Teen's Journal: Off Limits or Not???
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Teen's Journal: Off Limits or Not???
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Its important to have a place in a life that is private for children
A journal, a bedroom, a desk, a chair, a place in the park, a
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
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
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
2. How would he feel if you looked at his private journal without
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.
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
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.
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.
this page was last updated: Dec 12, 2011
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