LEGAL BRIEFING - Snooping parents and a child's right to privacy — it's complex


Dear John,

I am 16 and live with my parents. Recently, I started a relationship with a young man who is 18 and is in one of my clubs at school. He is goofy and adorable.

My parents don't trust me, and they definitely don't trust him. Recently, I discovered that they are reading my e-mails and text messages. I have even caught my dad going through my messages on social networking sites.

Good grief! I know I am just a kid, but don't I have a right to privacy? How do I get them to back off and let me live my life?


E-Mailing Emily

Dear E-mailing,

The transition from a child to an adult affects the parents as well as the child. Parents need to learn how to accept that the person who depended on them for everything is increasingly less reliant on them. This includes the ability to associate with people and the nature of those interactions.

Parents do have a fundamental right to parent their children as they deem proper. However, there is a limit that is reached when the rights of the child are impinged. The right to privacy is complex. Generally, the right of a child to have privacy is not one that can overcome a parent's right to parent and the duty to keep the child safe.

The welfare of a child is not just physical. It is also emotional. Parents are not allowed to emotionally harm their children or use inappropriate means to resolve conflict. If their actions are harming you, beyond annoying you or making you feel disrespected, you can and should address this concern.

I would urge you to seek assistance from someone you trust who may be better able to see both sides of the argument. It may be that your parents are well-intentioned but lack the skills to properly address concerns they have. It may be better to discuss a remedy rather than seek legal protection.

I believe that your parents have a right to read your e-mails. However, I also believe that this right is something they need to consider the consequences of before they act on it. Just because they can read the messages does not mean they should. There may be another way to reassure them of your ability to act responsibly. Perhaps, you should help them discover that way.

Good luck,


John Hartzell is a practicing Walla Walla attorney. His column is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Have a question? Ask John at


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