It is a question as old as… Well, as long as there have been teens. “When is it okay to skirt your child’s privacy in order to defend their safety?”
The answer to this question can be quite tricky; as the right answer might change depending on the mentality of your child, the relationship you have with them, and whether or not the privacy-infringement would create a better relationship, or a worse relationship between parents and teens. The best case scenario is to have an honest and trusting relationship with your teen; a relationship that is strong enough, and bound enough to allow for an honest conversation that will give you answers to the questions that you have.
For some parents, they simply aren’t confident enough, or don’t have a sufficient relationship with their child, and cannot bring themselves to ask questions about drug use, or don’t believe they will get honest answers. This gets into a very tough situation, as an answer to the questions must be found, for the child’s safety; however, this means that one must pry a bit into the privacy of that child in order to find the answers.
If the question is, “Are you using drugs?” Infringing on the teen’s privacy to find the answer would include searching through that teen’s room and personal belongings. Anyone who has had teenagers will concur that the room/personal belongings of a teenager are held very sacred. This is a time in a child’s life where they are beginning to take shape and become an adult. Having a room and personal belongings is taken very seriously by teenagers, as it is the one thing they can truly call their own. By invading the privacy of a teen in this way, you are infringing on a space that they hold very dear, and this act has the potential to either disrupt or completely destroy any sense of trust and privacy that they feel they have. What this can result in is the polar-magnet effect, where the teen recedes away from any relationship with his/her parents and loses any lifesaving connections that they may have once had.
Recently in the news, was the story of a mother in Houston, TX that went as far as to hire a drug-sniffing dog to search her house for drugs. Marijuana was found, and the mother confronted her daughter. Though the daughter who had hidden the drugs was bitter at the invasion of privacy, the subsequent conversations between mother and daughter led to an even better relationship, and the daughter stayed away from drugs afterward. In this case, though the technique was extreme, the invasion of privacy ended up being a very good decision and resulted in a stronger parent-child relationship.
In other cases, the invasion of privacy does not turn out so well. Illicit drug use has increased since the late 1950s; so too have the statistics for teenage runaways. 9 times out of 10, teenagers run away from home due to a negative relationship with their parents. Often times, the reason for the negative relationship is a lack of privacy, trust, or perceived respect. This is important to remember, because it is another possible outcome of skirting a teen’s privacy. Whether or not your teen is actually using drugs, the privacy infringement may be more damaging to the teen’s psyche than the risk of danger.
Mental health experts now say that privacy is a big factor in the mental health of a teenager. A teen’s body is awkward, changing, and they are struggling with the development of social skills. This means that they are – for lack of a better word – a mess! A bit of privacy is essential to teen’s mental health, as it is one of the few outlets they have in this awkward time. This being said, even a small amount of damage to their sense of privacy can cause distress and create more advanced psychological issues and issues with trust.
As you can see, there is a wide spectrum of outcomes that come with the decision to investigate into your teen’s privacy. Mental health experts suggest that if you are expecting drug use in your child, to weigh your options heavily, and to try and ask the questions naturally, openly, and honestly. Counselors, mental health professionals, and even drug counselors are available to mediate or even guide conversations between a parent and child; by employing the help of a medical professional, there is a bit more hope of handling the situation effectively and safely, without having to go beyond your boundaries. These professionals are also well equipped to weigh all of the findings of evaluation, and – should the teen actually be engaging in the use of drugs – can decide whether or not the child is in need of treatment through inpatient drug rehab centers. This will make sure that your child is safe, you – as a parent – have peace of mind, and the relationship between parent and child is in-tact.