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I was busted yesterday. By my 14-year-old son. I didn’t mean to snoop – I’d already vowed publicly that I would not. But when I went into my son’s room to turn the music off on his laptop and saw his Facebook page open…well, my curiosity trumped my better instincts. My trespassing wasn’t that egregious — a quick click on two messages that were mundane enough to prompt me to stop my snooping and leave the room.

But what was really embarrassing was that a little while later, when my son asked who’d been looking at two of his Facebook messages (I still can’t figure out how he knew), before I could think about it, I was lying.

“Not me,” I said, busying myself with some suddenly urgent laundry folding. “I went on your laptop to turn off the music, but that’s it.”

My husband said that he hadn’t looked at the computer, and I knew my son believed him; though he loves his children dearly, my husband is just genuinely not nosy or intrusive about their social lives.

While hiding in the laundry room, I realized what a fool and hypocrite I was being. I am trying to raise my boys to respect people’s privacy and always tell the truth. And here I was snooping and lying. I went upstairs and confessed and apologized. My son, rushing out to a baseball game, just shook his head at me. He didn’t say what a lot of parents I know have said when their teenagers have lied about bad behavior, which is that they were less upset about the naughty behavior than by the fact that their children had lied. My son didn’t say it because he probably didn’t care that I’d lied; he was just really mad that I had looked at his messages (even though he is told time and time again that nothing on Facebook is ever really private).

But maybe he didn’t say anything about my initial dishonesty because he knows what I hadn’t realized until that moment — that lying to save your ass can come so quickly that you don’t even think about it. And while it is definitely better to have the immediate instinct toward honesty, what matters in the end may be what you do in the end. I’m sure there will come a time before my boys graduate high school when they lie to me about something they did. I hope I can remember that some essentially honest, good people, some whom I may be intimately acquainted with, have been known to lie to save themselves. It may not be admirable, but it’s human.

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I was raised to never, ever open someone else’s mail. And I don’t. Even letters to my husband or children that I know contain information that is really meant for me sit on the kitchen counter until their intended recipient gets home and opens the envelope.

But electronic communication? Momma never said anything about that.

And so I confess: I have spied on my children’s email, their text messages and Facebook chats. At first it wasn’t really spying, because I told them I would do it.  I let my oldest son have a Facebook account just before he started middle school so that he  could keep in touch with a best friend who had moved to Nepal. For nearly a year, his only Facebook friends were the kid who moved away, his mother and me. When my boys got a laptop to share, I told them that I’d do “spot checks” from time to time and that they could not close the screen or the computer when I walked into the room.  The same rule applied to their cellphones and their texts.

They didn’t really mind, because they were in that stage of development somewhere between having to narrate your every waking thought to your mother and refusing to tell her even the most mundane facts of your daily existence. And I didn’t spot-check often; life is too short to comb through how little a 12-year-old can say in eighty or ninety text messages with a friend.

When my older son started sixth grade, I went to a lecture at the middle school on internet safety. The school social worker went over the general rules  that parents should underscore with their children. She urged parents to learn about the most popular social media sites. And then she said that as children approach and enter high school, parents should not spy on their children’s texts or Facebook pages.  “It will erode your child’s trust in you,” she said, adding that teens annoyed by being spied on will probably just create new social media accounts that their parents don’t know about.

The room imploded. (more…)

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