Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I Spy Like That

I spy. I'm an unrepentant paranoid password-cracking narc of a parent sometimes. I finally confessed to our adoption worker that I spy on his AOL Instant Messenger, his cell phone text messages, and his MySpace profile. I occasionally peek (okay, dive) into his school backpack, and I am pretty familiar with the nooks and crannies of his bedroom, especially that spot behind the curtain he doesn't think I know about. I once hid inside a Best Buy across from a movie theater for over half an hour to see if he really bought a ticket and went into the theater like he promised. At this point in my career as a spy, I'm very familiar with the phenomenon known as teen "sexting", the teenage social importance of one's AOL "away message", and the symbology in MySpace profile pictures.

When I confessed my compulsion to spy, our adoption caseworker laughed and said, "Of course you spy! That's what smart parents do!"

Spying has kept me a step ahead on a number of serious issues. I found out by spying about the adult half-sibling T. had never met who was offering him pills via text message. I found out that some of his "tough" friends are actually a great support and encourage his best sense of himself. I got a peek, via his MySpace page, inside his agonizing loneliness back when he was in a respite foster care home last year when we first met.

I would encourage any parent of a complicated teenager to spy. The main reason is that adopting an older kid means coming late to a battle that's already raging, and spying can help you catch up to events. Occasionally it also provides you with an awe-inspiring appearance of omniscience. Once in a while when we nip an ill-advised plan in the bud, he looks at us like "Dang! How did they KNOW?!" He has no idea we spy, so he just thinks we can read his mind.

The flip side of that advice is that I tell myself that I must spy with respect. T. is not a habitual liar, and he mostly follows our rules. I spy lightly. I've learned that I don't need to police him - I spy to understand him and to gain some insight so I can be prepared to offer rational guidance or a welcome distraction when he needs it. I've learned not to panic when I unearth important information. Not all weather patterns that gather online materialize in a real-life storm.

I'd say I try to spy with an open-minded desire to see inside the mind and heart of my kid. I try to let my rabid curiosity be tempered by regard for his privacy and let him make certain mistakes within the bounds of safety - not all knowledge requires action. And I try to cross-reference what I learn online with real-life observed behavior lest I be led astray by braggadocio.

When I get something really juicy, unless it's a five-alarm fire (the unknown elder half-sibling headed our way, for example) I try to sit on it for at least a few days. Quite often I just file it under "Good to Know." I also have a fairly fat mental file labeled "Wish I Didn't Know."

To me, spying is a little like knowing your kid's friends. It's getting familiar with how and where they spend their time, and with whom. I look forward to being a retired spy someday, to no longer cross-referencing slang dictionaries to decode text messages. The longer I parent him, the less I feel the need to spy. But for now, it's a useful, often amusing, mostly enlightening habit, and I try to do it gently.


TTBoot said...

ROTFLMAO! Now you are cracking me up! I have NEVER EVER accidently shown up where the boys are supposed to be--NOT! My group of friends, who I affectionately refer to as 'The Village", have adopted the boys and greatly extended my spy network. Imagine their surprise when I say such things as "Why didn't you call and see if I wanted something from {fast food joint of choice]?". And that fat file labeled "Wish I didn't know?" your restraint in not confronting him may be rewarded with T actually sharing the information with you sometime. That happen to me when FS#1 took me on a tour of his FB page and when FS#2 revealed that the thing he bought off of the 'net didn't work--who knew I would have to block the word 'willy'. Fortunately, I check the logs of websites visited and had been forwarned.

TTBoot said...

Oh and my favorite part of the your post is the last 3 paragraphs, the spying with respect. Information I have gathered has allowed me to know that it is time to discuss an important topic. Spying has given me the opportunity to introduce a sensitive topic BEFORE bad decisions can be made. And perhaps preventing said bad decisions. As a result of being able to have these discussion in non-crisis situations have on occasion earned me the title of 'really cool mom' from the boys cause I didn't overreact and I gave them something to think about and helped them make the right decisions. And their friends are all jealous that they can talk to me about these things. So stay on the spy lightly detail--good things can come from it.

Babs said...

Preach it! Love it. Spy a lot myself :)

marythemom said...

The Spy Who Loved Me

I admit I'm more blatant about spying on my 16 yr old son, but he's more blatant about lying and cheating so it works out. Very cool that you don't have to act on most of the information you uncover, T really is an awesome kid with awesome parents.

Mary in TX

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