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Handling Kids' Privacy: I'd Read My Child's Diary, Would You?

I have written a diary since I was in the first grade. Although back then, it was a composition notebook decorated with Lisa Frank stickers. And my family has always known that I kept one. My brother never snooped. My parents turned a blind eye. Heck, even the dog didn't sniff it.

But then there was my New York Italian grandmother. She lived in the apartment above our house—specifically, above my room—and being nosy came as natural to her as breathing.

When I was 19 years old, I brought my first serious boyfriend home to meet my family, and I brought my diary with me. On that night, she took it upon herself to read my journal while we were out at dinner. My college journal. So you can imagine the stories that were in that juicy little nugget.

When we arrived back home, I walked in the door to find the entire family sitting at the kitchen table with my journal propped in the middle like a bad construction paper centerpiece at Thanksgiving. It was lying next to the Entenmann's coffee cake and pot of Earl Grey tea.

They all stared at us in the doorway until my grandmother stood up, grabbed the book and declared, "You've had sex. Real unmarried sex!" Her hands smacking the book against the table like a scene out of a John Grisham movie.

I was horrified, humiliated and embarrassed beyond belief. And I swore, right then and there on my parents' linoleum floor that when I became a mother, I would never read my daughter's journal.

But the truth is, I am a mother now to a 7-year-old daughter—and I would totally read her journal.

Of course, I want us always to have the kind of relationship we have now, one that is open and honest. But I'm also not naïve to the fact that teenage years are quite different from elementary school years. I'm not sure if I was faced with a teenager that I could resist the temptation to know what was happening beyond what she tells me. I'm not saying that I would put it in the middle of the kitchen table with my entire family sitting around it—although I do still love Entenmann's and Earl Grey tea—but I can say that if I know it's there on the desk or in a drawer that I would consider taking a peek.

Do I hate myself a bit for thinking I'd read her diary? Yes.

Am I hypocrite? Yes.

But it's the truth. I wish I could say that I'll trust my teenage daughter completely, but I know what I did at her age and that thought petrifies me.

The one good thing is there's comfort in numbers. I'm not the only one who admits they would read their child's diary. I posed the question on Facebook and was surprised by just how many mothers felt it was their right to read.

Tabitha, a mother of three daughters and one son, ages 7-12, from Georgia, stands by her belief: "I would read my daughter's journal. There's no such thing as privacy while I'm paying the bills. I will have access to phones, laptops, tablets, and journals."

Although Tabitha felt strongly, others were open to the idea but hadn't yet peeked. Kellie, a mother of three daughters and one son, ages 10-26, from Washington, isn't ruling out the possibility someday: "I'm not going to say I would never read my daughter's diary because if there's one thing I've learned after raising two to adulthood and working on two more, raising kids is unpredictable and a wild ride. All I can say is, as of this month, I have not, nor do I have plans to, read my daughter's journal."

What was interesting to me was the large number of mothers who will monitor their children's social media accounts but won't read their journals. Many believed that social media is a public outlet, and therefore, open to viewing, whereas a journal is private property.

Micki, a mother of two, from Illinois, was one of those mothers until she saw her teenage daughter indulging in risky behavior and keeping actions from her. Then her daughter's journal became a way of saving her child. "I found that she desperately needed help as she was suicidal and indulging in very risky behavior. I thought we had a great relationship, but there were things that she hid very well. Luckily, we got her into therapy and turned her life around. She's an amazing woman, and she not only forgave me for snooping but thanked me for loving her enough to take the risk of losing her trust in order to save her from herself."

At the end of the day, parenting is about protecting our children and being their advocate. I can't imagine reading my daughter's journal without a good reason, but I feel no qualms about cracking open that book if I suspect or am concerned about dangerous behavior.

Or, maybe a better plan is to talk to my daughter's first-grade teacher and put a stop to this whole "being able to write" thing. That seems like a perfect way to avoid all this. Then we can all just sit around the kitchen table with mouths full of Entenmann's and talk about My Little Ponies until she's 16. Sigh, if only that were really possible.