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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 28, 2009

KEEP OUT - teen privacy

By David Pham
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Illustration by JONATHAN KIM | The Honolulu Advertiser

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• The Family Education Training Center of Hawaiçi, or FETCH, at UH-Mänoa provides parenting education, counseling and programs for youth, ages 2 to 18. For more information, call 956-2248 or visit www.efetch.org/index.htm.

• The Hawaiçi Psychological Association, www.hawaiipsychology.org, provides confidential referrals to local therapists.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Parents: How do you keep your kids out of trouble? Join the conversation at HAWAII.MOMSLIKEME.COM

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There's a fine line between being a careful parent and playing the part of the Dark Knight by invading, interrogating or ignoring privacy boundaries at the hint of trouble.

Like Batman, parents want to protect their loved ones from danger, but experts say invading teens' privacy to accomplish that should only be a last resort.

Yes, there are legitimate worries out there: Internet privacy concerns, cyberstalking and the release of compromising photos via cell phone.

However, before you make assumptions about whether your teen is involved in any of that, experts suggest parents stop to consider what they know about their children and decide if there really is reason to suspect wrongdoing.

Searching a teen's room or backpack, monitoring phone calls and interrogative questioning could turn up evidence — or it could backfire by making a teen feel helpless and misunderstood.

"There are so many alternative steps before I'd resort to invading a child's privacy," said Salt Lake parent Linda Bauval, a substitute teacher.

This advice corresponds with that of experts who say privacy should be respected unless teens are behaving abnormally.

"Parents have the right to know in all the significant details what a child is doing, and to protect the welfare of the child," said Sun-Ki Chai, a professor of sociology at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. "But invading privacy means breaking trust between a parent and their kids."

Though teens in general get into trouble, don't assume yours is one of them. First, experts say, know your child better.

There's always something new to learn about your child, Bauval said, and asking for extra help is perfectly acceptable. If parents reach a stalemate with their children over sharing information, Bauval suggests talking to a school counselor or therapist.


The solution to many conflicts between parents and teens may be learning how to share information, concerns — and solutions.

These days, with overworked parents and kids alike, family-sharing time is disappearing, replaced by takeout dinners and extracurricular activities aimed at getting into a good school.

"If parents are overworked, that means there's a lack of time to talk to kids," Chai said. "A solution for that is to turn off the TV at dinner and talk with each other over meals on the table."

If time or location is a persistent obstacle, parents will just have to get creative in getting the information they want.

Friending your own kids on social networking sites, text-messaging them on the phones or even interacting with them through online games like "World of Warcraft" are new ways to break the barriers and reach your child.

Talking to your teen's friends, coaches or school counselors can also demonstrate you're interested in what they do.

But Dana Davidson, professor of family resources at UH-Manoa, said the best way of showing you care continues to be physical and personal communication.

"Eye contact, a hug, a question or two and really paying attention to the answers doesn't have to take a long time," Davidson said. "But live, in-person, one-on-one daily interaction is still by far the most effective way to stay in touch with the rapid changes that teens go through (and to make sure that things are not turning problematic)."

Parents shouldn't forget they were once teens in search of privacy, too.


Davidson said privacy needs increase as children enter early adolescence, between the ages of 10 and 14.

"Children and teens need privacy for many reasons; to daydream, sleep, relax, to play with their toys or to talk with friends as they rehearse the developing understanding of themselves," she said.

Closed doors should not launch parents into interrogative mode; it could just mean the child wants to read a book in peace and quiet. Changes in the style of clothing worn — from laid-back to urban-inspired, for example — could simply reflect an exploration of identity, and not a personality disorder.

While it's important for teens to have their privacy, parents should not avoid them entirely because they are still in need of guidance.

"Let your teens know that you are always available to talk with them, will come pick them up if things get tough, no matter what," Davidson said.

In the event your child is uncooperative and exhibiting significant and troubling changes, then it may be time to go further.

Bauval said parents should balance teens' desire for privacy against safety concerns.

There may be concerns, including drug use and criminal activity, that would justify serious action.

"Increased or decreased sleep, appetite, growth patterns and less willingness to interact with parents and friends are developmental alerts that need to be checked as to reasons why," Davidson said.

In many cases, having an open forum for conversation is a better way to know what's going on.

"Family policies of privacy imply trust, which family members do well to respect," Davidson said. "These policies should not be broken unless there is very serious indication of trouble. "