Do teens have a right to privacy from their parents? Part 1

Girl on phone with hand to cameraRecently, I was asked for advice regarding a counseling case involving a parent and teen.  The parent had secretly logged in to the teen’s accounts (e.g. facebook, email) and monitored the activity.  The teen, after learning of this, was very upset.  This scenario raises the broader question about what kinds of freedom should be given to their teens and what is the extent of that freedom.  Since questions like these are so pertinent to parents and teens  I would like to offer a bit of insight into the question.

Parents – your responsibility is to bring your child (ren) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Parenting is not about you looking good before men, it is not about your children being the next Babe Ruth or Mary Lou Retton or Albert Einstein.  Your role is about explaining the gospel to your children time and time again.  Your role is helping to shape your child’s worship, your child’s goals, and your child’s heart to love the Lord wholeheartedly. While you can never be the savior of your child, you can lead them again and again to the wonderful savior Jesus.  One of the saddest commentaries in the Bible is found in Judges 2:10 where the nation of Israel failed to teach the next generation about the Lord or the works he had done in Israel.  How much more of a travesty would it be if you and I did not tell our kids about Jesus and the works he has done!

Teens – your parent’s responsibility is to bring you up. This means they are not there to simply give you what you want, ensure that you have the coolest clothes, the newest shoes, or the latest electronic gadgets that will make you the envy of all your friends.  They have a responsibility to lead you to Jesus, to shape (to the best of their ability) your heart, and to do all they can to help you love Jesus more than you love anything else.

So how does this relate to privacy?

#1:  The most important person sees and knows anyway … what is so important about keeping it private?

God’s presence is a wonderful thing.  The indwelling Holy Spirit is one of the amazing blessings of the New Covenant inaugurated not with the blood of bulls or goats, but inaugurated with the blood of Jesus.  God with us means that there really is nothing private.  God sees it all, knows it all, and is either grieved or glorified by it all.  It is a lie from the pit itself that tells you “no one knows” or “this is our little secret.”  Your facebook page, your email account, your text messages, and your cell phone conversations are open before the God of heaven and earth.  They are not private. The only question is whether you will be transparent with information that God already knows.  You see, if worshipping Jesus is important to you, then transparency is a welcome reminder that God sees all, knows all, and is either grieved or glorified by all.

#2:  Your parents are God’s built in accountability system here on earth

You did not choose your parents.  Quite frankly, your parents did not choose you.  God gave you to your parents and he gave your parents to you.  While there are days when all of you may have wished God made a different choice, the reality is that God made these choices.  Not only did God select you and them to be together, but he also gave each of you responsibilities in that relationship.  Privacy says my parents do not have a right to know.  A recognition of who God is tells me that transparency gives my parents another opportunity to speak redemptively with me.  When my parents know more, they are in the best position to help shepherd my heart to worship Jesus, to return again and again to the foot of the cross, and to develop such a love for Christ that you have a healthy disregard for the pressures that come during the teen years.

What does this look like?

If what has been said represents the big picture (lead people to Jesus, love Jesus, worship Jesus, give Jesus first place) then what does it look like for a parent and a teen to develop a transparency that fits the command to “walk in the light” (1 John 1)?  These are not the only possible steps, but here are a few ideas:

  • Meditate on 1 John 1 and the importance of “walking in the light.”
  • Remind one another that you have a common goal.  This is about worship, about Jesus, and about living for Jesus in real, specific, and concrete ways.  Parent, you are not simply trying to “catch” your child, right?  You are trying to use every opportunity, great and small (Deut 6:4-7), to lead them to the cross, right?
  • Communicate up front that emails, texts, facebook updates and messages will be checked regularly or the teen cannot have access to those things.  Passwords are shared and open at all times.
  • Demonstrate how each of these things could actually be used by your teen to bring glory to Jesus … evangelism … posting updates that communicate gospel truths … explaining great passages of Scripture … and things God is teaching you.  In other words, show how their “toys” can be employed in the service of the one true King.
Rob Green
Pastor Rob Green oversees Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. A seasoned counselor, Rob also teaches others how to counsel--through FBCM's training conferences and Faith Bible Seminary's MABC program.