Sunday, February 04, 2007


My readers differed on whether it's OK for a parent to read his or her teenager's e-mail without permission:

"At the age of 13 children are vulnerable," writes Bert Hoogendam of Sarnia, Ontario. "Hence parental vigilance is not only advisable, it is necessary."

Mary Dodge of Lynchburg, Va., agrees, adding that a parent is not a child's friend or buddy, and needs to know what's going on in his or her child's life.

On the other hand, both M.W. Bruening of Salt Lake City and Janice Eisen of Brookfield, Wisc., believe that parents should never read children's e-mail without their knowing.

"Reading your kid's e-mail without his knowledge is a violation of trust that, if discovered, is likely to drive your child away from you," Eisen writes.

Renee Chapman of Yorba Linda, Calif., writes that, when her children -- now 25 and 22 -- were growing up, she knew their friends, ate meals with them, kept the computer in a common area, supported their educational activities, talked with them and worshiped with them.

"And, yes," she writes, "when our parental radar sounded, we snooped."

The answer, perhaps, lies in balance: "It is a 50/50 call," writes Patrick Burris of Charlotte, N.C. "Supervision is one thing and intrusion another."

Check out other opinions at or post your own by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


Anonymous said...

A report appeared in the London Free Press (London,Ontario Canada),dated February 7th.,2007...
The report was headed:"Net Luring Probe Nabs Duo"

This report was about the recent arrests and two young girls,age 13 were victimized by two criminals of lewd behavior.

This Report supports my comments which you have on your file.


Bert Hoogendam
Sarnia,Ontario Canada

The article appears at

Unknown said...

I am 51 today & recall that back 'in the day' parents would read their kids diaries. We all believed that this was an incredible breach of trust and basic civil rights ... personal thoughts & dreams should just remain that...personal.
So what is the difference now?
If you took time with your children and taught them the perils that existed in our time - "look out for strangers"
"don't talk to strangers"
why would you feel it correct to invade their privacy when you hated it when your parents did the same to you?