My Neighbors Spied on My Teen! (And Found Out Something Bad)

Here’s iibdfinaya
an interesting dilemma:
Dear Free-Range Kids:
I live in a neighborhood that is very much a throw-back to the 1970’s, complete with a lot of split level houses and a pool that has a real diving board and a ten-foot diving well.  If kids can swim the length of the pool and have parental permission, at age 8 they can attend without a parent.
But somebody always has to spoil it for everyone else, right?
Toward the beginning of the summer, a neighbor approached me to tell me she and another mom and her ex-husband wanted us to be part of a group text where we keep tabs on each others’ teen boys.  Mine is 16; the other two are 14.  I told her that I wasn’t going to do that because I have 4 kids of my own and trust them all, and I was not going to get involved in gossiping about others’ kids.
This didn’t stop her from reporting that my child and hers had eaten a lot of cereal at her house, so they must have been stoned.  The kids talked to my son’s friends from middle school on the tennis courts so they must have been buying drugs.  She isn’t going to pay my son his dog-sitting money in cash, in case he buys drugs.  Our boys and another were giggling and eating potato chips at the pool – suspicious.
Fast forward a month and another kids’ dad, who is also in the spy ring, told us he found a text message among 4 boys regarding their drug use.  Well, our kid, who was innocent until proven guilty, fessed up.  We are dealing with that.  My husband and I are furious with him, but not as furious as we are with the super-secret spy ring of parents with whom we are dealing.  The dad who tattled on the boys then got mad at us because he did not want his son to know he had ratted them out!
This “it takes a village” thing is out of hand.  What it really takes are involved parents who are not so scared of disciplining their own kids that they resort to subterfuge.  It takes talking to one’s own kids. It takes trusting them until they give you a reason not to trust them.
Yes, I want my child to do the right thing, but from internal motivation, not because he is being monitored by nosy neighbors!
Am I the only one who won’t spy and report and think the worst before I have any reason to?
Frustrated in North Carolina
Dear Frustrated — This is such an interesting note because on the one hand, the neighbors were completely distrustful of their kids and yours, and it seems as if they went so far as to read the kids’ private texts, something I find abhorrent. Just because technology makes spying doable doesn’t  makes it right.
But of course, the kicker is that the nosy neighbors were right: The kids WERE doing some drugs, though we have no idea if this was a bit of dabbling (which I kind of think of as pretty normal, even though I never did it myself), or deeper. And I wonder if the “tattling” and its fallout provided your son with a reason to stop and re-consider his choices, or a reason to hate the world of prying, distrustful adults.
Or both.
So I am pro-community — I like the idea of a village — but against spying, because that does not create a village. It creates East Germany.
Yes, look out for each other. No, do not assume the worst. And do not look at private correspondence.
Wimpy though this may sound, I am actually not averse to a bit of naivete on the part of parents. I really don’t want to know everything my kids are doing, even the slightly prickly stuff. – L


Don't you trust your own teen? (Um...)

Don’t you trust your own teen? (Um…) [Photo from TeenDrive365]


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74 Responses to My Neighbors Spied on My Teen! (And Found Out Something Bad)

  1. Workshop July 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    This is an opportunity for the author to have a deeper conversation with her son. Let him realize that, yes, his choices were not good choices, but that you trusted him to do the right thing. Now that you know he isn’t ready for the responsibilities of young adulthood, you can work on making sure that he will be ready. And realize that the relationship he has with you is better than the relationship his friends have with their parents.

    My comment to the other parents would be along the lines of “we didn’t want to be part of this, so your anger that your son now knows that you don’t trust him is misplaced.” And I would seriously consider blocking their numbers.

    My parents had a rule that if I ‘fessed up to stupidity, my punishment would be negligible compared to what it would be if they found out that I hadn’t told them.

    Of course, my parents were also psych nurses, so they could always take me to work with them and let me see firsthand what could happened if I used illicit pharmaceutical substances.

  2. C. S. P. Schofield July 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    I’d like to inject here;

    I tried pot and nitrous oxide when I was a teen. I didn’t become a big user, and I think it was because my parents had the attitude “Of course he’s going ti test the boundries. We did, too. If we don’t act like the Gestapo maybe he’ll come to us if he gets in trouble.” Also, “Better he tries it now, while he’s living at home than in a few years when he’s in another State.”

    I knew my parents weren’t waiting to jump down my throat. I didn’t feel like I was already judged guilty, so what the heck I might as well enjoy it. I pushed some boundries. I didn’t do anything serious.

  3. Andrea D. July 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    I figure it my girl makes it through her teens/early 20s without getting in some kind of major trouble (pregnancy, drugs, anything involving the law) then whatever she does on her own time I just will never have to know about… kind of like my parents and me. I did some things that would probably send them to early graves (not really so bad, just not things they would have expected me, the “good” kid, to have done) but to this day, as I approach 43, they have NO CLUE. I don’t want her to do sketchy things but as a young person she no doubt will, and if she makes it through to the other side unscathed then we’re all good and I can be happy in my ignorance. 😀

  4. Theresa July 15, 2016 at 12:25 pm #

    Even though I don’t think spying is cool but how would you feel if it was the cops bringing your kid home on drug charges.. Better your neighbor then cops. Even a small drug amount is treated like a big deal by them and the law.

  5. Jason July 15, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    This is interesting… it sounds like these parents had a hunch and followed through on it.

    The older folks in my community (Chicago!) talk about how they always knew everyone’s mom was keeping an eye on them. They had the freedom to roam through the neighborhood and generally do what they wanted to do from sunrise until sunset, but if they crossed a line, they knew Mrs. so-and-so was going to tell mom, and mom and dad would already know by the time they arrived home that night.

    So that time you beat up little Billy, or broke Mr. Nelson’s window, those things didn’t go unreported. Everyone’s stay-at-home mom had eyes in the back of their heads.

    So this story sounds to me like it’s the modern version of that. This group of parents might not have been best friends like the 1950s parents were. It’s possible that the parent who reported this issue didn’t do it with the kindest words or express it in the best way. That’s par-for-the-course in our culture where we have communication conflicts all the time.

    FYI I am not a parent, I am an educator however.

    Back to the core of the issue: Do I generally think 16yo’s and 14yo’s should be trusted? Yes… I think I would be a very hands-on parent up through the middle school years, but once they’re in high school they are more like equal partners as young adults.

    My opinion on that has been shifting some, though. I’m finding that college students (who I work with) are really crossing into some actions that they should know better about. Such as, bullying, internalizing pain instead of seeking help, and alcohol and drug abuse (including heroin, cocaine, and mushrooms in this little college town) and all of this seems to be more prevalent than when I was in college.

    In some ways I feel for parents today and the decisions they have to make. Maybe it’s not the wrong decision to be a bit more involved in your high schooler’s life. Including a bit of “father knows best” digging and prying when it’s needed.

  6. MichaelF July 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    I let my son set up his Instagram and Lively on my phone, so he can use it when we are out, and I can monitor to an extent what he is getting up to. Overall I find most of it kid stuff, though I did come across the supposed 11 year old girl who wanted to trade underwear photos. We’d had talks about this sort of thing in the past due to Cub Scouts, and I give my son credit most of his responses were, “why? No. I like Minecraft.”

    I brought up the whole thing obliquely to him, we talked a little about people sending you weird messages, and stuff you should and should not do. He admitted he wanted to get rid of some people, so we did that, and se his account Private. Something he should have done earlier, but he wanted to meet more people. Anyway, lesson learned. Problem solved.

    I still see messages pop up, but know I can trust him to do the right thing.

  7. Diana July 15, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

    I love my neighborhood. I love the community we have. We all agree that it’s safe and we watch out for each other. That being said, the few times someone has seen my son doing *something* and reported it to me, a) I get “the look” of shame for not having already been aware of the situation, b) they usually misinterpret what’s going on in the situation (why they’re holding hands with a girl, why they’re at a certain location, etc), c) if/when I find out what’s really going on (usually from my kids), it’s nothing. So yeah, not a big fan of the spy ring. I trust and talk to my kids.

  8. Ron Skurat July 15, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    This is SO going to backfire on the spy-parents. Resentment, acting out, poisoned relationshiips, you name it. Three of my good freinds in High School had rigid, controlling, distrustful parents with terrible boundaries, and two of those three ended up flaming out in college. I think partly it was the relief of finally having some freedom that caused them to go wild, and partly a desire to flip the folks the bird. Make no mistake, spying is bad parenting.

  9. HKQ451 July 15, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    “So I am pro-community — I like the idea of a village — but against spying, because that does not create a village. It creates East Germany.”

    This! I really like this.

  10. April July 15, 2016 at 1:07 pm #

    I am sorry for your frustration. I would like to just also give a perspective view. I agree that not being part of the spy group has caused other parents to continue to gossip and then due to there helicopter parenting technics it has allowed a life lesion for your child. I am sure your children know that you trust them and it appears that you have a great relationship since he felt comfortable fessing up right away.

    Everyone is watching some one the sad thing is that because of association or indirect actions things can have a negative effect on you. This is a great lesson to learn now VS latter. You son may have not been the one being watched but because he was associated with some one who was he got caught in there web of distrust.

    Employers does this all the time in different ways, neighbors and even friends some times can have a negative image of some thing some one else does can reflect poorly on you guilt by association.

    Times have changed drastically and unfortanly this was a lesson that your poor children are having to learn to early.

  11. Juluho July 15, 2016 at 1:08 pm #

    I’d want to know if my kid was doing drugs, because that’s an important conversation to have and behavior to shut down. Also, I’d like to know if my kids was texting about drugs because he’s clearly an idiot and needs to learn about being less dumb and obvious, like giggling and eating Cheetos in front of moms.
    That being said, it happens. Sounds like the spy parents are ready to call the DEA and get these kids into the Betty for somethings that’s almost legal and not very dangerous.

    My parents were very much free range and it worked out for some of us and not others. It’s more about what kind of internal responsibility a teenager has, I think, when it comes to monitoring. That being said, I have aunts and uncles who did the spy ring, drug testing, total control thing and the results weren’t much different than the free range, in the end. We’re all pretty successful adults.

  12. MichelleB July 15, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

    It’s the story of the boy who cried wolf — they were eating chips….talking to other kids…might have had access to cash…

    My oldest two kids are sixteen and nineteen and I would never be part of a network like this. Comparing notes with another parent or two if there seemed to be a problem is something different. Or notifying another parent if their kid did something serious enough to justify it (like the drug use.)

  13. Sarah Wolf July 15, 2016 at 1:24 pm #

    We have enough trouble with the state spying on people… people like this would make me want to move.

  14. NY Mom July 15, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    There are many conversations we wish we could avoid having with our kids:
    Cheating on tests
    Texting while driving.

    Have the talk.
    Did I mention sex?
    That too.
    Get it all out there. You’ll be glad you did. Bye and bye.

  15. andy July 15, 2016 at 2:01 pm #

    I am getting tired of East Germany and Stalin references when related to trivial stuff such as controlling parents. One really really does not lead to another. There should be Goldwin law related to that too.

    Back to topic: just as neighborhood “busted” kids, so could cops. As annoying as neighborhoods were, cops and jail time and lifetime consequences would be more annoying. Kids really need to understand the risk they are running there.

    It is interesting that other parents don’t see drugs as big enough issue. I would not mind a bit of marijuana on itself, I would favor legalization, but a legal risk is real and would be strongly against that for that reason. I wonder what it is that other parents spy for. If drugs dont move them to action, what would?

  16. Jenn July 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    My former neighbour’s daughter had a party for her sixteenth birthday. Me neighbour didn’t give us the heads up (which would have been nice but not required) so when I saw kids outside her house drinking, I let her know. She became very upset with me. Our homes face out onto a busy street, near the local police station. If the police drove by, they would have seen the kids, and charges may have followed. I wanted to protect my neighbour and her daughter from an unnecessary visit from the police. My kids are younger but I get it, some teens drink. I didn’t really care that they were drinking, but the issue was underage drinking in plain sight of anyone who drove by.

  17. ValerieH July 15, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    I resonate with the comment about Chicago when everyone’s mom was watching all the kids and what they were doing. This is how kids were able to have such freedom within their neighborhoods. There was a safety net. They learned from getting yelled at by their friend’s mom. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s when only half of the moms were at home. I don’t remember getting told on by the other moms. These parents seems to have the same idea but the way it was carried out was with a lot of suspicion and blame. Giggling and eating a lot might be innocent – it might not. The letter writer dodged a bullet by getting this from the neighbors and not the cops. They had not known their kid was trying drugs.

  18. Workshop July 15, 2016 at 2:56 pm #

    Whatever happened to simply ransacking the kid’s room looking for the paraphernalia?

    Sheesh, if you have the suspicion, why are you not addressing it at the time rather than let it go?

    Don’t tell my it’s because you believe in privacy, because that went out the window when you read their text messages.

    I run a benevolent dictatorship. The children are not in charge. They get exactly the amount of freedom I give them, and while I allow them to stretch so that they can grow, I can’t imagine a situation where I had a strong suspicion that my kid was doing drugs and then NOT DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT. That’s just lazy parenting. And then we get back to telling that to the other parent. “Your anger is misplaced. You are the one who had the suspicions and didn’t do anything.”

  19. Aimee July 15, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

    My son is a total chow-hound, but does not use drugs. He is 15 and growing fast and he rides his bike a lot….. and he eats. And eats. He and his buddy once at an entire loaf of bread in one sitting (at his buddy’s house) when that bread was meant for lunch sandwiches for their family of 6. The buddy’s mom told me about it (she and I are friends, and she was irritated by it, rightly so!) so now we have a bit of a joke that when my son goes to their house, he is to go with a carb-in-hand…. bread, cookies, crackers, etc…. and not just enough for himself, enough for any he and the buddy are going to eat, and then some to leave behind! Sometimes some of this stuff is just an opportunity to teach some manners.

  20. Buffy July 15, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

    Wow folks, I don’t believe the mom above was asking for advice on how to handle her son’s use of drugs.

  21. BL July 15, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

    “I am getting tired of East Germany and Stalin references when related to trivial stuff such as controlling parents.”

    Actually, it sounds a lot like East Germany. Try reading “The File” by Timothy Garton Ash. Ash is a British journalist who covered East Germany in his younger days. After the fall of the Berlin Wall he got to view his file (hence the title of the book). He was amazed at how thoroughly he was being watched all the time. So, apparently, was everyone in the DDR.

  22. m July 15, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

    Teens need to know their parents trust them and won’t freak out if something goes wrong. Spying on your kids doesn’t do it.

  23. Papilio July 15, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

    I wonder if American teens are more likely to do drugs BECAUSE they’re under that kind of regime… Forbidden fruits and all that.

  24. Jessica July 15, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    People are nostalgic for days when neighborhood parents parented together. Even spanking other people’s young children! To me, this is what today’s post is about. Sounds like the parents were keeping tabs on each other’s children. Not a bad system.

  25. Chuck July 15, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

    I’m the world’s worst parent. I actually talked to my kids (now adults) about everything and they always felt like they could talk to me about everything (as far as I knew, and as adults they confirmed this). And I allowed them their privacy.

    The one thing I did not tolerate was being lied to. They knew that if they did something stupid we were going to have a conversation about it, discussing the pros and cons and consequences of their actions. They also knew that if they lied to me the punishment was going to be far worse.

    As far as drugs (alcohol included) go, I was honest about that too. They asked about my past drug use and I told them. I also told them that in moderation, most drugs won’t hurt you. They experimented with marijuana and alcohol, and one tried mushrooms, but they never did anything harder than that. As adults they told me that me being honest and reasonable with them took all the fun and rebelliousness out of it.

    When they got to the age where they wanted to go to concerts with friends by themselves, before each concert we had the drug talks again, and I stressed moderation and that they needed to keep an eye on their friends too. We had a standing agreement that if they were ever in a situation where they were drunk or stoned and no one could drive they were to call me and I would go pick them up, give their friends a ride home and I wouldn’t embarrass them in front of their friends. However, we were going to discuss it the next day.

    I always believed in letting the kids make their own mistakes and finding out what the consequences were. I wanted them to learn to be independent and to make good decisions while I was still there to be able to bail them out. I never felt the need to spy on them.

    The best thing I ever did for my kids was to spend a lot of time with them—a LOT of time. They learned as much or more from watching me and my behavior as they learned from asking questions. I am extremely pleased with the way they turned out and the ones that have their own kids are now great parents too. (My youngest daughter became a first-time mom last night! Woohoo!)

  26. andy July 15, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

    @BL It may sound, but it is not. Yes Brit was watched and politically suspect people were watched. No, this comparison is exaggerated beyond any usefulness. It is like claiming that parent smacking a child is what creates torture. No, not really the same thing.

    I do not really understand these parents through. They sounded paranoid, until they were right which may mean they simply read giggling body language right. They sounded controlling and afraid until they decided the right action is not to do anything about those drugs and keep discovery secret from kids. What was the point then?

    Organized gossiping about cereals eaten is not my kind of spending time, but if my friends knew about my children doing something I strongly disapprove I would not mind them telling me. These had suspicion of children doing drugs which turned out to be true, so I am not really going into outrage or Easter Germany comparisons for them trying to find out more. Nosy neighbors who tell me are preferable over nosy neighbors who tell cops.

    I do not think smoking marijuana is a morally wrong thing, I am not sure what kind of internal motivation would make you do it, it is all issue of nosy cops for me. And even as I strongly favor legalization, it is not really the same as fear of Gestapo.

  27. Tern July 15, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

    We had a situation like this. Parents emailed me to report that my daughter, who is away every evening at a relatively unsupervised after school activity, was doing some things they found inappropriate. I didn’t completely agree with their assessment of the situation, but I was really glad they contacted me. While it’s important for kids to do the right thing because of internal motivation, that motivation takes a long time to develop, and many people have trouble with it into adulthood. I would rather my daughter know that other people are watching her behavior too. Now, there’s a line that’s inappropriate to cross. I don’t want anyone searching my kids’ lockers (without VERY good reason) or looking at their phones. My kids get to have their own lives and ideas and relationships. But until they are adults, I am glad for a certain amount of community supervision. That supervision comes with the problem that people will disagree about the line between appropriate supervision and spying. In this case, since the other parents were correct, I would let it go and simply deal with the issue with your son. In the case with my daughter we went back to relatively tight supervision for a while until she’d earned our trust again.

  28. Vaughan Evans July 15, 2016 at 5:29 pm #

    In 1975. I went to a hotel in Pemberton(a small village in the interior of the Canadian Province of British Columbia

    In those days I was taking Dilantin

    A hotel guest saw me carry the drugs. He called the police.

    The hotel manager and an RCMP (police)officer came to my hotel room.

    Lucky for me, I was able to prove the drugs were “prescription” drugs
    It said’
    On 2 Dilantin pills daily.
    -The policeman even probed my back-to see if there were any “telltale” marks on my back

    (When a syringe(hypodermic needle is injected)a telltale mark occurs.

    I finally obtained a Medic-Alert bracelet
    It said
    “On 2 Dilantin pills daily for cerebral dysrhythmia-. I am not epileptic.
    (Some people thought that I should not drive a motorcycle-when I am taking Dilantin
    I tried to say that unlike alcohol, Dilantin is NOT a depressant.
    It does NOT cause my senses to lose their normal sharpness.

    NOTE: In 1980, a psychiatrist took me “off” my Dilantin.

  29. Jason (L'autre) July 15, 2016 at 6:23 pm #

    Interestingly, people here are usually all in favor of the days when other parents were looking out for their kids. Is it somehow more sinister when the parents text each other rather than speak face to face?

    Should the “tattling” dad have just confronted all of the boys directly? He let the other parents know what he found out, and let them take the action they wanted to with their own kid. If you’re ok with your kid experimenting with drugs or being a total stoner, then no problem. Or, be glad you found out about it and talk to your kid.

    Or, you can talk to your kid about it and also be angry at the people who brought it to your attention. Talk about shooting the messenger.

    Most people probably ask themselves if they would want to know if their kid was doing xyz, and if so, they decide it’s best to tell another parent when it’s their kid doing it. Sort of a “professional courtesy”.

    I think the only misplaced anger here is the writer’s.

  30. pentamom July 15, 2016 at 9:20 pm #

    Yeah, this is a weird mixture. Sorry, but I can’t be dismissive about the possibility of my kids using drugs. Do I want to join up in a spy ring against them before I even have reason to suspect them? No. But I don’t think they have any right to privacy from me that involves hiding illegal behavior, and other serious behaviors strictly forbidden in our family. They get privacy from me so long as they maintain my trust, and they have my trust so long as they give me no reason to doubt it.

    And for sure, teenage boys eating a lot is not a reason to forfeit my trust, even a little bit. That’s nuts.

    But when all is said and done, I am not going to be more furious about someone who tells me my kids are doing something seriously disobedient and potentially dangerous, than about what my kids are doing. And I don’t even get why she’s mad about the “tattling,” rather than the spying. The spying I could see being mad about, but really, she WANTED to be in the dark about her kid messing around with drugs after it was known by others? Seriously?

    Someone said above that the author isn’t asking for parenting advice. Well, maybe not, but if it’s going to be held up there as a positive example of parenting, I’m going to point out why I think it’s not.

  31. Gina July 15, 2016 at 9:45 pm #

    My kids all told me when/if they smoked weed. We had always discussed it as they were growing up and continued to discuss. All are adults, 3/5 have smoked…not sure who still does, but if they do it’s occasionally.
    THAT is trust and communication.

  32. pentamom July 15, 2016 at 10:05 pm #

    Well said, Tern.

  33. Renee Anne July 15, 2016 at 10:24 pm #

    I am so glad I grew up in an era where our “text messages” were on paper that could easily be destroyed, I could ride my bike all over town and no one would think twice, I could be gone for HOURS and no one would freak out, and knowing the things I did in my younger years, it’s probably a good thing my mom didn’t know about most of it…not that I was a terrible kid because I wasn’t but some things your parents just don’t need to know.

  34. Harrow July 16, 2016 at 12:24 am #

    It was very generous of the spy ring to keep the OP on their intelligence product distribution list even though she declined to join the alliance.

  35. bmommyx2 July 16, 2016 at 1:26 am #

    I’m glad I have not encountered these type of parents

  36. sexhysteria July 16, 2016 at 3:18 am #

    Which is worse for kids, experimenting with drugs (or sex), or getting “caught” by your parents? If parents mind their own business and let teens run their own lives, that is always worse – assuming that the parents are superheroes and the teens are retarded. I suspect that some helicopter parents feel guilty because they know they didn’t do a good job in raising their kids during childhood, so now they feel they need to prevent probable future catastrophes.

  37. Mark Stoval July 16, 2016 at 6:43 am #

    I was a teen once, way back in the 60s and I and attest that when parents accuse you or suspect you of things, it makes you want to go do them.

    Old wisdom says that if they have already convicted you of a sin, you might as well get the pleasure of it.

    I am not saying that is what happened in this case, but after watching teens and parents for decades as a teacher, I can tell you that the kids that are “under the thumb” of their parents can go hog wild when they get the chance.

  38. Donna July 16, 2016 at 7:05 am #

    Huh? I really don’t get this parent (the writer) at all.

    When I first read this title, I thought it was going to be some story about some uninvolved busy body spying on the neighborhood kids. That is not what this is at all. It is a group of parents supervising THEIR OWN children who, in doing so, happened to discover a negative fact about her child and passed it on. Isn’t this what we expect from the parents in our child’s social circle? These boys appear to all be friends. While a formal discussion over “keeping tabs” on each other’s kids is odd, this is normal community behavior. I expect the parents of my child’s friends to tell me if they, while supervising their own child, discover something such as drug use by my child, and I would do the same for them. I would be angry if they knew something like this and hid it from me, not that they told me what they discovered.

    As for the odd conclusions drawn from normal teenage actions, those conclusions were correct. Did the writer stop to think that while binge eating and giggling are normal behaviors for teenage boys, it may be abnormal behavior for THESE teenage boys and THAT is why the other parents drew the, ultimately right, conclusions they drew? Or maybe something else about the seemingly normal behavior raised their red flag? That whole trust your gut thing?

    It seems to me that this is nothing more than the irrational complaints of a parent who wanted to hide her head in the sand and is annoyed that someone brought something to her attention that she now has to deal with. The only real objectionable thing that I saw is the refusal to give cash to the kid for dog sitting. Reporting information is one thing, actually parenting someone else’s child is another.

  39. SteveS July 16, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    Would I want to know that my kid was doing something very serious? Sure. Would I talk to another parent about their child’s use of drugs or some other illegal activity? Sure. The whole organized group text to exchange ‘gossip’ seems a little much.

    The problem with setting up some kind of spy ring or system of routine monitoring is that it will lose its effectiveness once your kids know about it. It would seem to make more sense to reserve tattling and monitoring for situations that genuinely call for it.

  40. K2 July 16, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    Hate to say it, but this is a kid that needs to be spyed on. The trust and respect are for kids that are trustworthy.

  41. pentamom July 16, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

    The problem here isn’t with parents watching out for other people’s kids, though the author seems to think it is.

    The problem is with making it a group text situation.

    Any concern a parent has about another person’s kids should be private, not broadcast to a group, no matter how small.

    The other problem is with acting like a mandated reporter about every little concern instead of using good judgment about what to report. Why didn’t the parent who was concerned that the excessive consumption of chips might be related to drug use ask her own kid first? Why did the other parent *inform* the author that she wasn’t going to pay the author’s kid in cash, instead of asking the author what to do after expressing the concern?

    The problem here isn’t really that the parents are keeping tabs and telling the specific parents of the specific kids that stuff is going on that shouldn’t be. The author is dead wrong to think that’s a problem. The problem is the presumptuous manner and the lack of respect for privacy accompanying it. In the name of doing what good parents and neighbors do, these parents were indulging in being gossips and busybodies.

  42. Papilio July 16, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    @K2: But what if trust and respect isn’t the begin situation, and, like Mark said, kids act out *because* their parents don’t trust them anyway?
    Perhaps not for the kid of this letterwriter, but for the spy parents’ kids I do wonder about cause and effect.

    Re: kids telling you about smoking pot: when I was in eight grade, my biology teacher told us how he had been totally open with his kids about pot too (also the effects and risks etc), even going so far that they had all smoked it together and spent a Sunday afternoon lying on the couch all stoned! 😀

    As far as drug use goes: I do definitely draw a line between alcohol and/or marijuana on one hand and cocaine/heroine/lsd and all that other chemical garbage on the other. That wouldn’t be a ‘pretty normal’ ‘bit of dabbling’ for me… How do you guys see that?

  43. andy July 16, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    @pentamom some groups of friends are more private, others less so. We have younger kids, but we discussed kids “issues” pretty openly with close friends.

    It is quite possible that those other families simply started with worry someone had. It is pretty normal for an adult to discuss worry with another adult. Talking about issue often helps people to clear head. The drug related suspicion probably build up slowly over time from a lot of small hints. That is exactly the muddled situation where talking with another adult helps distinguish between “it is just me and I am seeing ghosts and overanalysing” and “yep others detected subtle weird things too there might be something on it”.

    I don’t think that “don’t talk about kids related worries with friends” is reasonable expectation. And once they became more sure about the suspicion, it made sense to talk about it with new parent too.

    Maybe the parents did asked kids first, but most kids won’t admit something they know parents strongly disapprove. Admitting drug use would had a consequence of more control or patent demanding that you stop in many families. I had good relationship with parents and would not admit something like that, especially if I would not wanted to stop the smoking.

    The whole open communication thing works well when parent don’t actually mind the issue at question all that much. It is different when parent has strong opinion. Letter writers kid did not admitted drug use by himself either – they had to have proof of I read it right.

  44. andy July 16, 2016 at 4:39 pm #

    @Papilio I have no idea about here, but overly controlling parent is just one possible cause of misbehaviour. Kid sometimes misbehave because misbehavior seems fun/beneficial/easy at the moment, because of peer pressure, because they disagree with parents or simply out of irrational impulse. There is such a thing as being naive about your children and kids of naive parents are no angels.

  45. SanityAnyone? July 16, 2016 at 4:51 pm #

    My rising eighth grader wants a phone. He is interested in all kinds of adult things, as he should be. Even though I trust he currently is and will grow up to be a wonderful human being, I feel quite uncomfortable putting the power of everything in his immature hands. The pressure is great to give in this school year. The best thing about the phone is the possibility of making plans with his friends instead of being out of the loop. The downsides are obvious… Obsessive use, cost, accessing unlimited adult content, ability to say stupid, irrevocable things online, mischief. One of our rules has to be that we can and will inspect the phone at any time. He is 13. I wouldn’t do it at 17, most likely. I feel like part of my job is providing some boundaries, and fear of misusing and losing his phone is one way to mitigate the perils of being 13 online.

    Regarding this specific scenario, it’s sickening. If the other parents suspect anything due to direct observation or reading texts, go directly to the suspect’s parents. Don’t engage in the spread of damaging gossip. Definitely don’t ignore drug use. Heroin is killing kids daily and is widely available. A kid who uses weed might be likely to try heroin.

  46. pentamom July 16, 2016 at 6:10 pm #

    andy, choosing to discuss issues concerning your kids with your friends is one thing.

    Having your neighbors broadcast, in front of all your other neighbors, what your kids are up to, is another. Remember these neighbors aren’t necessarily close friends, but the parents of kids your kids are hanging out with.

    Certainly it can be appropriate to discuss your kids in front of others. What isn’t appropriate is for *others* to discuss my kids in front of yet others, who may or may not be people I want to discuss them in front of, and particularly before there’s any means for them to know how much I want the situation discussed.

    Does that make sense?

  47. pentamom July 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm #

    Even if you don’t view pot as a gateway, it’s undeniable that some kids do more than fool around with pot a little bit, and mess themselves up seriously, not to mention the risk of legal problems or being expelled from school depending on circumstances, or just the general problems that regular use of it could bring, as far as school suffering and so forth.

    So I can’t imagine not wanting to know. It’s something parents should ALWAYS address, if not necessarily panic over.

  48. Donna July 16, 2016 at 10:11 pm #

    Pentamom – First, I don’the think it is clear at all that the other parents were gossiping in a group text about her son. These could all be things they told her personally and didn’t publicize his name on the group text. After all, she knows about them and she wasn’t part of the group text.

    Even they were on the group text, people have been gossiping about other kids since the dawn of kids. Do you really think if the parents of your child’s friends thought your child was taking drugs that they wouldn’the talk about it among themselves? And none of the parents were gossiping about the writer’s kid in a vacuum. It appears to all be mentions of him as part of a group including their own kid. I am not much of a gossip, but I will occasionally mention things about my kid’s friends in conjunction with her.

    It appears that the most egregious act of the boy – the confirmed drug use – was spoken about privately.

  49. andy July 17, 2016 at 2:01 am #

    @pentamom While we talk about our children, they friends normally come to be talked about too. Or sometimes someone has observation about other kid.

    People I talk about children openly are people who are parents of their friends. It just evolved that way – we got to know each other through children and children were that thing we had in common. That is pretty much the only group where it would make sense to say something like “that giggling goes on for long and for no apparent reason, is that normal with your boy?”

    The whole group text is weird to me and not the way I would do things. Then again, they had serious worry and maybe that was more compatible with their lives.

    Still, written discussion about your children drug use may turn out to be problem if you get unlucky and cops go around. (I have no direct experience with that, just imagining it can not possibly help)

  50. Cassie July 17, 2016 at 7:27 am #

    “So I am pro-community — I like the idea of a village — but against spying, because that does not create a village. It creates East Germany.”

    +1 This. It is simple really.

    On one hand you sit down ready to understand, ready to help, the same hand that you openly and kindly share serious information with other members of the village.

    On the other hand you treat your kids like the enemy.

  51. T. Farnell July 17, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    I dont usually believe in spying but if i suspected my teens were doing drugs darn rights id check their cell phones and the computer.

  52. zzmel July 17, 2016 at 12:46 pm #

    Spying on children, absolutely not! If you have to spy on your kids, that tells me you don’t trust them. Kids growing up are going to in some way are going to overstep their boundaries. Eventually they are caught and have to pay for their consequences by having some of their privileges taken away. Being on drugs are something no parent wants to see but it very well can happen. Raising 2 girls was not easy. One got into some terrible drugs and suffered for it most of her teen into early adulthood. Her life has changed and been off of drugs for over 15 years and to make sure she stays off of it, she attends NA meetings every week for the last 15 years. She is married and lives a very productive life. My other daughter got into some trouble as well. She tried some drugs but overcame it herself. She is also leading a productive life. Please understand,, you cannot watch your children constantly. If they hang out with the wrong friends, they can get into trouble. We try to direct them into being responsible when growing up and hope for the best. You just have to trust them. They may hiit bottom and sometimes they need help from outside sources. Hopefully you can intervene and guide them in getting the help they need. Only time will tell. You, being their parent have that responsibility.

  53. Duane A. Webb July 17, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

    Dear ‘Frustrated’.

    Your neighbors may stalk/monitor/question their own children until they are either emancipated or reach legal age – but in The United States, they may NOT stalk/monitor/question other peoples children. The only individuals who are generally permitted to conduct such surveillance under any circumstance and in any locale are law enforcement officials – and a warrant or (probable) cause is required.

    These residents in your community have formed an organization that subjects minors (and others) in your community to an ‘unreasonable’ condition within that community that effectively undermines specific rights afforded you and your family.

    For example: In a unanimous decision in April 2014; The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a warrant is required in order to search a mobile phone. While this may not apply to their own children – the ruling is certainly there to protect your children from snoops who don’t understand what privacy is, and why they shouldn’t violate it.

    The incident involving your son may have been a ‘ruse’ designed to elicit a statement from him – a form of retaliation for your refusal to be a part of their scheme.

    Document everything. Tell your son to password protect his phone. For threats to privacy, I generally recommend a random 30 day journal (Aug, Nov, etc). It sounds ridiculous – but you should pen a note when you see or learn of something unusual involving your son and other members of the community – for his sake, no other reason. If you think there may be a pattern of organized stalking or some other form of illegal surveillance call the police to report it. It’s important to file with a local authority when there is a substantiated suspicion that private citizens are attempting to ‘police’ other private citizens.

  54. pentamom July 17, 2016 at 7:15 pm #

    andy, I don’t think we really disagree. My objection is to the group text, because by definition information is being shared about your kids’ specific activities and potential problem with other people, with no control from you. Someone sees your kid doing something and they want to accuse or otherwise say something that you might not want broadcast until you’ve been able to look into it or address it — but it’s going out to the whole group immediately, not just to you. Somehow talking it over F2F is different.

  55. pentamom July 17, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

    Donna — You may be right that not all this happened in the group text. But I dunno — what’s the purpose of the group text, then, if not to broadcast to a group all of these “concerns” instead of contacting specific parents as needed?

    And yeah, people will gossip about other people’s kids — but it’s bad, wrong, and you shouldn’t set up a group specifically to do it. Will it happen anyway? No doubt, much of the time. But it’s quite different to say “it will happen and we can’t really prevent it and it’s not the end of the world” and “let’s design this system to facilitate it! Great idea!”

  56. Donna July 18, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    Pentamom – The writer was not part of the texting group so there is no reason to believe that her child’s actions were included in the group texts. They may have been, but who knows. There is also no way to know if just what the kids were doing is posted or if it included the personal conclusions about drug use. In fact, we have no idea what the parameters of the group are since the writer didn’t join.

    I also guess that you and I have very different definitions of gossip. Gossip is something done behind your back without your consent and generally with a mean-spirited purpose. These parents all consented to and were part of the conversation. This appears to be the parents of a group of friends who are hanging out together during the summer. They appear to be communicating about the activities of the group to everyone who chose to play. That is not gossip to me. Now if they started to exclude one member from the discussions while talking about that person’s kid, then that would be gossip. To the extent they are talking about this writer’s child beyond his general presence in a group with their children (ie speculate on his drug use rather than just saying he was in the group at the pool) that moves into gossip, but we don’t know if that is what happened nor does it appear to have been the purpose of the group.

  57. E July 18, 2016 at 11:44 am #

    I think Donna is hitting the nail on the head.

    It sounds like the group text message is what bothers her, but obviously (I mean OBVIOUSLY) there was some concern about teen boys in the summer with idle time and whatever signs they might have observed. I don’t believe this is a “blind squirrel eventually finds a nut”.

    I don’t see a reason to be “furious” at the other parents at all. Don’t you *WANT* to know that about your kid? (I’ll answer it: yes, you WANT to know that.) She doesn’t have to be their best friends or whatever, but the information gleaned out of their concern (and monitoring) has given you very important information about your kid.

    She wrote: ” It takes trusting them until they give you a reason not to trust them.”. I think the point was that a month or so ago, the kids gave these parents a reason to be concerned. They didn’t come to you a year ago, they came to you a month before they actually confirmed a fear.

    I can understand feeling defensive/offended. But I also think she should be very appreciative.

    And I’m going to guess that this parent is the only one calling it a “super secret spy ring”. Get over it and worry about how to move forward with your kid. Better you hear it from a neighbor than a school principal or police officer.

  58. E July 18, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    @pentamom: “But I dunno — what’s the purpose of the group text, then, if not to broadcast to a group all of these “concerns” instead of contacting specific parents as needed?”

    Couldn’t be as simple as: 3 teen boys are friends and hang out together over the summer….1 (or more) parent begins to get concerned about if the boys are getting high. 1 set of parents happens to be divorced. So, instead of checking in with 4 (at minimum) people individually if they want to check in, they want to be able to send 1 text and have all parties aware. So “Hey, Johnny told me they were all going to the movies but his story seemed to change as we talked, have you talked to Danny?”.

    Why worry about if the parent sent 1 texts instead of 3?

  59. E July 18, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

    So — sorry to spam this post, but from the original post:

    “Yes, I want my child to do the right thing, but from internal motivation, not because he is being monitored by nosy neighbors!
    Am I the only one who won’t spy and report and think the worst before I have any reason to?”

    She needs to realize that a) they other parents HAD a reason to — isn’t that perfectly clear? b) your son may not *ever* have decided to do the right thing because of “internal motivation”. c) there are LOTS of ways you could have found out about his drug use and learning from other parents is BY FAR the better option.

    Your “nosy neighbors” were monitoring their kids because they had a concern. A concern that was validated. And just imagine if your kid (being older) was the one that introduced *their kids* to weed. Of course, that might not be the case, but if it is, imagine being their parents and wondering why you were so disinterested in comparing notes.

  60. E July 18, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    Bottom line, if this Mom is that furious at her friend’s parents, then she should tell them to NOT inform her of any concerning behavior that involves her son in the future regardless of the means by which they discover it.

    But she should be prepared for the other kids not being able to hang out with her kid any longer.

    You simply can’t have it both ways.

  61. Dean July 18, 2016 at 3:44 pm #

    Boy! I’m glad I didn’t have a second bowl of cereal this morning. I could have ended up on the Nosy Neighbor Network.

  62. BL July 18, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    “… regardless of the means by which they discover it.”

    So … the end justifies the means?

  63. E July 18, 2016 at 5:06 pm #

    @BL — I get what you are saying, but I haven’t read anything that seems out of line here. Concerned parents whose gut feelings were correct. I’m not suggesting that someone else should be placing listening devices in her home or look at her kid’s phone. I’m talking about if her kid is implicated in the future to be using drugs in the future, does she want to know or not.

    It’s silly (to me anyway) to talk about breaking your kids’ trust when the kid absolutely broke YOUR trust and they are using drugs and breaking the law.

    Now — if the parents want the kid to suffer natural consequences that don’t include parent intervention, then by all means. Allow them to continue using and wait until there is a medical/social/motivation issues or they get busted. Tell the other parents such and move on.

    BTW, I suggest that the parent not be “furious” with any parties. Dealing with kids and drugs is a tricky, no fun part of parenting.

  64. E July 18, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

    @BL — to be more direct.

    If you suspect your child is using drugs, what would you do? Ask them? Not great odds there.

    If you are a parent that will NOT look in a 14 year old’s room after drug suspicion, if you are a parent that would NOT look at a 14 year old’s phone after drug suspicion, then so be it.

    There’s a difference between periodic checks with no reason for concern and acting on a suspicion.

  65. Papilio July 18, 2016 at 5:27 pm #

    @Andy: Ehm, I didn’t say ALL misbehavior is caused by helicopter parents – how could it be?? But when I read that in my country 25% of people have ever tried weed, and in the USA that percentage is 44%, and teens are a likely age group to experiment with that sort of thing, then that does make me wonder.

    SanityAnyone?: “Heroin is killing kids daily”
    Sorry to James you, but I looked up the heroin death rate in the USA, expecting 730 dead heroin addicts under the age of 18, and much to my surprise, it was 81 people of all ages (2013)…

  66. James Pollock July 18, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

    “Sorry to James you, but I looked up the heroin death rate in the USA, expecting 730 dead heroin addicts under the age of 18, and much to my surprise, it was 81 people of all ages (2013)…”

    Sorry to James you, but you’re not very good at looking things up. There were more than 81 fatal heroin overdoses in my state alone in 2013.
    Here’s some news coverage:

    Here’s the federal numbers (for the whole country)

    You’re also not very good at math. If “Heroin is killing kids daily”, you’d expect to find at least 366 (this is a leap year) cases where a “kid” died as a result of taking heroin. (Arguably, you could include cases where a person taking heroin accidentally or negligently killed someone else, but even if you stick to overdoses only, 730 is way too many.

  67. andy July 18, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    @Papilio I interpreted your comment and question as related to these families – that maybe these boots smoked because of tight control by parents. I think that would be too much leap.

    Two other thoughts: 1.) there is more then just legality difference between your country and USA. Drug policy is just one of multiple factors and more permissive does not always mean less users. (As proven be Eastern Europe and alcohol conception)

    2.) Despite partial legalisation in some states, dugs in USA are no joke illegal. As in, it is not just slap on the wrists you move from wroth little long term consequences. I can see how it can make parents more scared.

  68. Donna July 19, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    “So …. the ends justify the means?”

    If I have a real suspicion that my child is using drugs, pretty much yes.

    Drugs have a high likelihood of serious consequences. Addiction for one, but even beyond that. I watch people go to jail/prison daily (or at least every day I am in court) for nothing more than possessing drugs. Probably 90% of my non-drug cases are drug-related and not just the stuff going on in the ‘hood between gangs and competing drug dealers. But decent people committing thefts, burglaries, forgeries, even armed robberies to get money for drugs. Decent people doing stupid crap because they were high. My car was totalled a few years ago in a wreck caused by a drug-impaired driver who was a typical middle class person addicted to prescription pills.

    The vast majority of my DFCS cases involve drugs. I have now been appointed to represent every child in DFCS care in my county. A couple hundred kids whose lives have been destroyed by drug use. Babies born addicted. Young kids who are completely off the chain and require years of therapy and dedicated caregivers (which are far too few) just to maybe overcome the neglect and chaos so that they can go on to lead productive lives. Teens who will never get it together and will cycle through years of addiction and prison themselves because they have no clue how to live any other way.

    This is not to say that I think every experiment with Marijuana is wrong or that I would panic if it occurred. I smoked weed occasionally in high school and college and don’t view its casual use as any more of a big deal than casual alcohol use outside of the potentially higher legal ramifications. But it is definitely something I want to be aware of so that I can try to intervene at early signs that it is moving beyond that.

  69. lollipoplover July 19, 2016 at 9:19 am #

    “So …. the ends justify the means?”

    “If I have a real suspicion that my child is using drugs, pretty much yes.”

    Same here.

    We were all teenagers once. I think the difference here is HOW the information is reported (I am a hater of group texts) and think people need to pick up the phone more or knock on a door to have real conversations. But I would want to know what my kid is doing, good or bad, so I could address it before it escalated.

    Honestly, I’d rather have neighbors keeping tabs on teens than calling the police on them! We’ve had some vandalism at our local parks (with evidence of alcohol and drug use at the scene) that someone’s kids are doing this. If this was my kid, I’d want to know if they were being an idiot and have them face consequences for their actions before the law got involved. I don’t understand the complaint by this letter writer- this is how a community should work, looking out for each other.

  70. E July 19, 2016 at 10:09 am #

    Well said Donna and Lollipoplover.

    The only thing I can think of is the parent is embarrassed. And I can understand that.

  71. lollipoplover July 19, 2016 at 12:02 pm #


    It’s humbling as a parent to face the slip ups of our kids. They all will make mistakes. Every kid. No parenting style is immune. But there isn’t a need to shoot the messenger, even if you dislike the way they blasted out the information.

    I just had another mom (that I only speak to sporadically) pull up in my driveway and asked my daughter to speak with me (she actually asked for my son first). He is at work, but to be honest, my first thought was, “Oh boy, what did he do?”.
    This mom told me he left his bike outside her house yesterday and she put it in her garage to be safe overnight. He was playing basketball on that street yesterday so this didn’t surprise me (but annoyed me…his bike could have been stolen). She gave me a key to her house, apparently my son will be dog sitting for her this week while they go on vacation (news to me). I know this family has had medical and financial issues and she told me that my son said he didn’t want to be paid, but she wanted to pay him anyway. I’m glad she trusts him…and proud that he understood their financial problems and offered to help out. I also think (after reading things like this) that our first instinct is to think the worst, sadly.

    Most kids are trustworthy…until they aren’t. It’s a balancing act of trust and freedom and it is HARD. But I will always be receptive to feedback about my kids (good and bad) given by other parents or neighbors, even if it hurts or is embarrassing. They are going to mess up. Be prepared to deal with it! Knowledge is power, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

  72. E July 19, 2016 at 12:23 pm #

    @lollipoplover — yes, I agree completely. And how nice for your neighbor to actually share the good (it’s a good reminder to us all to do that as well).

    I remember when my kids became teens, and started to go out on their own with their peers (basically the point that they are getting rides from other teens). It’s a point where the rubber hits the road (literally and figuratively) in the trust department. It’s when you have to trust your kid to know if someone is a safe driver or be a safe driver themselves. It goes on and on.

    I also remember when you realize they’ve actually *made* a bad decision — and one that you had specifically discussed. It’s hard.

    But knowledge is important, even when it stings.

  73. Donna July 20, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    I agree that group texts are not the way to go at the point you are conveying more personal information than “the boys are at the pool.” I just don’t think it is gossiping when among parents who agreed to convey information that way. Different strokes for different folks.

    I also think that we may not be getting the full picture of what went on considering our info is coming from someone outside the group. It could be that they are helicopter parents who just happened to stumble into drug use. It could also be, especially in light of the fact that they were right, that it was a group of parents who suspected drug use among this specific group of kids and wanted to monitor the situation as low-key as possible so agreed to share observations about the activity of the group as a whole so that everyone had the same information at which point group texts make perfect sense. If you rely on passing info by word of mouth, people are going to be left out at various times due to busyness and daily parent meetings would not be low-key.

  74. E July 20, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

    Yes — and at least 1 of the parents did communicate with her directly during the month anyway. The Mom might dismiss the cereal/chips comments as silly, but I wonder if these parents have more experience with what high people look like and the whole vibe concerned them (as opposed to just kids eating junk food which *is* normal).