Privacy in Context

Words of wisdom by the talented and timely J.M.Barclay.

Dear June,

I am Mom to 6 kids. The oldest is 13 and the yougest is 5. I don’t know if this is a good question for your blog but I am always very interested in the answers you write and thought I’d give this question a shot. Lately my kids have been demanding more privacy. They want cell phones, computer time, TV privilege and even time alone with friends in their rooms. I am trying to be smart about this. I know kids today have more privacy than I did when I was their age. But I also don’t want to be stupid. Care to share?

Mom of 6 from Tennessee

Dear Mom of 6,

Ironic, isn’t it, that you are from the “Volunteer State”? I would think–with 6 children–you feel like the state was named in honor of your personal obligations. And anyway, I applaud you. Raising 6 children is admirable!

I’m careful on this blog not to respond to questions about which I am inexperienced. And since I am a new mother to a 4-year-old boy whose current hurdles involve American food and the English language, I would normally not feel prepared to tackle “the privacy of America’s young.”

But. You are the third person this week to send me a question on this topic. So in response to the relentless masses, here are my 2 thoughts on the matter.

(Parents with more experience, feel free to jump in!)

1. I believe that a direct line should be drawn between privacy and trust. To the degree that a child is trustworthy, he or she can appreciate a certain modicum of privacy.

2. To be honest, though, privacy (in my opinion) is overrated and should never be the chief end. Protection and guidance are my responsibility as a parent–higher on the list than, “creating opportunities for privacy.” While privacy is an important part of childhood development–and an attractive aspiration for anyone under 18–it cannot be without its safety net. No matter what.

Children don’t always know from what they need to be spared.

With trust and maturity, then, cell phone conversations with certain people, computer time on limited sites, television privileges for pre-determined programs, and alone time with approved friends can be enjoyed without violating other virtues.

But at the end of the day, I know more than my child knows. I know the dangers–as well as the rewards–of enjoying privacy. I want my son to grow and experience and learn–but I want to make sure that he is safe in the process. Otherwise, allowing my child to enjoy privacy to the degree he wants it will be like handing him a lit match and a gallon of gasoline and encouraging him to be careful.

Hope this helps.

P.S. I allowed my son to experience a few, rare moments of privacy in his bedroom while I wrote this post. He managed to stuff all the contents of his top dresser drawer down the laundry chute.


  1. Threads of Light says:

    This is such an important topic. I am mum to 4 children between the ages of 12 and 21, all of whom value their privacy. And so do I! But as has been said so well already, it is VITAL to also put protective measures in place.

    In our home, we have a rule for the internet: no internet in bedrooms or other secluded spaces. Period. Any computer, including laptops, that are on the net, need to be in a family area where the screen is not tucked away – it must be visible to anyone walking into the room. Not that everyone reads everyone else's private mail, far from it. Knowing that someone could walk up behind you at any time is, I believe, a safety mechanism of utmost importance.

    This rule also applies to us as parents in our home.

    The other thing we do is to insist that mobile phones and ipods are placed into a container on the dresser in the kitchen, when not in use. These items are also banned from bedrooms and from cosy corners. People who need to make private phone calls tend to go outside.

    I encourage parents everywhere to get a grasp of what the technology explosion of the past decade will mean to their children as time goes on. This is a revolution! There are things kids can do today for which there is no precedent.

    Be aware, be prepared. Love your kids – even when it means saying no to something they think they desperately need! Work out what's really important, and stick to it; expressing your love and concern to your children all the while. Don't give in when you feel in your heart that the restrictions are important. Children will sometimes put an incredible amount of pressure us on to have things their own way….listen, but don't cave in just because they are wearing you down.

  2. Dear Threads of Light,

    Excellent thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to share! I noted several of your ideas.


  3. Threads of Light, thank you for sharing. I have a young daughter and we have been pondering this issue. I believe our world today is so "into" privacy that we have greatly reduced family time and community. And, even for adults, safeguards for internet and even *near constant* cell phone usage is a good thing in a home. I have seen the end result of too many sad instances that started with simple steps. You can always widen the opportunity eventually when you feel your child is ready…but there are many situations that you can never reel it back in after something happens!

  4. I agree with Threads of Light. We need to protect our children from the instant access that technology brings to our homes. My children do not have their own cell phone-they are young-but we do have one TV in the house that is password protected, one computer that has safety features and used in one location for everyone to view. For our family, it is an issue of protection not privacy for all family members–we ALL need accountabity. There are countless things on the internet/ipods/other technology that someone can become exposed to by "innocently" stumbling upon it…not intentionally seeking it out. The book of Proverbs is filled with advice about guarding the heart, not leaving children to themselves, instructing, discipling, correcting. I haven't studied a passsage of scripture yet that promotes privacy as a concern. It is loving to set up boundaries/guidelines/safety features for our family in the area of technology.

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