Do you feel like your teen is keeping secrets, or do you think they tend to tell you everything? If you’re worried your child or teenager is hiding something, a new study shows a simple trick for how to get your teenager to tell the truth.
Stop snooping and spying on them.
Covert Communicators or Open Books?
Wendy Rote, Ph.D. , Developmental Psychologist at the University of South Florida, wanted to know how much information teens give up willingly and how parents discover other details their kids may be leaving out. She studied 174 pairs of moms and teens, including 111 pairs that also included dads. She found that:
- 82% were open communicators who tell their parents information without being asked.
- 12% were considered indirect communicators because they tell their parents some information but tend to leave out some details.
- 5-7% percent were so-called “covert communicators.”
“[Covert communicators] were kids who were doing much more lying and they also did some avoidance, only telling partial elements of it,” says Rote. With 94% of kids essentially being more open and honest than parents expected, what made that 5-7% different?
“Parents were asking a lot of questions, but they were also doing things like snooping,” Rote explains.
The technology boom has given teens phones and devices that allow them to chat with their friends at any time. When parents ask questions and teens stonewall, many parents turn spy on their kids to get the information.
Of the group that was found to be open communicators, Rote says that mothers tended to get most of their information by asking questions. Some teens also told them things without even being asked. However, that dynamic changes when you throw dads in the mix — even with the open communicators.
“Teens used a lot more avoidance with their fathers,” says Rote. Dads were still asking questions, and they said that teens were telling them things without being asked, the fathers aren’t going in and trying to snoop.
How Snooping Backfires
While some parents may think that snooping is the way to get more information, they may be doing more harm than good. Rote says when parents spoon, teens often feel betrayed.
“They start to interpret those questions, that solicitation, as just another form of prying rather than a true interest. And they withhold more,” Rote explains.
So what can you do?
Rote says to have a good relationship with your teen. You can try to understand what they’re saying and where they’re coming from. This can help your teen disclose more information without you having to spy.
“There’s actually some evidence out there that parents often snoop more in reaction to perceived non-disclosure than actual problems that are going on,” says Rote. So teens may keep secrets because they feel intruded upon, not because there’s actually something negative happening.
Instead of snooping behind their backs, set limits about what you’re going to do. Rote suggests being honest and telling the teen that if they’re going to have a phone, you’re going to look at it regularly to see what’s going on. This way your teen knows that you’re going to be looking and won’t feel like they’re being snooped on. Having this type of open strategy lets teens be aware of what’s going to happen.
You can also talk to your teen about why you feel the need to spy on them and why you feel like they’re not telling you everything. Another idea is to tell them you’re going to ask them three questions daily so that you can know what’s going on.
“It’s this well-known set expectation that these are pieces of information that just need to be communicated,” says Rote. Because, in the end, more open communication leads to more open communication and reduces the need to snoop behind their backs.