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How to talk to kids about gaining your trust

In another excerpt from her book "Laying Down the Law," Dr. Ruth Peters tells how kids can gain their parents'  confidence.

Today in "Parenting Weekends" we continue a series of excerpts from “Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting to Keep Your Kids on Track, Out of Trouble, and (Pretty Much) Under Control,” the most recent book by “Today” show contributor Dr. Ruth Peters. Last week, she talked about when it is appropriate to snoop on kids’ activities. This week she explains how to talk with children about their expectations of privacy from their parents.

Explaining the Law to Your Kids Tell your children that if they want you to respect their privacy, to trust them, and to leave their stuff alone, they should do the following:

Keep your room clean. Don’t give us an excuse to rifle through it. Keep up the grades. We believe that if you’re trying hard in school, you’re probably not getting into too much trouble elsewhere. Displaying good judgment at school suggests using common sense with friends and mature decision-making in general.

Talk our ears off. Don’t just say “fine” when we ask how school was that day, or “nothing” when we question what occurred in class. Talk about anything — the weather, what you want for your birthday, what’s cooking with the neighbors, a school project, or upcoming weekend plans. Who knows, you may find that you actually enjoy speaking with us!

The more you communicate with us, the less we’ll feel that you are being secretive and perhaps hiding something. The more comfortable we are with you, the less we’ll feel the need to snoop. Show us the yearbook before your friends begin to sign it. That way we can take our time to look at the pictures and to get an overview of the school year. Or, if it’s already been passed by your friends and you feel uncomfortable with our reading it, you can supervise our perusal of the book, limiting us to the pictures or comments from certain friends or teachers. We will respect your privacy as long as you’re working with us.

Don’t leave your personal things around the house. Your journal contains your private thoughts, but it is also your responsibility to keep it private and in the bedroom.

Choose your friends wisely. You are judged by the company you keep, and even though we may trust you, we may not appreciate your buddy’s lack of curfew or class clown reputation.

Respect the privacy of the other family members. You can’t expect to get what you aren’t willing to give. If you want privacy for your possessions, show us the same amount of respect for ours.

What Kids Consider to Be SnoopingFrom your kid’s point of view, their stuff is off limits unless they give you specific permission to look at, read, or listen to it. And should you slip up and break that trust, they are quite unforgiving. All of the years of affording them privacy can be tarnished by being caught red-handed reading a single note or eavesdropping on a phone call. Trust me, they will never forget it and will bring it up at every opportunity.

Here’s the scoop on what most kids consider to be inappropriate snooping.

  • Reading the yearbook without their expressed permission (especially after it has been signed by friends, often with off-color remarks).
  • Listening in on telephone conversations (either standing by the phone or actually picking up the receiver without their knowledge).
  • Taping telephone conversations.
  • Reading e-mail or hovering over IM chatting on the Internet.
  • Listening to private conversations when friends are over.
  • Checking through drawers, closets, or under the bed or mattress.
  • Looking through photo albums and boxes.
  • Reading journals or diaries.

However, if your child gives you permission to look through the yearbook, for example, and you run into some embarrassing stuff — it’s probably best to keep that to yourself. If you tease or make a big deal about it, odds are that you will not be invited to see next year’s edition!

NEXT WEEK: Why it’s important to insist on good manners

From “Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting to Keep Your Kids on Track, Out of Trouble, and (Pretty Much) Under Control,” by Dr. Ruth Peters. Copyright ©2002 by Dr. Ruth Peters. Excerpted by permission of . No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Dr. Peters is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to “Today.” She is also the consultant psychologist for the Family Program at the Pritikin Longevity Center, a nutrition and exercise facility in Aventura, Florida. For more information you can visit her Web site at . Copyright ©2004 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific psychological or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.