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Teen-agers And Privacy

A few weeks back, in my response to the mom whose 14-year-old daughter was smoking cigarettes, I clearly touched a nerve in the estimation of at least a few viewers.

In that piece, I stated that the mom should not have gone through her daughter's purse in search of cigarettes behind her daughter's back. The mom had done this in order to prove beyond a doubt that her daughter was smoking, as the mom had suspected and the daughter had denied.

I believed, and still believe, that teen-agers have the right to privacy until they give up that right through their actions.

A few viewers vehemently disagreed.

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One labeled my perspective "touchy-feely," while another insisted that, when it comes to children, "there is no such thing as violating kids' privacy or rights when they live in your household and eat at your table." Still another suggested that parents should make it clear from the outset that they will be checking on their kids without warning, that it provides kids with a sense of support.

Here is why I disagree with those comments:

The single most important tool any parent has with their teen-ager is their relationship with one another. It is through the relationship that parents are able to influence, inspire, and support their teen-agers.

Like it or not, we cannot control our kids. We can, however, exert our influence in a myriad of ways. And no, this is not an equal partnership, yet it is a relationship, which means there must be respect in both directions.

From this, it naturally follows that if a parent suspects their teen-ager of egregious misdoing, then they must and should confront them with their suspicions.

If you have a question for Mike Riera about dealing with your teen, send an email to with "Ask Mike" in the subject line. Or write to "Ask Mike" The Saturday Early Show, 514 West 57th St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10019. Your question may be featured on future shows.
Misbehaviors discovered in the course of normal household activities also need to be confronted, such as finding a pack of cigarettes in her jacket when you pick it up off the living room chair to hang it in the closet, or discovering a container of marijuana on his desk when you are putting his clothes on his bed.

This is different than going on a search. In the final analysis, homes are not courts of law, which means that parents never need irrefutable proof to question and confront their children when they suspect they are up to no good.

In the case cited during the piece, that means that the smell of cigarettes on the teen-ager's breath or clothing is enough for her mom to confront her on the smoking.

Children's first teachers of respect are their parents, and, in this arenaour actions speak louder than our words. This means we don't go through one another's private belongings without permission or warning.

As I said in the piece, if the daughter had been in trouble for cigarettes and lying before, then it might make sense for a parent to state that they would be going through her things for a specific amount of time (four weeks, three months) until they were sure they could trust her again. But this would happen before searching her purse or room.

This time-limited policy gives the daughter time to re-earn her trust and to re-establish her relationship with her mother. And in my work with over 20,000 teen-agers, the one consistent refrain I hear over and over is that teen-agers care what their parents think and, deep down, want their approval.

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