar to you. It’s a good way to spread ideas between friends, a good catalyst for conversation, and it really helps you get to know each other. Maybe that’s a little funny to you guys, but I think it’s a blessing.

    And with respect to the privacy of teens, they deserve some. Admittedly, parents aren’t entirely obsolete by 15 or 16 or 17, but 15 and 16 and 17 year-olds are people too and they deserve respect just like any other person.

  34. Will F on May 6, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    In response to Kaimi’s comment 5/6/2005 : 1:11 pm (#9)

    >DON’T assume that no one will see it if you don’t publicize the URL

    This is also true because of search engine referals. People will also find your website by typing a few of words into Google that happen to coincide with one of your posts. On my now password-protected “daddy blog” about my family it seemed that most people who visited stumbled onto it when searching. With a referal tracking tool like sitemeter (used by T&S at the bottom of the right column) you can see the search terms people are using that direct them to your blog.

    On mine I noticed some spooky searches –for example, many had been searching for my daughter’s first name and then visiting my blog. Why? I found out that there is some strange model out there who also goes by my daughter’s unusual name. I realized that I have no idea what these people are like, and yet they are reading about my family.

    I also began thinking about how we cannot predict the future effects of putting information about ourselves online. Even when you delete information, I think you can count on it being cached somewhere. I felt more and more uneasy about writing about my family online, and opted to put my blog behind a password.

    Another factor was reading Kid’s, blogs and too much information, an article on MSNBC that is worth reading and relevant to this discussion.

  35. Ann on May 6, 2005 at 11:29 pm

    My blog is more of an online journal, but I never put anything there that I don’t think is suitable for public consumption.

    If Gordon’s daughter wants him to stay out of her livejournal, she can make it friends only or private. Without that, she is writing in a public space, and she probably knows that.

  36. Kevin Barney on May 6, 2005 at 11:37 pm

    Here’s a TV example of parental diary snooping that ended up in a good way, sort of. We have Freaks and Geeks on DVD, and I recently saw again an episode where the parents find out that their daughter (a former mathlete who is now hanging out with the “freaks” crowd at school) has a friend who does drugs and has sex. So they forbid her to be friends with this girl anymore, which causes tension between the two teenagers.

    Worried that their own daughter might be into this stuff, at the father’s insistence they go into her room while she’s not home and read her diary.

    No sex and drugs, but there is an entry that is pretty harsh towards her parents, about how boring they are, and her mom fixes basically the same dinner every night, and when did they get so old, and so forth.

    The mom takes this to heart, and tries to change things up. She cooks cornish game hens for dinner, which the Father and son ridicule, thus sending the mother to her room in tears.

    The parents then have a talk. The father explains that he likes pot roast, and there’s nothing wrong with having pot roast or chicken for dinner a lot. He talks about how much he really appreciates her, and everything he does at the sporting goods store he owns he does with her in mind. So they make up–in a physical way–in their bedroom during the day.

    Meanwhile, the kids come home from school, including the daughter and her friend (she has decided to support her friend and brave her parents’ wrath by introducing her). The kids all hear what is going on in the bedroom to a range of reactions (including one “Eeeewww”). When the parents emerge, they’re in a terrific mood, and happily meet the girl they dissed before, give the kids money for pizza, and reenter the bedroom for round two. The visiting girl says in an aghast tone “your parents are swingers!”

    So, in a roundabout way, there is a diary snooping story that had a happy ending.

  37. John Morley on May 7, 2005 at 3:30 am

    Re: Kingsley, #18. I agree. Most of the time looking at a diary is a really dumb thing for parents to do. But what if you had good reason to suspect your teen was into drugs or sex or thinking seriously about suicide and you came across an open journal? Do you read it? A “right” to privacy says no. I say yes.

    Where does the right to privacy begin and end? At the same places as the teen’s best interests, as considered very sensitively by parents.

  38. John Morley on May 7, 2005 at 3:35 am

    Amendment: I say “probably yes” to my hypothetical, if there’s no more direct way to find out what’s going on and no unusually compelling reason not to read the diary.

  39. John H on May 7, 2005 at 10:28 am

    I’ll happily throw my hat in with Kingsley on this one. If someone says their kids don’t get any privacy, then I’m frankly suspicious of their parenting skills.

    My own mother had a terrible temper growing up. I wasn’t about to tell her a damn thing. I lived in fear she would react badly or mock me if I shared something with her. I never did drugs, never had sex, never ditched school or cheated or took crazy road trips, etc. There would have been nothing for her to find out. If she had read my journal (not that I was good at keeping one), it only would have solidified my feelings that I can’t trust *her*.

    My wife had the same experience. She was even more of a teenage prude than me. She knew her mom read her diary, and it just made her feel like she couldn’t trust her. And her mom wonders why her sister could talk to her but my wife couldn’t.

    If parents feel like they can’t trust their kids, they may want to take a good look in the mirror and find out why that is, and what they’ve done to ruin their child’s trust to the point they have to sneak around to find out what they’ve done.

    Hey, I get that I probably sound naive. I know there are situations where even the best parents have children doing drugs, or possibly worse. There are other ways to find out and other ways to get involved.

  40. norm on May 7, 2005 at 12:57 pm

    right to privacy or not, you just shouldn’t snoop in someone’s journal. shame on anyone who thinks otherwise.

    oh, and livejournal, xanga, blog, etc… are not necessarily ‘public’ journals, as someone claims. true, they may be accessible by anyone who can figure out the URL. but, most are not linked to anything, and are not searchable (you can decide whether to allow your blog/xanga/LJ to show up on searches at each of those sites etc.)

    even if they are linked to, or searchable: aren’t you better off asking for permission first? if she’s okay with you reading, she’ll tell you. and if she’s not, then it’s her journal, and you should respect that.

    My experience was similar to John H.

  41. Timotheus on May 7, 2005 at 1:18 pm

    It seems to me that Gordon’s friend probably recognized that his daughter would feel betrayed, else, why worry about it? Which basically tells me there was some breach of an expected privacy. I think it may come down to the stealth investigation personally. People generally don’t like other people snooping around their stuff. Anyway, maybe we should be asking what a parent should do when they have blown it, rather than commenting on whether this is right or not. The problem I have with reading it, when they don’ expect you to, is the potential it has to damage the relationship. I do think a parent has the right to know. I just think sneaking around can be a distrustful way to find things out. Do people talk to their kids anymore?

  42. Dan Barnes on May 8, 2005 at 5:39 am

    Right to privacy begins when they show they can handle life. A parent is a fool who doesn’t use every tool in the bag to try to figure out what is happening in their child’s life. Some people had perfect parents who kept the lines of communication open at all times, others had REAL parents who did their best.

    My own children’s jouranals pointed out some scary issues going on and helped us deal with them.

    By the way, a parent is a dope who begins the conversation with “I was reading in your journal that….”.

  43. John H on May 8, 2005 at 10:57 am

    Dan Barnes:

    You said, “A parent is a fool who doesn’t use every tool in the bag to try to figure out what is happening in their child’s life.”

    I’d disagree. If it does more harm than good, which is often the case, then a parent is a fool if they think their child, an independent person, has no right to privacy or their own life just because they happen to be young and they happen to be your child. Even children are people who deserve this one right – even if it does harm.

    If a parent needs to stoop so low as to snoop around, then again, they might ask what steps they took to get to the point where they have to sneak around behind their child’s back.

    Children act like children because we treat them like children. Stupid comments about how teenagers think they know everything and an attitude that they’re just dumb kids we need to constantly watch just excacerbates the problem. More than likely, we’re the problem. They’re just discovering who they are and what they believe. We belittle them by insisting they still don’t know anything. But it’s our insecurity – we can’t handle the fact that our children are growing up, disagreeing with us, and moving in their own direction.

    I think spying on your child is a band-aid solution. Sure, you might learn about some problems and you might even be able to solve them – for the time being. But you haven’t taught anyone personal responsibility. Instead, you’ve taught them that *you* can’t be trusted and next time they’ll just do a better job of hiding things from you.

    You also said, “Right to privacy begins when they show they can handle life.”

    Wrong. There are plenty of adults who can’t handle life. They still get their privacy. A child’s private thoughts in a journal may be one of the few things they have. It’s such a tough time – being a kid sucks in so many ways. They may not be able to share everything with their friends, with their parents (and if a parent is spying on them, who can blame them!) or with teachers or siblings. They’ve got to have an outlet, and if you take away that one last place, no wonder they don’t turn out so well.

  44. Dan Barnes on May 8, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    Yep, my kids are a bunch of losers. 4 for 4 sons on misisons, daughter converted her husband married in the temple. Two finishing PHD’s (UCSD and Harvard), you’re right they just didn’t turn out well.

  45. John H on May 8, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    Nobody meant anything personally here, Dan. Relax.

  46. Rosalynde on May 8, 2005 at 4:25 pm

    Dan, you must be the father of Levi Barnes. We knew Liberty and Levi at UCSD. Say hi to them and your cute grandbabies from me! (Better yet, point them toward T&S!)

  47. annegb on May 8, 2005 at 5:37 pm

    My children kept little journals from the time I had to write them as they dictated them. They are really precious to us, now. I kept a journal for a year when I had to live with another family, I wish I had it, to see what I was like, then.

    But…I feel guilty about it, but I have read my daughter’s journal. I’ve never regretted it. I’ve never read anything terrible in it, but sometimes I’ve read things that made me more sensitive to her or I would approach a subject or reach out to her more. But if I had read something awful, what a dilemma.

  48. Sheri Lynn on May 8, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    There can’t possibly be one answer to this question. It’s a YMMV thing, and critical enough that being wrong either way could permanently ruin a relationship. Sometimes trying to save a life in the balance outweighs that risk.

  49. Steve Evans on May 8, 2005 at 6:44 pm

    Apparently there is one single answer to the scenario, after all: here.

  50. Dan Barnes on May 8, 2005 at 8:03 pm

    John writes

    “and if you take away that one last place, no wonder they don’t turn out so well.” Just who’s kids were you referring too?

    Yo’ John, that did seem a little personal. But what do I know?

  51. John H on May 8, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    “Yo’ John, that did seem a little personal. But what do I know?”

    Again, not my intention. I was referring generally to those parents (and I and apparently others have been there) who don’t trust their kids, and then wonder why they don’t have a great relationship with them.

    When you first posted, you said “A parent is a fool who doesn’t use every tool in the bag to try to figure out what is happening in their child’s life.” I didn’t assume you were calling me a fool, even though I’m a parent who doesn’t intend (at least at this point) to use every tool to find out what’s going on. I could have taken it as an insult, but instead assumed you were speaking generally.

    Of course, you could have been calling me a fool. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it wouldn’t necessarily be without merit :)

  52. John H on May 8, 2005 at 8:30 pm

    Sorry, it wouldn’t be the first time someone (not you, Dan) called me a fool. Could I be any less clear in my posts?

  53. Jonathan Green on May 8, 2005 at 9:50 pm

    Dan Barnes, in #42 you argue for the legitimacy of snooping in one’s childrens’ journals, and as a rebuttal in #44 to John H, you present your four children who have turned out well. Does it follow then that you have read your teenage childrens’ journals? If you didn’t, how well they turned out is irrelevant. If you did snoop, when did you tell them about it? What was their reaction? If you haven’t told them yet, I can’t wait until you or someone else points them to T&S…

  54. Steve Evans on May 8, 2005 at 10:19 pm

    JG, I am tired of you stealing my snark thunder! I was typing something similar just as you posted. bravissimo!

  55. JKS on May 8, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    I don’t believe my parents read my journal. I am glad they didn’t. My mother did at one point read one of my brother’s journal because she was very concerned about him. It led to some decisions my parents made to try to help him. They later (a few years) apologized to him about invading his privacy but he said he didn’t mind because it enabled them to help him during a rough time.
    My sister read my journal in high school because she was mad at me. She read something (my friend had an abortion) that made her very upset and regret reading. She apologized.
    I wrote in my journal as a private outlet. If I thought my mother would come in and read it whenever she wanted to I would consider that very controlling.

    I personally will never read my children’s journal unless I have serious concerns about their welfare. I wouldn’t snoop in their stuff unless I was very concerned about them and needed to search for drugs or something.

    An online journal is different. I would ask permission, though, because if I am reading it out of curiosity and not saying anything I would consider it dishonest and deceitful.

  56. Dan Barnes on May 8, 2005 at 11:08 pm

    Does it follow then that you have read your teenage childrens’ journals?

    Not just journals, notes from classmates, girls, etc. They did NOT turn out well because of anything in particular we did, they came to us “well”. But, I have several instances when a parent forewarned was a good thing.

    If you didn’t, how well they turned out is irrelevant. If you did snoop, when did you tell them about it? What was their reaction?

    They know about it. Geez, they have kids of their own and we’ve told them that all’s fair in parenting, because the other side is pulling out all the stops. What was their reaction? A good laugh mostly. What do you think their reaction would be?

    If you haven’t told them yet, I can’t wait until you or someone else points them to T&S…

    In fact, I’ve pointed them to T&S. Were you guys the ultra-senstive teenagers or something? Kind of the spooky poet types?

  57. Jonathan Green on May 9, 2005 at 8:47 am

    Dan, on the one hand, I’m glad you told your kids about reading their journals (but was this advance warning, or the day of the deed, or a decade later?) and that things have worked out well in your family. On the other hand, it’s kind of too bad, because I think an anguished and acrimonious debate between a parent and his children occupying comments #57-75 could have been amusing to read.

    You ask: “Were you guys the ultra-senstive teenagers or something? Kind of the spooky poet types?” I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say here, or how it’s relevant, but it’s a dismissive and demeaning way to refer to teenagers, and an odd way to trawl for credibility with an audience whose teenage years you know nothing about.

  58. Dan Barnes on May 9, 2005 at 9:12 am

    Fair comment, John, let me ask another question, which may be more relevant. How old are your children?

  59. annegb on May 9, 2005 at 9:15 am

    As I was reading over the posts on this subject, I remembered something that happened my Sophomore year of high school. I had been sent to live with an aunt and uncle. It was one of the most miserable years of my life. I missed my sisters terribly, no one else, but I hated to be seperated from them, and my aunt and uncle, while trying hard, were not kind.

    I kept a journal which I wrote in every day, noting how many months, weeks, days, hours, and seconds I had till I got to go home. Home was with my grandma and my sisters in a tiny little dirt town in Nevada. I also complained about the lack of fairness in the home situation and my aunt’s laziness.

    One day, she was taking me somewhere and she said, “you talked in your sleep last night. You said you had to do all the housework and that I was fat and lazy.” I was silent for a few minutes, then I said, “I did not talk in my sleep. You read my diary.” Nothing more was said that day, later we sort of talked things out, but I never took back what I wrote (to this day I know it was true), and finally I got to go home, only to be removed to foster care later.

    I did feel betrayed in a singular way, like she had broken some awful rule. Now, if she, like I did with my daughter, had just asked, “do you feel the work load is unfair? How can we do things differently? We care about you.” and listened, as I do to my daughter, maybe it would have been okay. I didn’t need to know she read my diary, I needed things to be different. She just needed to confront me. She didn’t care if I was unhappy.

    So, I feel justified because I used it to help my daughter. It wasn’t a consistent thing, but from time to time she left her diary around, out, and would write something like, “I wish my mom would take some time with me.” I figured she was just finding a different way to communicate. And I took time with her. My aunt had to dig to find my diary and nothing changed. Except they were harder on me.

    I didn’t mean to make this as long as I have, but I think in every thing, in every situation, it depends on motive–and how you handle it.

  60. Bill on May 9, 2005 at 10:46 am

    Dan,

    It isn’t more relevant.

  61. Dan Barnes on May 9, 2005 at 10:57 am

    I’m betting your reaction to reading your childs journal’s etc, is directly affected by your experience with teenagers.

    Now I’m dying to know, how old are your children? Bill? John? Jon?

  62. Steve Evans on May 9, 2005 at 11:08 am

    Dan, let it go, man.

  63. Jonathan Green on May 9, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Bill, I agree, but I’m indulgent.

    Dan, my kids range from 17 to 68, but mostly 18-20. A good number of them are carrying a lot of baggage left over from high school by the time they get to my classroom, particularly the ones sensitive enough to recognize how much it sucks to be a teenager, and I wish more people would cut them some slack, especially the “spooky poets.” It would make their lives and my job much simpler.

    Oh, you mean my family? My children range from 0-7. I’ll count myself lucky if I have as much success with them serving missions and marrying in the temple as you’ve had.

  64. Jonathan Green on May 9, 2005 at 11:28 am

    And Dan, some people who have teenage children will agree with you. Some won’t, and that does not make those parents foolish. See Annegb’s contribution just above; it’s one of the better comments here, and she’s had a good amount of experience with teenagers.

  65. what if i die here on May 9, 2005 at 3:14 pm

    If I was a school administrator, I think I’d read the journals online. This is a different question then the parents clearly, as administrators will not normally try to fix their student’s non-academic problems unless they’re pals. I know a lot of you guys are in education fields (mostly college, but I’d still like to know your perspective on this), and online journals are good ways to see how the kids are dealing with school and all of that. It could even be used in dispute resolution, specifically between teacher and student, because kids are generally much more honest in their internet diaries than they are while a principal is interrogating them.

    I think that’d be really tricky. I hope someone else has thought of it, that would be so tricky.

    Any opinions on the morality of this or other similar situations? Forgive me for derailing the fight with Dan Barnes, but this is fun too, I think.

  66. candace on May 10, 2005 at 2:36 pm

    I learned the hard way…reading my daughter’s online journal gave me access to her buddies’ journals as well. I located my neice’s and didn’t think I was invading any privacy. Wish I hadn’t read it. It was filled with hatered for my daughter and myself. All these years I’d thought we were a close family, only to find I was wrong. I confronted my brother. Thought he should know if someone as computer illiterate as I could find this, so could anyone – - especially my daughter. Long story short: the family believes I had no business reading it. Here I thought I’d possibily receive an apology, instead I received a brokenheart and cold shoulder.

  67. A. Greenwood on May 13, 2005 at 12:12 pm

    Teenagers need the _illusion_ of privacy.
    Parents need to know what’s going on in their children’s lives.
    But the illusion should only be shattered in extreme cases. ‘I’m so excited, Hitler’s Birthday is coming up, I’ve got the guns, they’ll never know what hit them”? Yes. “I hate my parents, my bishop, my friends, I don’t fit in anywhere, I don’t think I have a testimony, people who say they have a testimony are probably just making it up”? No.