Jayanti Shah* came across her 11-year-old son's diary and to her horror discovered that her son was contemplating suicide. She rushed to a child psychiatrist and shared the diary with him. Tanmay* was taken to the psychiatrist, who tried to draw the child out of his depression. Meanwhile, Jayanti placed the diary back, exactly where she found it. By snooping around, she may have saved her son's life. And if she was to be asked, she'd advise every parent to snoop. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry. Right?
Prevention or cure?
But is snooping prevention or a desperate attempt at finding a cure to the lack of trust? "If you're attentive to your child's needs, you wouldn't need to snoop in the first place," says child psychologist and psychotherapist, Dr Shefali Batra. "Watch out for signs of depression—moodiness, withdrawal, anger, loss of interest in surroundings—which are hard to miss, actually," she says.
As kids, most of us have been at the receiving end of our parents' snoopy ways, especially in India, where personal privacy is often disregarded for the overall wellbeing of the child. We detested the questions, the restrictions, why won't our kids?
Nip the problem in the bud
The best that we, as parents, can do is to create a environment at home that allows our children to express their feelings. "Snooping around is okay, only for as long as they don't discover it. Once they do, things generally get worse," says Dr Batra. Think about it, you read her diary and found something unpleasant and unexpected. Every instinct tells you to confront her, but since you weren't supposed to be reading her diary anyway, you've just opened a can of worms that you have no way of controlling. If you ask her, she'll turn hostile because you broke her trust. And unless you do, you're in no position to help, anyway. Would you rather know and feel helpless or find out when you can actually help find a solution? Think ahead, not in-the-moment. Work on making her trust you enough to tell you what's going on.
Listen without judgement: We all want to be our children's friends, but we forget to treat them like one—which means listening without judgement. If your child comes to you with a secret or confession, listen patiently. Sometimes the confessions might upset and worry you. But remember, we're better off knowing the problem than letting it fester and grow bigger. Be happy that your child has the wisdom to come to you instead of trying to fix it on her/his own.
Don't be a paragon of virtue: You've made mistakes too while growing up, accept them and talk about the lessons you've learnt from them. It's easier for our kids to confide in us if they don't think of us as saints who've never made a false move in their lives.
Don't rush to confront: Don't snoop unless you suspect something is seriously amiss. If you discover something unpleasant, don't rush into a direct confrontation. Weigh the options and rope in an expert, if need be.
No 'I told you so's': Sometimes, we simply need to accept that we can't micro-manage our children's lives. Despite our best efforts, there will be times and situations that will make us want to groan in frustration and say 'I told you so'. We can't give in to the urge. It'll just make them withdraw from you.
Make mistakes, just don't keep repeating them: No matter how much someone warns us, we simply had to make some mistakes to learn the lesson. Our kids are no different. But even if they make mistakes, some graver than others, it doesn't make them bad people or question our upbringing. Problems arise not when kids make mistakes, but when they refuse to learn from them.
What's your policy on snooping?