This week, let’s talk about HOW to keep an eye on your teenager.
By Pat Merriman
Dunn Co. State’s Attorney
Remember James Lehman, MSW, “I know parents who have put monitoring programs on their children’s computers after they’ve discovered that their children have used drugs. The parents were able to read all the outgoing and incoming email on their child’s computer… I do see that as fair. Remember, it’s not like we as parents have to respect all kinds of privacy for our kids and then they get to do whatever they want to do. You can’t have two sets of values. It’s not as if, ‘I have to be good and you can do whatever you want.’ Rather, ‘If you don’t meet your responsibilities to take care of yourself and to stay safe, then I’m going to take whatever steps necessary. If that means looking in your room, looking in your drawers and looking on your computer, that’s exactly what I’m prepared to do.’ In my opinion, doing that kind of thing after you’ve caught your child engaging in risky behavior is one of the few tools parents have.”
So, Rule #1 everything is fair game when trust is breached. Don’t buy the “hypocrite” argument either, “Well, you drink alcohol, blah, blah, blah.” Spoiler alert—when my kids tried that crap, I told them, that’s right, we used up all the fun in the 70’s, there ain’t any fun left so get over it. Rule #2, It’s Called Intelligence Information for a Reason. The hardest part of gathering information is keeping your mouth shut and not “burn” your source. TRANSLATION: Keep ’em guessing about how you know what you know. And, I disagree with Lehman completely on this one topic—if you force your kid to sneak around behind your back, GOOD–they know what they’re doing is wrong. You already have the moral high ground because you’re the parent. They’ll hate you now, but, thank you at the end of the road. And, most importantly, I don’t believe in negotiating with inferiors by seeking their permission in the guise of “integrity”. It’s your job as a parent to keep track of your kid and, when they violate that trust, they can assume you are going to spy on them. If you get caught spying, own it and tell them to like it or lump it. My kids always assumed I was keeping track of them anyway, so, that gave me a tactical advantage—it kept them guessing. And, you know what, at the end of the day, they were actually happy that I had their back.
Rule #3, people who undermine your authority, and I don’t care who they are–sibling, parent, grandparent or teacher; shut ’em down! Lehman, continues, “our kids are told a lot of things about what we parents can, should and shouldn’t be able to do. In my opinion, they’re fed a lot of baloney about their rights and what they should be able to do. In reality, that’s a lot of nonsense. The fact is that it’s your home. The cell phone is probably in your name, the computer is in your name, but even if they are not, you have every right and responsibility to check them if you’ve been given cause to do so. It’s completely okay for you to look into those things in order to keep your home safe, your other children safe and especially the child whom you think is messing up safe. Don’t forget, when kids use drugs or do criminal behavior or engage in other risky activities, part of the power they have is to be secretive. That’s one of their big thinking errors. ‘I have a right to keep secrets from you’; you don’t have any right to keep secrets from me.”
A quick aside. When my son was 16 a “helpful” parent allowed him to stay over after we had an argument about a curfew and showing disrespect to his mother. The meddler called, “I know you guys had an argument and we’ll let him stay over tonight and help you work through it”. OK, my response, albeit NOT profane was simple, “You interfere with my parenting, you accept full responsibility for anything that happens to my son and, I will be taking it up with you personally”. The boy was back home within the hour. I have seen this a LOT with nosy grandparents or other relatives who feel free to give unsolicited advice. Guys, family meeting and, “butt out!” It’s going to cause friction but, if they want to see those cute little grandkids—it’s my way or the highway. You don’t want an enabler out there circling the herd when these kids are growing up because, at age 16, Houston, you have a problem! They’ll get over it…remember…that whole setting boundaries thing?
Rule #4- Don’t be afraid to call the police says Lehman, “Don’t try to intimidate me. I’m not going to let you destroy yourself. I’ll take any steps necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen. I tell parents, if he won’t listen to your authority, let’s kick it up a notch…Believe me, when there’s a guy in your room in a blue uniform with a gun on and handcuffs on his belt and a big old flashlight, you know right away you’re not dealing with mommy and daddy anymore…You’re not dealing with someone who you can manipulate and turn things around on.” I also encourage parents to put their kid in martial arts as soon as they can talk. When you can break a drug dealer’s face/ arm, they leave you alone! It gives kids both the strength of character/discipline to stand up to stand up and, the skill set to enforce it.
Rule #5- Lets Don’t Get it Twisted there Bucko! Lehman says, “When kids are caught with something incriminating, many of them will try to turn it around and say, ‘I can’t believe you went into my room!’ They make it seem as if the parent has done something wrong. Turning things around is a tactic kids use to put parents on the defensive. They create an argument as a diversion to avoid taking responsibility for their actions or behavior.” (Buzzer sound), wrong answer! Lehman suggests, “I told you I’d be checking into things. The problem is not whether I’ve been spying on you, the problem is the rolling papers you have in your drawer… If you want to yell or scream, go yell or scream someplace else…[We’re not discussing]… me violating your rights, because you are violating our home.”
Kids lie! Who knew right? In the dope genre, “It’s not mine, I’m holding it for a friend” or, “I found it”. Really? What? Are you waiting for the smart parent to talk to you? “This is YOUR responsibility…you brought it in this house and your legally and morally responsible for it.” Being stupid isn’t a virtue. Lehman says, look at it this way, “if a cop stops you and you have an ounce of marijuana and you tell him it’s your cousin’s… You’ve got it in your hand, that’s all that matters because you’re in possession of it. And if you’re in possession of it, you’re responsible for it and you’re accountable to the law. That’s all there is to it.”
Rule #6—Trust is as Trust Does. Kids are masters of diversion. Since they’re smaller, it’s their only real weapon, right? The bag of weed is in your room…not the diversion, “Why are you spying in my room—why don’t you trust me?” That’s simply NOT the issue. “Holding him accountable is not spying, and you’re not violating his privacy or rights; don’t get dragged into that fight.” The real issue here is that the kid broke their promise and, for actions…sing it with me… there are consequences. Conversation closed!
Finally, Rule #7–Privacy is a Privilege, Not a Right. Lehman closes, “giving a child privacy as to what goes on in their room or what’s in their drawers is a privilege you give them because they are trustworthy and honest…it’s not a right. And your kids should know that if they violate the trust and honesty, one of the things that’s going to change is that you are going to be watching them more carefully… But that’s the price they pay for being dishonest and untrustworthy… losing someone’s trust is a very powerful thing.” For actions, there are consequences! Sometimes, Lehman says, “you have to take extra steps to keep your kids safe from what’s going on in the outside world and from their own poor decisions, especially if you have other children in the home.” Amen! See you next week.