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Under Surveillance

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Fuzzy Privacy
Laurence Steinberg, author of The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting, defines healthy intrafamily snooping.
By Arianne Cohen

Are the following acceptable or deplorable: Cell-phone-log checking?
Not okay.

Reading your husband’s e-mail?
That’s crossing a line in a bad way.

Web-history checking?
You shouldn’t be looking.

Can parents go through their child’s belongings or computer?
Not unless you think the child is in trouble. No matter how clever you are, you’re gonna get caught, and it will backfire.

How?
A kid with something to hide is smart enough to know if someone is rifling, and then she’ll think her parents don’t trust her. It’s just like if you find your spouse wiretapping you—the next logical thing to ask is what else is this person doing. Just ask what it is you want to know.

What if you ask and think you’re being lied to?
There’s an intervening step between asking and spying, and that’s saying that you’re going to be looking. Say you caught your child looking at Internet pornography. You say, “I really don’t want you to do this—this is not something our family does,” and he agrees. Then you catch him again. Now you say, “We had an understanding, you broke that understanding, so I’m going to install software.”

What about nanny cams?
How would you feel if your boss installed a private camera in your office?

But your nanny is watching your kids.
If you didn’t trust someone, why did you hire the person to begin with? And, really, if your child is not doing well, get a new nanny.

Are there any items that should absolutely be locked up?
Most kids don’t want to imagine their parents having sex. I think I would’ve passed out if I’d found a dildo in my parents’ dresser. So you’re doing them a favor by hiding it.


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