A peek inside the life of your teen

Apr 11, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. ET

When you're parenting a teen, the urge to snoop is pretty powerful, but there are bigger issues to consider beyond the tidbit of information you may stumble upon.

Given the prevalence of school violence, teen drug use and adolescent depression, you may be thinking about spying on your teen just a bit. After all, a regular peek around your teen's bedroom could uncover a trove of information that may otherwise be kept secret. Still, you may want to think twice before launching your covert operation — that is if you value her trust.

A fine line

As much as teens want their independence, the reality is they require careful supervision. While it may be easy to do some snooping or spying, parents walk a fine line between keeping teens safe and crossing a serious boundary. "When teens feel their privacy has been secretly violated by their parents, they get angry, and they pull further away," says Dr. Gregory L. Jantz, psychologist and author of When Your Teenager Becomes… The Stranger in Your House. "You are much better served keeping an open, honest flow of communication between you, even if that communication is mostly defined by silence."

How much privacy
should your teen have?

Teenage behavior

If you're thinking about snooping, you've probably also thought about what you may find during an undercover search of your teen's bedroom. Whatever incriminating evidence you uncover (or don't uncover), there may be an easier way to find out what's going on in your teen's life. "[C]areful, daily attention to the behavior your teen is openly sharing with you will guarantee you a wealth of knowledge," says Dr. Jantz. "Plus, refraining from an invasion of their privacy will preserve the trust with your teen that is far too precious to jeopardize." It may be impossible to regain your teen's trust when he catches you rummaging through his dresser drawers, so it may be more productive to pay close attention to the outward signs he gives you on a daily basis.

Ask yourself: Responsible parenting or spying? >>

Come clean

A parent who is thinking about snooping is usually concerned about their teen for a specific reason. Whatever the concern, a parent would be wise to explore the paths of communication instead of diving into a teen's personal belongings. "Rather than looking for signs of trouble in your teen's room, look directly to them for the answers," advises Dr. Jantz. "With careful observation, you will be amazed at just how much your teen is openly sharing with you on a daily basis."

How to get your teen to talk >>

The exception

It's no secret teens can be aloof and secretive, but there's also a ton of peer pressure that could be behind questionable behavior. Most of that pressure comes through cell phones and computers. If you're going to put your spy skills to use, technology may be a good target. "This is something you can and should do with their full knowledge," says Dr. Jantz. "That said, you need not tell them you are monitoring them for fear of what they may be saying or doing but out of concern for the behavior of others." The ultimate goal, after all, is to keep your teen safe.

Tell us

Have you ever snooped on your teen? Did they find out? Did you find anything concerning?

More on parenting teens

Social networking safety for teens
Giving kids privacy online
How to communicate with your teen