National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Family Matters

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

December 08-14, 2002 Issue | Posted 12/8/02 at 1:00 PM



Is Privacy a Kid's Right?


Do you think children have a right to privacy concerning their room and personal belongings?

The right to privacy. It may make for good constitutional debates, but it makes for real bad parenting. A mother called my radio show upset that, while cleaning her teen-age daughter's room, she had come across a letter describing her daughter's sexual behavior with her boyfriend. Part of mom's distress was guilt over having “snooped,” however unintentionally, and the fear of confronting her daughter, whom she knew would immediately hammer her with “You have no right to look through my things!” (As an aside, if such were her daughter's first response—rather than embarrassment, guilt or some display of conscience—then she would be telling mom much about her view of sexual conduct.) The overall tone of the call was mom's struggling more with her own psychological correctness than with her daughter's moral incorrectness.

Making bad decisions is innate to humans, even the most mature of us. When those humans are only partway mature, as is even the most mature child, the odds of moving down self-destructive paths go up dramatically. So God gave children gatekeepers—parents—who are wiser, usually, and can help steer them away from bad paths or close those paths altogether. If those gatekeepers surrender some of their God-given duty to guide and protect because of some trendy, silly, “democratic” notion of family, who is left to guard the child? The child is not capable of guarding himself.

Of course, most parents don't do a mattress search of their kids' belongings in the absence of any evidence of trouble whatsoever. I'm not advocating such. What I am advocating is that children know from day one—at whatever age you decide that day falls—that you will act resolutely at any time in any way to head off any trouble at first sniff of it.

The “right to privacy” has an honorable sound to it. It seems so respectful of a child's emotional boundaries. Yet it is dramatically superceded by another right: the right to safety. Far over and above any need to have secrets is the need to be protected from the results of those secrets. A parent's foremost duty is to guide a child to adulthood in good moral shape. Where that duty collides with a child's wants, the parent must win—for the sake of all of the child's rights.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a

psychologist and an author.