In a perfect world, before giving your child a cell phone or other device that allows her to send text messages, you would determine that she's ready for the freedom that comes with it. Once you decide she is ready, you would trust her to use the device appropriately, without interference. In reality, some parents believe it's their right to read their child's texts. However, invading your child's privacy without justification might jeopardize your child's development and result in unwanted behaviors.
As your child continues to mature mentally and physically, it's important to loosen some of the boundaries that you've erected in the past. According to Dr. Steve Schlozman, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, in an article at FamilyCircle.com, it's vital to your child's self-esteem that you show him that you believe in his ability to make responsible decisions, without having to know every move he makes -- including reading his texts. If you insist on reading his texts when you have no justifiable reason to do so -- such as a troubling change in his behavior, attitude, grades or friends -- it can undermine the confidence he needs to help him take age-appropriate risks, such as participate in a competition, join a club or strive to make new friends.
Provokes Inappropriate Behaviors
A controlling parent can also trigger rebellious behavior from a child. If your child feels that you are too controlling and she has a lack of privacy at home, she might decide to engage in risky behaviors and keep them a secret from you as a way to make herself feel more in control. Risky behaviors could include lying about where she's going, sneaking out, drinking alcohol, smoking, doing drugs or socializing with people who she knows wouldn't meet with your approval.
Sends a Negative Message
Reading a child's text messages sends a clear message that you don't trust your child. It's understandable if you read your child's texts because you have a reason not to trust him. However, if your child follows the rules you have set for him, acts respectfully and maintains his usual academic performance, you can send a negative message if you read his texts, according to child behavioral psychologist James Lehman in an article on the Empowering Parents website. The message: "You haven't given me a reason, but I don't trust you."
Just as you value your privacy and expect your child to honor that value, your child needs the same in return from you. Reading a child's text messages demonstrates your lack of respect for your child's privacy. It also can affect the level of respect your child has for you. Again, if your child has done something to make you think she might be taking inappropriate risks, it's understandable that you may decide to read her texts. However, if you have no reason for reading her texts other than a need for control or simple curiosity, you risk losing the respect of your child.