To Snoop or Not to Snoop: Issues of Trust and Privacy

Despite the fact that my son Alex was cutting his sophomore classes and ignoring piles of homework assignments, he readily morphed into a Constitutional scholar right before my very eyes whenever it came to the subject of privacy.  He had no aspirations to be a lawyer, but argued like one, vehemently stating that privacy was a basic human right, protected under the auspices of the 9th Amendment.  In his pursuit of life, liberty and unfettered drug use, he felt that his room, belongings, computer, and cell phone were off limits to parental scrutiny.

As he was growing up, I gave him what I thought was age-appropriate privacy. However, once Alex broke the rules of our home by using substances, all bets were off.  I was waging an all out war against substance use and I needed as much information about my enemy (drugs) as possible.  Not only did it give me a handle on what was going on, but it allowed me to share information with his therapist so that we could determine the appropriate level of intervention – more therapy, an outpatient or inpatient program.

While he was actively using, I found drugs and drug paraphernalia in the most creative places – inside an electric pencil sharpener, under the rug in a corner of the closet, inside books where pages had been cut out, clothing pockets and his backpack.  Checking Facebook and text messages on his cell phone also proved to be enlightening with messages like “R U puffin 2nite?”  Although I did not use computer-monitoring software like eBlaster to track instant messages and email, some parents do this as well.

When I found my postal scales in his room, I immediately suspected that in addition to using, Alex was most likely dealing, a realization that terrified me on so many levels – his escalating drug use, the danger of dealing with drug dealers and the legal implications, to name a few.

I carted everything I had found with us to Alex’s next therapy appointment, placed it on his therapist’s table with a dramatic flourish and said, “What do we do about this?”  As recognition flitted across Alex’s face, he blanched while the therapist commented that it didn’t “look good” and he would talk to Alex in more detail while I cooled my heels in the waiting room.

Unfortunately, Alex was masterful at spinning great stories and used his talents to get his therapist to believe that it was all a “big mistake” and everything belonged to a “friend,” although they both agreed it was the product of poor decision-making.  The therapist went on to assure me that Alex was not dealing.

As much as I truly wanted to believe him, I had strong doubts and continued to be vigilant.  It was not long afterward that another discovery led to Alex’s placement in an outpatient program, and eventually, an inpatient program.

While Alex was in the inpatient program, my husband, younger son and I attended their Family Education Program.  When we arrived at the point in the program where the facilitator, Mark, brought up snooping, there was a great deal of giggling over the many imaginative places our teens had chosen to hide their drug stashes, wishing in a unified lament that they would channel their creativity to the good.

One comment Mark made, that has stuck with me in this regard, is that we could retire our CSI-like skills when our teens returned home.  He told us that we would know long beforehand if they had chosen to start using again by their behaviors – a sort of uneasy restlessness, being short-tempered, skipping AA meetings, wanting to see former using friends, etc.

I took Mark’s advice and turned in my decoder ring and trench coat when Alex came home.  I could see that Alex was not using and prayed that it would stay that way, noticing ups and downs, but nothing that signaled the return to the pre-rehab nightmare.

Alex will celebrate five years of sobriety on September 27th.

So if I had it to do over again, would I snoop?  Most definitely.  I think parents need to know what their adolescents are doing in order to to determine the next steps to take.  Every time I found something, I imposed consequences in an effort to make Alex’s drug-using life as miserable as I could.  I wanted him to reach his bottom with drugs and I would do anything to speed up the process.  I would encourage any parent faced with a teenager using drugs to do exactly the same.

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15 Responses

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    July 4, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    Hi Ann,
    I can sense your deep concern for your daughter and how difficult it must be to be on a different page than your husband. You have stated that your daughter is doing well at college and holds 2 jobs which is very positive. I understand your concern over her drug abuse and her liaison with her boyfriend who is presumably dealing. “Riding it out” I assume means that your husband thinks that this will go away at some point, but it sounds like her drug use is escalating – alcohol,marijuana, opiates and benzos. I would also worry that she will be implicated in dealing if she is with her boyfriend – possession, paraphernalia, intent to distribute — all very serious charges.

    You stated that you had been to family counseling when she was 17 – perhaps that would be a place to start. Even if you and your husband go to an addictions counselor to discuss what you can agree on may be helpful. Your daughter may not be willing to “listen” but you can set down boundaries as to what is and isn’t acceptable in your home. For example, you may have financial cards that you can play (no car, no insurance, no cell phone) if she is using drugs. Also, Al-anon or Nar-anon may be helpful for you – they are support groups for people dealing with addiction/drug abuse in their lives. You can google local meeting schedules in your area.

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    July 1, 2013 at 7:07 PM

    This thread may be dormant too long. But my daughter (19) accidentally left her facebook on and I looked at her messages. I knew she was smoking weed and hoped it would lose its appeal. But her boyfriend appears to be a drug dealer. Once I saw him in front of our house meeting a car. I wish SO much that I would have called the cops on him then. Now I see conversations about “tabs” (LSD?) and people asking my daughter if the BF can get them Xanax. I once found prescribed Vicodin (all but one gone in 15 days) in daughter’s purse. For the kids on here who think parents won’t talk….I’ve been trying to talk to my kids for years. They don’t! When she was caught shoplifting alcohol at 17, we took her to a counselor for self-esteem and attending family counseling with her. My biggest problem is that my husband doesn’t want to rock the boat. It is a conundrum. Turn in known/found info and risk alienating daughter forever (and husband, too, who will do anything to keep her in our lives and has told me he will blame me if she’s booted out and something bad happens to her) or ride it out? Daughter has 2 jobs and is doing well in community college. Of course, BF (almost 22) does not work nor ever go to college.

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    October 26, 2012 at 6:52 PM

    I’m so glad your story has a happy ending. Congrats to your son on 5 years sobriety. What a nightmare that has to be when you are going through it. My sons will be teens soon and I pray they never get into that. I don’t begin to know how I would react. I’ve never snooped in their room before, but this page has really opened my eyes to the ways kids have gotten creative at hiding their drugs: highlighers???!

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    September 28, 2012 at 12:28 AM

    No one in their right mind should call the cops if their child is smoking pot. Look at the studies, there are no addictive properties in marijuana. It can become habitual yes, but there is no physical or mental withdraw from it. Marijuana is a very common substance, it is more common for people to smoke pot instead of cigarettes even. If you don’t agree with it, talk to your child calmly and let them know you care. Don’t over react, that will just make them despise you. Countless numbers of adults and teenagers go through an experimenting phase, it is harmless. I guarantee that they will grow out of it. It may take a couple of years until they need to have a job and support themselves, but hey, they will learn. Just because you might not have experimented doesn’t mean you should over protect them… When they go to college they’ll do it anyway.
    Also, hurt your reputation? That is very selfish. You should care about your child. You should care about how they are growing up, and what is experimenting and what is too far, not your ‘reputation’.

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    June 6, 2012 at 9:37 AM

    If you even SUSPECT that your child may be using drugs it is your duty as a loving, concerned parent to immediately call 911! Anything less than this should be considered child abuse. Remember, the best defense is a good offense. You must go at your children guns blazing if they’re smoking pot, and don’t give up until you’ve conquered their addiction no matter the cost. You must be the strong one. Put the fear into them before they humiliate you and ruin your reputation. People will definitely talk if your kid is a junky and your social standing will take a bruising.

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