Dear Diary, My Mom Read You Today…
Q: “I have concerns about my daughter and am thinking of reading her journal. Is it ever OK to read a child’s journal or diary?”
A: I am glad you are thinking carefully about taking this step. You must be very concerned and perhaps even have some very specific fears about your daughter if you are thinking of reading her diary. Your first step is to clearly define what has brought you to this point. What are the problems?
Has she been talking about not wanting to live? Has she started cutting on herself or doing anything else to her body? Do you suspect drug use or sexual activity? Has someone else told you she is at risk for hurting herself? Are you seriously worried about some new friends?
Before you read, think about the next step — what if your worst fears are realized? What will you do with the information you learn? Are you ready and willing to let her know that you read her journal?
If not, how will knowing what you read influence your relationship with your daughter? If you tell her, how will that affect your relationship?
Reading the journal without her permission says that communication between the two of you has broken down and trust no longer exists.
Is this really true? Is there any route towards healing without taking this step?
How to Reconnect
If you decide not to read her diary, how might you reconnect with her and, in the process, even try to find out how her journaling is helpful? Many teens use writing in a journal as a sounding board more about others than about themselves. Some use it as a recording of the day’s events. Some use it to process their own fears (not necessarily reality).
How does your daughter see journaling? Do you journal? Have you shared how journaling works for you? Have you thought of setting a time when you both write in your journals and talk afterwards about the experience (not what you actually wrote about)?
In Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones, she describes writing in a different place, such as a coffee shop or breakfast place. Since it is summertime, is that something you two could do once or twice a week? This could open space for a reconnection between you that might help you address the concerns you have for her.
Does your daughter keep a blog? Is she on Facebook or MySpace? Does she keep an Internet profile with friends that can tell you about her thoughts? You might be able to find out what you need from this source. If you don’t know how to log on, talk to other parents. Many are tech savvy; some have their own profiles in these domains and can help you figure it out.
If You Read Her Diary: Next Steps
Let us assume that you believe the only way to save your daughter from self-destruction is reading her journal. Let us also assume that your worst fears have been verified. Are you clear about your next step? Will it require sharing what you learned? Should you decide the situation is dire enough, do you have an idea of what action you need to take, or someone to talk to about your choices?
If you tell your daughter that you read her diary, will you also share with her that you were so worried and felt so out of touch with her that you felt you had no choice but to break a trust and read her journal in order to help her.
Can she see you as concerned and fearful, or will she see you as controlling? Will she be able to own the behaviors that led you to take that step or will she pretend that none of those behaviors exist? Be prepared for her to potentially shut down, emotionally cut you off, and even run.
Consider all of these consequences, including the possibility that she will agree that her life is getting out of control, and that she is willing to work on turning things around. If she says that, still have a plan that includes close supervision in case she is trying to get you to back off and isn’t really serious.
The best case scenario would include not having to ask the question at all. The next best scenario might include reading the journal and finding nothing. Your fears probably will still exist, but you’ll have to deal with the fact that you read it. Will you need to tell her or will you keep silent?
The question of reading someone’s private journal leads to more questions. The most important things to ask yourself are: Is this action potentially life saving? and Can I live with the consequences of having done it? These are decisions for you to make. I wish both you and your daughter the best.