Are Children Entitled To Privacy?


     Have you ever had someone completely invade your privacy?  Well I certainly have…  I can still remember what happened as if it were yesterday.  There were so many emotions that I experienced at the same time including resentment, anger, embarrassment, and betrayal.  Unfortunately, it was my very own mother who invaded my privacy all of those years ago and it set the precedent for all future conversations and interactions that I had with her during my adolescence. 

    It all began when I received my “Snoopy” diary for Christmas.  My Grandmother knew how much I loved to write, even as a young girl, so she bought me a diary as one of my Christmas presents that year.  As I held it in my hands for the first time, I examined the bright red cover with the image of Snoopy on it and I especially checked out the little lock on the binding of the book that was meant to deter the nosy little minions.  In retrospect, I should have realized that this was the beginning of the end because there was no way that a cheap little lock could keep prying eyes out in my house. 

    So what did I do with my shiny new diary?  I wrote in it just about every single day and I divulged all of the things that I did not want my Mother to know about including the boy that I was in love with in my class and all of the things that my elementary school friends and I spoke about during recess and any other time that we had a chance to socialize in school.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that anyone would actually and deliberately read the pages of this book that were so clearly marked “private” on the front cover.  I suppose in my young and naive mind I figured that nobody would even care to read what was so clearly important to only me.  Boy, was I wrong…

    Apparently, my Mother did not think that I had any right to privacy and she read my diary while I was in school one day.  I can still remember the look on her face when I was dismissed from school that day.  At that moment, it appeared to be a smug look because she had managed to show me who was in charge by invading whatever little bit of personal space I had as a 10 year old girl.  She went on to tell me that I was too young to worry about boys and to share with me her thoughts and feelings on all of the things that I had written in my private journal.  I didn’t care what she was saying because, all I could think about was the fact that I could not trust her ever again.  Sure, you might think that this is an exaggeration, however, many of the experiences that we have in our childhood dictate the parameters of the relationships that we have with our parents in the long term…

    Now that I am a parent, I am extremely cautious about respecting my children’s privacy.  Obviously, there is not much to consider at this point because they are only four and seven years old.  Many of you will probably say that this will change when they become teenagers and they are a lot more secretive about what they are doing in school and with their friends.  Although I agree that parents should be vigilant of what their children are doing, I do not condone invading their privacy to the degree that you rummage through their things and read their private writing.  I mean, what kind of lessons are you teaching them about respecting the privacy of others when you cannot model respecting their privacy?

    So how do we, as parents, find the balance between supervising our children’s activities and suffocating them by not giving them any space or privacy?  It seems that most parents end up going to the extreme, either giving their children too much freedom and not parenting them enough or not giving their children any freedom and parenting them too much.  I believe that it is important to know what is going on with your children but not at the expense of stifling them from developing into individuals.  If we don’t allow our children to have some expectation of privacy, they will not trust us when the time comes that they need to confide in us or look to us for guidance. 

    My Mother was never very respectful of my privacy as I was growing up.  The result was that I hid a lot of things from her, especially during my adolescent years, because I did not trust her to react positively or to be supportive.  Although I have learned over the years that I could count on her during the rough patches, the fact that she never trusted me to make the right decisions definitely had a negative influence on the way that we interacted and communicated as mother and daughter for many years to come.  The lesson to be learned here is that we should trust our children until they give us a reason not to do so.  Trusting them means not rummaging through their writings and their possessions.  It means not expecting them to do their worst but hoping that they will do their best.  The end result will be a parent-child relationship full of good communication, mutual respect, and unconditional love and trust.

© 2010, Tough Cookie Mommy. All rights reserved.


  1. I can completely relate. My mother actually wasn’t all that interested in my life. However one week at my dads he lost a 20$ bill. I was 15 and my sister was 11. He gave us an opportunity to put it in his room or he would go through our room inch by inch (he is a retired police officer). Well neither my sister or I took the money and there had been no situations where we had demonstrated a behavior that we would steal or had. He went through all of our stuff. All of it (as I was 15 I had just started wearing “cute” under garmets), I was mortified. He didn’t find the money but he also didn’t apologize, he actiually said one of us just hid it so he was unable to find it.
    I was so upset. He didn’t trust us and didn’t have any respect for our privacy.
    Computers, phones, and such are subject to monitoring in our home however I will not read or go thru any of my childrens stuff without their knowledge and agreement (I say that because there are a few areas that they know will be monitored and it was the agreement up front before use, like Facebook).
    My ste daughter is going to be 22 years old and her mother used to (and still would if given an opportunity) pry and violate her privacy to find out information. I never did…the result is she still tells me everything on her own terms and we are very close. It didn’t turn out so well for her mom. So with that I will go since I commented about as much as your post. Sorry. 🙂

    • Heather, let me begin by saying that you are always welcome to come here and comment as much and as long as you like. I absolutely love all of your comments because they support the point exactly that I am trying to make. Children should expect a certain level of privacy when it comes to their writing and personal things. It is wonderful that you established all of the boundaries of monitoring with your children beforehand. We definitely have to monitor online activity due to all of the dangers involved with it. It is wonderful that you continue to have such a wonderful relationship with your Stepdaughter. It really goes to show that, if you maintain open communication and respect with your children, they will come to you and be open with you and you won’t have to be a snoop to find out what is going on in their life. Thank you so much for sharing all of your invaluable experience with me and with my readers.

  2. Great post! I don’t have kids, but I’m sure it’s a fine line between wanting to know what’s going on with your child and wanting to respect their privacy. I think you have to trust your kids until they give you a reason not to. I remember once as a teen finding out that my dad had read my diary and then mentioned things he read in it to my mom (she told me and didn’t act like he’d done anything wrong). Mind you, I was pretty much a model child so there was nothing shocking for them to find, but it still felt like such an invasion of privacy. It was bad enough they read it; but they had the nerve to let me know about it! Given that there wasn’t anything bad in there anyway, I think, had I been them, I would just have pretended it never happened. But no; I guess that was their way of letting me know I had no privacy? Annoying, frustrating, humiliating…Ugh!

    • Chela, that is exactly what upset me so much about my mother reading my diary. I was always a good girl and a good student so she had no reason to doubt me or to think that I was doing anything wrong. I wonder if they realized back then how much this invasion of our privacy affected us… The experience has definitely made me think twice about how I address the issue of my sons’ privacy.

  3. I’m not sure how I will handle my children’s right to privacy. Mainly because I was taught that as long as I lived in my mother’s house, I had no right to privacy. And I know that may sound bad, but I was the kid with no curfew because my mother knew she could trust me to make great decisions. I was the kid that begin taking public transportation in elementary school. She never had the time to rummage through my stuff, and I honestly don’t think she would if she had the time, lol!

    • Eleana, I agree with you that some areas can be a little difficult to address. I think that as long as parents and children maintain good communication regularly, these issues will work themselves out naturally. Unfortunately, my mother seemed to have plenty of time to rummage through my things. Lol

  4. I had the exact same diary experience as a child, and i had the same feelings of betrayal. For me, respect is a 2 way street. I want to treat my children well and i expect the same in return.

    • You are absolutely right, Kim. It is definitely a two way street. Long gone are the days of telling kids “Because I said so.” We have to communicate with our children and explain to them where we are coming from.

  5. WOW! I had very close to the same thing happen only my mom didn’t face me, she left me a note. Which was almost worse.

    Being a parent sure is hard. I think that as parents we have to do what is necessary to keep our kids safe. Even if that means invading privacy. Now, I do not agree with reading diary’s, or shuffling through drawers per se. Luckily my boys don’t keep diaries. LOL. I do, however, snag their cell phones every now and then with them standing there. It is a terrible feeling, but I owe it to them to watch out for their safety. And take every opportunity to teach them a lesson. And there have been times where they are texting with friends of friends of friends… It’s just not safe, there is no way to know who is really behind that phone number.

    All that said, I guess if you feel there is a safety reason to invade then by all means protect your child. But, if not allow your child some trust and give them an opportunity to build their confidence. That’s my two cents anyway.

    • Jill, I agree with you that you owe it to your kids to watch out for their safety. I’m more referring to invading their privacy with regards to their rooms and their things. Unfortunately, the same rules probably cannot apply to monitoring their internet use or their use of electronic devices because there are so many predators out there. It is important to pay attention and to be aware when the signs call for some serious intervention. Otherwise, it is important to establish trust and all of the privileges that having trust entails.

  6. Entitled or not, I would say that it is probably good for children’s mental health to know that that they have some control over their own environment, that there are boundaries for others as well as themselves, and that some things are “sacred.”

    Reading someone’s diary without their permission, no matter what their age, is uncivilized behavior. Just because children don’t have fully developed cognitive abilities and just because they aren’t old enough to pay the rent, doesn’t mean they don’t have rights. Kids have a right to dignity and privacy.

    • That is an excellent point that you bring up, Dane. Even if we don’t respect their privacy completely due to the fact that we have to snoop somewhat as their parents, it is important that we give them some sense of privacy when it comes to their personal space and things. We all deserve that dignity and consideration.

  7. I’m going to try to keep this short.. I tend to ramble. When I read your post I felt really sad! My mom only went through my things once in my life. She found cigarettes when I was about 16, but since she was a smoker herself all she said was “I wont support your habit!”. I think she should have been monitoring me closer though and maybe I wouldn’t have done so many bad things.. she’s still unaware of 99% of them to this day. I turned out good and I learned a lot of lessons but none of them involved her because she wasn’t really around or paying attention.

    Years later when my sister was a teenager she wasn’t paying attention either and when I tried to tell my mom that I had read something in my 14 yr old sisters diary (about her drinking/having sex) my mom got angry with me. Well, just a couple years later my sister started getting into much worse. I had tried to save her myself and treat her like she was my own kid.. and I actually had more rules for her than our own mom….. and had our mom not bribed her back home from my house with cars and money.. maybe this day my sister and I would still have a relationship.. but instead my sister fell headfirst into heavy heavy drug use.. she went to jail, she stole from her whole family, she hit my mom…. and she ruined the first Christmas my son had when she came around high… My mom’s reaction? always denial, disbelief or just plain claiming ignorance. When my mom called me crying once telling me stuff about my sister I went to their house, went into my sisters room, opened up the first drawer of her dresser and there was her drug paraphenalia (sp?) for all to see! I called the police and had them arrest my sister in order to save her life.

    Maybe if my mom had been a little bit more nosey instead of giving the benefit of the doubt she wouldn’t have been the biggest contributor to my sisters problems… at least that’s how I see it.

    So I’m all for monitoring children and looking through their things maybe occasionally.. not their diaries of course…and let me tell you.. when I think about things like this.. I’m really glad I have 2 boys!

    • Monica, your story is really sad. It is definitely an example of how too much freedom and trust can cause a bad situation. Don’t get me wrong, although I believe that children do deserve some expectation of privacy, it does not mean that I won’t step in and do what I have to do if I see that my boys are in trouble or making decisions that will be detrimental to them. I just think that there has to be some balance involved in how these issues are addressed.

  8. I think what your mother did is just horrible. I’d never do it, nor would anyone in my family, when I was growing up, or now, do such a thing. I think it’s disrespectful and it teaches kids they aren’t worty, of respect. It teaches children to be disrespectful. I think it’s sneaky. I think it’s crude. I think it shows a kid, as you said, that you have no trust in them and IMO that says a lot about a parent. Why did you raise a child you deem so untrustworthy?

    If you trust a child, they will be trustworthy, if you respect them, they will respect you, if you are open and honest with them, they will be open and honest with you, and if you don’t judge them, they won’t judge you.

    My theories have been proven. It’s how my parents were with us and how I was with mine. It’s how my sisters raised their kids too. The result is, some really awesome, respectful, mature, good kids.

    We never had to sneak, hide, lie, or keep things from my mom. I would come home and announce who I was in love with in 3rd grade. I informed my mom of everything, in fact we told her so much others were completely shocked when they’d hear it.

    I absolutely believe doing something like that can put a damper on a relationship forever.

    • Doreen, it is this two way street of mutual respect that sets the stage for a productive and loving parent-child relationship. I always love to hear from you because your kids are big and you can really see the fruits of your parenting in the way that they interact with you. It gives me hope that I will also have good relationships with my boys.

  9. Really interesting post TCM. Lots to think about here. I think Dane is right. We need to recognise a child’s right to privacy, but I also think we need to work on building those strong relationships with them that will allow them to share with us. Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro today. 🙂

  10. My dad did the same thing to me as a kid…my husband still doesn’t understand why I try so hard to protect my kid’s right to privacy. Guess you have to had it happen to you in order to get it.

    Surfin in from the Sunday Hop…come by Lucy’s when you get a chance.


  1. Maria says:

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  2. Chela says:

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  3. Maria says:

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