Monday, April 22, 2013

It's Personal

In my Internet travels today, I came across this article, in which the author describes how she read her 5-year-old daughter’s diary.

Her daughter had asked repeatedly for a diary so she could be like her older brother. She was clearly thrilled to have it, and happy to be a big kid and have her own secret book with its own key. She told her mom not to look, and she laboriously wrote down her secrets in it. The mom, Kim, started to worry that something was wrong.

She unlocked the diary and was pleasantly surprised at what she found. Her daughter, who at nearly 6 years old is still mastering how to print, was merely cataloguing all the things which made her happy.

Her relief was so great that she took a picture of the pages with all their adorable misspellings and posted them on the Internet – I’m not sure why, except to reassure the Internet, who probably was not all that worried about it, that her daughter was perfectly fine.

To me, it’s one thing if her daughter left the unlocked diary lying around; particularly if she left it lying open. It would be difficult to resist a peek. But she didn’t. Kim rationalized unlocking it by creating a problem that didn’t exist:  her daughter was being secretive, thus she must have something to hide.  

Again, this is a 5-year-old girl.

Every child is different. But if she suspected something were seriously wrong, Kim could ask her to draw a picture. She could ask her if something’s bothering her. She could just talk to her. She doesn’t describe anything that I can see would trigger this sort of reaction – for example, was her daughter having trouble sleeping, did her eating habits change, was there some sort of radical change in her personality?  It sounds to me like her daughter was having a pretty developmentally normal moment, establishing boundaries, indicating that she is an individual with opinions and ideas that she is working out.

I understand some parents believe that they have the right to poke around their child’s rooms and through their belongings. To a certain extent, I agree that a child cannot expect unconditional privacy – sometimes poking around through their things is the way you find out there’s a fundraiser at school, or that they need $4 for a field trip. But if unlocking the diary did not already cross the line, publishing the thoughts that an evidently sweet and happy kid believed were private certainly did.

With the omnipresence of technology in everyday life, sometimes we forget that blogging and the Internet have not actually been around that long. We forget that we are kind of making these rules up as we go along.

I have shared before that Viva and I keep a mother-daughter journal. While I may occasionally share the things I write to her (as long as they are not too personal), I would not share anything she wrote in the journal with anyone without asking her. And honestly, I would think twice about asking her because I AM her parent and thus the power differential already exists. I wouldn’t want her to feel she had to comply.

I guess what I am trying to say is:  ease up a little bit out there, Internet parents.  Tread carefully. And this is as much a reminder to myself as it is to anyone else.

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