It's natural for parents to worry about what's going on in their kid's lives, but how far should they go when making sure everything is okay?
Having doubts over how she's adjusting to a new school, one mother is debating reading her daughter's diary. Writing into The Slate's advice column, the woman asked if it would be wrong to do so, laying out her reasons for wanting to read it.
"My daughter is 10, in fifth grade," she explained. "She started a new school in September, where she didn't know anybody. As is totally appropriate for her age, I'm sure, she is telling me almost nothing about her life."
Saying her daughter only gives her "one-word answers," when she asks her how school is, but she noticed she writes in her diary every night.
"I don't have any specific concerns other than the general anxiety that comes with parenting a fifth grade girl in today's world, I think that if I read her diary, I'd get a sense of what is going on and would able to be a more supportive and responsive parent," she explained, adding she has access to her social media and emails which she occasionally reads, but has never seen anything concerning going on there.
"I know that breaking her trust is a terrible thing to do," she admitted. "But at the same time parenting a preteen is SO HARD because of limited information, and she's at such a vulnerable age for social and internal stress to develop that I am finding it very difficult to resist."
"I saw my teen cousins struggle with eating disorders, self-harm, and anxiety, and I remember how much I struggled with social dynamics at my daughter's age," she continued. "I'm really hoping you will tell me it's OK to read her diary, even though I suspect you won't. Is there a way for me to get her permission, or will even asking her ruin everything?"
The Slate's columnist Michelle Herman was pretty quick to answer, and her advice was simple - don't do it.
"No. No, no, a thousand times no—you must not read your daughter's diary," she urged the woman. "And you shouldn't ask for her permission to read it, either."
Pointing out that a diary is private, she asked the mum if she was worried, why doesn't she look into the online activity that she has access to.
"Is it that you assume that she's being guarded there, since she knows you may be reading them?" she asked the woman. "Or are you not that interested in what she's saying to others—you only want to know what she is thinking?"
Herman suggested trying to have a proper conversation with her daughter, rather than just firing off questions and suggested being honest herself to incite a more open conversation.
"Children tend to be more open with their parents about how they feel, what's on their minds, and what's happening in their lives, when they believe they will be listened to (calmly), not judged, not overwhelmed by their parents' responses," she said. "Creating an environment that encourages one's child to confide their worries (and share their joys) and that allows children to feel certain they can trust their parents and lean on them when they need to doesn't happen overnight."
"But I 100 percent guarantee that reading a kid's private diary entries is not the way to do it," she reiterated. "Restrain yourself."