I feel there is one very important word that should close down the “To Spy or Not To Spy” debate: Trust. Looking over your kids’ shoulders not only shows that you don’t trust them to know the difference between right and wrong, but it also violates any trust that they had in you. But if that’s not enough, how is this?
If a kid wants to do something enough, they will find a way to do it behind your back. You can close all of the windows and doors, and they will find a mouse hole somewhere to escape through–and unless you intend to literally watch them every second of every day, they will find a way to explore the things you have placed an interdiction on. I use as a case in point example, a girl I dated for a while without her mother’s knowledge for almost two years. This is a fact of life, and is not an indictment of your children as “bad”–they are human.
Instead of trying to build a parental panopticon around your children, build instead an environment in which they are not afraid to talk to you about the things they are thinking about and talking about with friends. Instilling the knowledge of morality and trusting them to come to you for wisdom is a far better solution than hovering around them and not allowing them to live their lives. Obviously, you’re not going to get 7-year-old Johnny a six pack, but as he gets older, you don’t need to keep as much of an eye on him. I know that this works, because it’s the dynamic that my mother and I had before I moved out, and I have already written about her wisdom.
It is this watchful behavior that puts children off and they start becoming annoyed with your presence that acts as a catalyst for them to drift further away from you as they find your presence intruding and they would rather be living in a boarding school than here.
Bear in mind that giving them the freedom to make their decisions means that they will sometimes make stupid decisions, and they will sometimes get hurt. However, they are also at risk of slipping and breaking an arm or a neck in the shower–and I sincerely doubt that you intend to get in the shower with them to save them from that. I have been able to talk to my mother about just about anything, and to get her opinions, wisdom and information on the subject. If I take her thoughts on board, and go ahead and do something she disapproves of anyway, there is only one punishment that really gets through to me: Not being grounded or spanked, not having my car taken away; my mother’s disappointment.
What this all also requires goes back to my original point: Trust. Learn to trust your kids, and be there for them when they need you.