Q: My husband read our 7-year-old daughter's composition book that she had been using as a diary and became upset at some of the things she had written: loving a boy, wishing her sister had died (she was a very ill preemie), hating life without her cousin around, and several curse words written in isolation. My response was that her private thoughts at this age don't really mean anything and that she was just exploring her feelings, but he thinks I should confront her and talk about these issues. What is the right thing to do here?
To begin with, parents should not read a child's private diary unless a sudden change in the child's behavior strongly suggests that something is seriously amiss, the child isn't communicating, and the diary may hold a clue to the nature of the problem. Otherwise, a child's diary should be the one place where she can just “let it rip” without fear of censure.
Lest I be misunderstood, children do not enjoy a right to privacy. Their privacy is a privilege that can be suspended at parental discretion, but said discretion should not be exercised arbitrarily, which is what your husband did.
If what he found confirmed and clarified already existing concerns, his snooping would be justified, but that's not the case. Let's face it, we all harbor thoughts and feelings we keep under wraps. For a child, or an adult for that matter, a diary becomes a functional way of keeping anti-social impulses under control.
There may come a time when you will have sufficient cause to search your daughter's room and read her diary and/or her e-mail. If you confront your daughter about her diary, she is only going to become more secretive, which may prevent you from discovering what you need to discover when the time comes.
If your daughter is not showing outward signs of emotional distress, she's respectful and obedient, her social life is reasonably good, and she does well in school, then leave well enough alone.