Checking Our Family’s Email – Is It OK?

949308_arroba.jpgOne of my guilty pleasures is reading WifeAdvice, a blog where a married couple debates and comments on various marital practices. It’s kind of silly, kind of snarky, and often insightful.

Todays post asks, “Is it OK to read your spouse’s email or text messages?”

I have my own answer. But I’d like to ask you a bigger question:

“Is it OK to read any family member’s email or text messages?”

Are the rules different for kids and spouses? Why or why not?

My kids aren’t old enough to have email or do text messaging. They use my email address and phone when they do. But the day will come. I’m curious what you all have to say on the matter.

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13 Responses to “Checking Our Family’s Email – Is It OK?”

  1. Tana Says:

    I’m anxious to hear your answer.

    My answer? Generally we don’t read each other’s email, but if we need to we can. My husband doesn’t read my blog, but if he wanted to, I would have nothing to hide. It may not be very interesting to him, but it’s my blog – I write about what’s interesting to me.

    On one side, you have over-policing – I have better things to do than read my husband’s email, and there’s nothing I need to see in them, really. On the other side, you have excess privacy. If you have things you need to hide (other than the occasional surprise), you probably have a problem.

    I really want to hear your answer, though. You have such well thought out opinions.

    Patiently waiting…

  2. suburbancorrespondent Says:

    Children are not adults, and they still need to be taught responsible use of computer communications. My teen daughter knows that I have access to her e-mail account and can read it at any time. Why? Because that makes her more aware of what she is sending off into the wilds of the Internet. E-mail communication is not private, by any stretch of the imagination; and that is a message I want ingrained on her psyche. I actually rarely read it.

    And when I post on my blog, I imagine everyone in the world (and, more to the point, absolutely everyone I know) reading it. I wouldn’t publish anything on the Web that did not pass that test.

  3. Stephanie Says:

    I don’t read the spouse’s emails and he doesn’t read mine because of the boredom factor — as long as the kids are making reasonable educational progress and my other projects don’t take over the house AGAIN, he couldn’t care less about what I blather on about. I have the sneaking suspicion that he actively avoids my blogs. And geez, he tells me enough about the difference between that piece of music gear vs. this other piece of gear without the foggiest notion that after 18 years I still Do Not Retain this knowledge. Read his emails? Can I have a side order of bamboo-skewering?

    But the children? I was one once, without a lick of sense or self preservation. They’ve already been told that when the day comes that they get computer access, their communications are not privileged at all. I’m not going to snoop, I’m going to openly get into whatever I deem necessary. Granted, the older they get and the more responsible they act the less likely I am to get into their business — sort of like being allowed to visit their friends by themselves, or driving, or dating. Give them the freedom in small bits, see how they react, adjust accordingly. Oh yes, and see if you can survive their childhood without developing dependencies (my foreign substances are wool or chocolate, depending on which week it is.)

  4. allemoney Says:

    I cannot say anything as far as spouse email is related, but my mother does check my email as well as both of my younger siblings. It is mostly for our own safety(or that is what she has told us). She knows our email and IM passwords, and it does not really bother me. I do not think she reads my text messages(few and far between as they may be) though I would not be shocked if she did. Again, this would not concern me.

    I think a majority(if not all) children have a lack of responsibility and I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to teach them what is right and what is wrong(at least for a the most part). I plan to one day have children, and I plan to know their email passwords, etc. For me, it’s about safety and the ability to explain things they may not quite understand. Then again, I’m only fifteen, haha.

  5. Fairly Odd Mother Says:

    Read my husband’s email? No way.

    My kids? Well, they are soooo young, but right now, I say no. But, I would make sure they know that we, as parents, MAY choose to read their emails and check the computers to see where they’ve been if we ever think we need to. I agree with Stephanie. They will earn their freedom and my trust in bits.

    And, by the way, they can have private diaries and the such totally to themselves b/c that is not public. I doubt I’d ever snoop into their own diary. I draw the line between a private, written diary and a public web page or email.

  6. A.Ho Says:

    Privacy is always a virtue, I hold the view that everyone’s privacy should be respected and emails should not be read by anyone else unless given permission to. Whether it’s your kid or spouse. Of course, it may be justified by crime investigation or something else is suggesting something fishy is going on….which you have no other ways to verify but to read his/her emails. But if that’s the case you would still have to be honest and apologize for doing so (yep, even if it turns out you’re right, the act of reading someone’s emails is still wrong, a lot of people seem to be carried away once they found out they were right about something… in that case you’ll have apologize AND THEN yell at them)

  7. Sheri Says:

    I don’t think it’s okay to read anyone else’s e-mail or text messages. Period.

    Trust issues aren’t caused by (and certainly aren’t solved by) e-mails and if there is a reason to think something is amiss then the best approach is to discuss your concerns with the other person involved.

    That said, as far our children go, I do not see anything wrong with monitoring computer use and being really nosy about what they’re doing on-line.

    In the end, communication and trust in a family are sacred and can easily be damaged by such an invasion of another’s privacy.

    Anyway, that’s just what I think.

  8. sunniemom Says:

    Well, I am my dh’s secretary, so to speak, so he often asks me to check his email and let him know if there is something he needs to respond to. I have never spied on him. Ick.

    As for kids, they don’t have email accts yet, but I plan to teach them the proper use of computers, internet, email. etc… and how to handle stuff like spam, people who are perverts or jerks, etc. That is what I did with my firstborn, and while he did some things that I did not think were wise, it worked out OK.

    I don’t plan to spy on my younger kids either, but I am not going to go out of my way to avoid seeing what they are doing. Our computers stay ‘public’, by the way. It is the way our home is set up.

    I don’t get stressed about ‘privacy’ at home. If I need to go in their room for something, I go in and get it, just like they do if they need something out of my room. Our home belongs to all of us, and we don’t carve out territory to defend from each other. I see computers the same way.

  9. Kristi Says:

    My husband & I both have access to each other’s accounts, though I don’t think that either of us read the emails to be nosy. There are sometimes that things get sent to my email or his email that is information for both of us, so we are almost always sharing. Besides, neither of us gets anything that we would want to hide from the other (unless it is an order confirmation on a gift, or something like that.)

    Our son has an email account that we set up for him. He is 8 and everything gets looked at by us (his parents) first if it is from someone that we don’t know (i.e. non family and friends.) This is our way of protecting him and teaching him to be careful out in the big WWW world. We also monitor where he is going where he is online. It’s not so much from a privacy aspect, but from a protection aspect. I feel that as he is still a child, protection trumps privacy. Also, we’ve been upfront that we will check up on what he’s doing and why, so it’s not like we are sneaking around without his knowledge.

    I guess I agree with sunniemom that our home (and everything in it) belongs to all of us, so we don’t get stressed out about privacy.

  10. Tammy Says:

    I love all of your answers. They are all so varied and yet, make so much sense.

    You have all given me a lot to think about. I’ll probably end up somewhere in the middle, being aware of my kids’ emails, but not reading them without asking. I really *hate* the “standing over your shoulder” reading email thing. I don’t like it when people do that when I’m writing either. It’s like they are going through my underwear drawer. Nothing to hide, just feels really creepy.

    I also had a really bad experience with email when I was in college. It’s kind of complicated, but essentially, I learned the hard way that email is not private. So, that’ll be one of my lessons for the kids when they get their accounts – never write anything in an email that would ruin your integrity, because email is like talking in a grocery store or on the street to someone. Most of the time, nobody’s listening, but it can happen, and fairly easily. Just be true to yourself in all communication.

    I say all of this now, though, without any experience. So I reserve the right to change my mind once my kids actually start communicating through text messages and email.

  11. Tammy Says:

    Kari emailed me personally, and with permission, I’m reprinting her response here:

    Absolutely do I feel it is okay to read children’s online writings, especially kids under the age of, say, 14 or so. Depends on the kid, I imagine. I feel quite strongly that parents need to guide their children through all facets of life as they are growing to adulthood. Though they might protest and give me a hard time for it, that is no reason for me to abandon my parenting responsibilities. Speaking as a mother of an 18-year-old homeschooled since the middle of second grade who is away at her first year of college; a 16-year-old homeschooler who is very active with chats, emails, and Facebook (I have a Facebook, too); a 7-year-old homeschooled first grader who is trying to keep up with her older sisters and who loves to chat online; and an almost-six-year-old homeschooled Kindergartener who would rather play a computer game but also likes the idea of chatting, I can tell you that there is a time to shepard them through the perils and opportunities offered on the Internet, and there is a time to let go and trust that the values you have modeled all their lives are firmly in place. In our family we share just about every experience and discuss whatever needs discussing, and there’s not too much issue over what’s private and what’s public. So far so good; never take anything for granted or rest on your laurels as a parent, but it’s okay to feel proud when things seem to be going well. 🙂

  12. AlwaysHungry Says:

    Don’t feel qualified to answer since I’m single right now. I keep going back and forth.

    Never heard of WifeAdvice before. Sounds like a fun site

  13. Meghan Says:

    I have a 14yo daughter and I don’t read her emails unless she shares them with me. I set her account up years ago and so I know her password, but I don’t feel the need to read her private posts. She does most of her communication through myspace and texting anyway. She rarely uses her email – mostly only for relatives and friends in the UK. I am one of her friends on myspace (and so I have access to her posts anyway if I wanted to read them) and she is always telling me to look at her page when she changes something . I wouldn’t even try to keep up with her texting!!
    We have a high level of trust and respect between us and I wouldn’t want to damage that by being sneaky or deceptive with her. Of course we’ve talked about dangers and possibilities of the internet, but we’ve done that since day one of her computer use as part of life education.
    The same goes for dh. He could read mine and I could read his, but why would we want to . We talk about anything that might be of interest to the other one anyway and we fully trust each other. I don’t think I could have a relationship where I didn’t fully trust my partner.


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