Miscellaneous Musing by Judy @ 6:28 PM

In what is sure to be hailed by teenagers everywhere as a landmark decision, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that even kids have privacy rights and can expect that their private conversations will not be snooped on.

Four years ago, Carmen Dixon was having a tough time with her daughter Lacey, then 14. Quoth Dixon:

I just believe you have the right to know what your kids are doing and who they’re doing it with. We were having a hard time with her as a teenager. She was sort of out of control. [Monitoring her phone calls was] the way I could keep track of what she was up to.

Four years ago, two boys knocked down an elderly Friday Harbor woman, breaking her glasses, and snatching her purse. Lacey’s boyfriend at the time, Oliver Christensen, was a suspect in the case. Sheriff Bill Cumming asked Carmen Dixon to be alert for any evidence. When Lacey chose to take a call from Christensen behind her closed door, Dixon became suspicious and used a speaker phone in another room to eavesdrop. And she took notes while Christensen admitted knowing where the stolen purse was. It was Dixon’s testimony in court that convicted Christensen to 9 months in jail.

Christensen’s lawyer argued that it is against the law to snoop on any conversation, and even children have a right to privacy. Citing provisions in Federal wiretapping lawas, attorneys for the state maintained that children have a reduced right to privacy because parents have an absolute right to monitor all calls that come into their home. The court sided with Christensen.

In the court’s opinion, Justice Tom Chambers wrote:

The Washington act, with its all-party consent requirement, contains no such parental exception and no Washington court has ever implied such an exception. We decline to do so now.

It’s a good thing I live in Oregon. I told # 1 son long ago, and frequently since, that nobody living in my house should have any expectation of privacy. For a long time I screened both his phone calls and his internet chat. He hated that I did so because “none of the other parents do that.” For the most part the conversations were the typical teenage stuff, but every now and then I learned some things that became useful or that I needed to deal with.

At 16 he doesn’t need the same kind of monitoring. But if I had to do it over again, I’d do exactly the same thing.

No matter how involved a parent is with their child(ren), there comes a time when teenagers don’t want to talk to their parents — or at least don’t want to talk about “important” things. That’s OK, because kids have to grow up. Part of growing up is growing away, and that means that some things are kept private. But parents also have a need, and a right, to know what’s going on with their kids.

It’s hard to balance a child’s right to privacy with a parent’s need to know, just like it’s hard to balance a child’s desire for absolute freedom with their need for guidance.

But in my house, if I need to know there is no privacy, and freedom is gained by proving that it can be handled appropriately.

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