I did an interview on a radio station last week about diaries. It seems that a mum had deliberately but with some misgivings, read her six year old daughter’s diary. And had read the child describing herself as fat and ugly and stupit and no wonder no-one likes her. She’s actually a pretty little girl and – as you might imagine from the diary, not stupid at all. And mother and daughter talked about it, and helped the girl to rearrange her ideas, her values and her thoughts about herself….

But the interview was less about this particular incident than about the ethics of reading diaries at all [or checking up on Facebook etc].Up to a certain age – say 9 or 10, a child tends to feel that it is OK to share with parents. It is more common for parents to want to insist on rules of privacy and to avoid children discovering stuff they shouldn’t and subsequently asking awkward questions. Soon after, children can be seen jealously guarding their diaries, letters and emails. And I tend to agree that it is important to teach the concept of privacy.

But what to do when you are worried, or even accidentally come across your child’s diary?

If you are worried, you will probably still agonise for ages about whether or not you should look at  a diary – especially one with ‘Keep Out, That Means You’ on the cover. But if you have a genuine worry, you can probably justify reading the diary on need to know grounds. What if you have no excuse at all , other than genuine nosiness?

I think in the second case, that is something you need to square with your conscience.

In either case, if you read your child’s diary when you have been preaching the value of privacy, the cardinal rule is NOT TO TELL. Use the information if that is useful [you discover a party is planned when you are away for a weekend, your son is having sex, your daughter has been shop-lifting] but [if you have to] explain that you gained the knowledge some other way. A neighbour mentioned the party…… , someone else’s son is having sex and you want to talk about keeping safe, shop-lifting is something you did when you were young – others were arrested and now you feel the need to return the oxo cubes anonymously.

It is very tempting to tell your child that you know this or that is a problem, but that would be fatal to a positive relationship. Let them assume you are all-knowing, and that you respect their private thoughts!!!!!

Privacy Preference Center