Spying on our kids

The first day of middle school began and I was ready to fall apart. Jacob and Zachary were doing great.

During orientation, a student walked in with a lip ring and five tattoos. Marc insisted he was a parent.

Like that’s good news?

The whole idea of my kids moving to a larger, public middle school frightened me. I didn’t want to shelter them forever, but it didn’t seem so long ago that they were sweet and innocent children.

Now they were sucking in their teeth and asking for money.

They would be meeting lots of colorful characters, and I tried to find balance between allowing them freedom to grow and learn while keeping certain boundaries in place to ensure their safety.

One of my friends, whose son was a senior in high school, wondered out loud when I might start spying on my kids.  He regularly looked through closets, dresser drawers, journals, and also kept a detailed list of his son’s email addresses and passwords to social networking sites.

How could I compete with that? And did I want to?

“Our family has an open-door rule,” I told him, “that means our kids can’t be in their bedrooms with the door closed.”

“What else?” he asked, completely unimpressed.

“I’m in and out of dressers and closets all the time, putting clothes away.”

“And?” The bastard actually yawned.

“The computer is downstairs for everyone to see, so I just look over their shoulders periodically. They aren’t allowed on Facebook, and I haven’t had any reason to look into their email accounts.”

My friend chuckled and said, “They’re starting sixth grade so I give you two months before you begin stealth parenting.”

Fantastic. As if I didn’t have enough pressure, I now had to think about the joys of running a police-state household.

When is it okay to spy on your children? Should we wait until the first arrest before showing an interest in Junior’s social life, or should we get involved beforehand?

When I was a kid, my mother had a lot to do, raising three kids on a buck fifty after my dad moved to Georgia to try crack and never returned. She didn’t have time to snoop, telling me often that I had a good head on my shoulders and she expected me to use it. I had no curfew and never needed one.

Somehow I made it out of high school without accumulating any diseases or felonies.

However, if she wanted to, all Mom had to do was pick up the extension and listen in on phone calls or maybe check my diary. She’d learn which friends had venereal warts and which boys were ignoring me that week, but that’s about it.

These days, spying on kids is a high-tech affair and often, the kids themselves are savvier with electronics than parents. I can’t tell you how a smartphone works, so there’s no way I could disable the delete button to read texts and call logs.

My kids didn’t even have cell phones in 6th grade, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have anxiety attacks over the day when exposure to radiation would somehow be the least of my concerns.

What about allowing children to think for themselves and make their own mistakes? Is that as outdated as VHS tapes and cinnamon toothpicks?

I remember being their age and about to try French kissing and Marlboro Lights for the first time. It seems quaint now. Times have changed since 1981 and my kids are well aware of the dangers regarding cigarettes and herpes.

However, we are all still learning how to maneuver through the world of chat rooms and phishing scams.

Recently, a teenager in Tampa was arrested for planning to blow up his high school. The police reported that he had bomb-making materials in his bedroom and detailed manifestos that promised to outdo the Columbine killers. The kid’s mom claimed she had no idea he kept such things in his room, right under her nose.

She’s not alone.

There are many parents who never go into their kids’ bedrooms, never check their Facebook pages, never question their whereabouts or get to know their friends. Surely there’s a happy medium somewhere between total ignorance and a dictatorship.

I aimed to find it.