Is it Okay to Read my Daughter’s Diary?

  Sunday, June 20, 2021
  Diary   Featured  
Contributed by Dr. Carrie Jackson

As a therapist, many parents often ask me about if they should read their daughter’s diary. Diaries are often a private record of a teen’s day-to-day life, or they may be more expressive and less frequent in their entries like a journal. Because of the private nature of diaries, this can lead some parents to want to question or read their daughter’s diary to know what is truly going on in their lives. 

Oftentimes, parents come to me with these questions when they are worried about the safety or well-being of their daughter, and they want to do what they can to protect her. Sometimes parents will demand that they have a right to reading their daughter’s journal. Similarly, other parents may be asking this question because they believe that nothing should be kept secret in their relationship with their children. Even if you haven’t considered reading your daughter’s diary yet, you may have other friends or parents who are questioning if they should read their daughter’s diary.

No matter the reason for wanting to read your daughter’s diary, it is important to tread lightly when considering reading her diary. If you choose to do so, it can lead to serious consequences that may make your relationship with your daughter irreparable. At the same time, there are very specific situations where reading your daughter’s diary may be warranted. In this guide, the specific reasons for wanting to read your daughter’s diary, what to consider before reading her diary, and what you should do if you read her diary will be discussed. At the end of this guide, you will walk away with an understanding of how to navigate the dilemma of wanting to read your daughter’s diary and also how to build a strong relationship with her.

Why do you Want to Read her Diary?

It’s first important to examine your reasons for wanting to read her diary. This is a simple question, but one that many parents have a hard time answering when I ask them. Has there been a recent violation of trust in your relationship, and you feel a need to monitor things more closely? Or maybe you have an inkling that something is going on and you are worried about your safety. These are both common reasons that parents have for wanting to read their daughter’s diaries.

It can also be a reflection of a parent’s insecurity in their relationship with their daughter and teen. You may have anxiety that is rooted in your own mental health concerns rather than something your daughter actually did. If this is the case, journaling may be a great option for you to further explore these worries and concerns. In fact, journaling is a great idea for any parent considering reading their daughter’s diary. Journaling can have a host of benefits for parents including self-reflection on your reasons for wanting to read her diary and aligning your priorities in your relationship with your daughter. To learn more about the benefits of journaling, check out this article here.

In order to further understand the reasons why you are considering reading your daughter’s diary, it may be helpful to reflect on some questions. Identify what you hope to get out of reading their journal. Ask yourself if there is another way you can get the information that you are considering. Think about how your daughter will react if they do find out or if you tell them that you have read their journal. If your reasons for reading your daughter’s journal are not in her best interests, it’s probably best to resist the temptation of looking into her journal.

Once you know your reasons for wanting to read your daughter’s diary, it will become much easier to figure out the best way to proceed. This is a really important step that shouldn’t be overlooked. Decisions to read your teen’s diary are often made emotionally and impulsively. Any behaviors that are motivated primarily by emotions without thinking of the possible consequences, are a recipe for disaster.

Trust is Essential for Relationships

One of the most important things I have learned when working with teens and parents is the importance of maintaining a strong relationship. When parents have a strong relationship with their teens, teens feel free to share openly, disclose their challenges, and spend time with their parents. These are all things that I would argue many parents are striving for. This is especially true during the teenage years when many teens rely more on their peers and parents are left to wonder what is truly going on with them. It may also be a reason why some parents are motivated to read their daughter’s diary.

Many challenges at home (e.g., arguing, family conflict), can often be traced back to a lack of a strong relationship between parents and their kids. There are many things that can contribute to a strained relationship. At its core, a strained relationship is often due to a lack of trust. Trust is something that is built over time and does not evolve overnight. It is the result of building connection, spending time together, and showing that you trust them over and over again. Trust is also built between two people and requires actions of building trust to occur between both parties. Reading your daughter’s diary is directly connected to your relationship with her. And if you choose to read her diary, you may find that it impacts your relationship with her in a negative way for several reasons.

Developing and Maintaining Boundaries

In addition to trust, healthy boundaries are another essential piece of parent-child relationships. Boundaries are clear expectations that we have for other people and ourselves. Having healthy boundaries with your daughter is important because not only does it help strengthen your relationship, but it also teaches her how to have healthy and safe relationships. When kids are younger, healthy boundaries may include things like establishing rules around bedtime or screen time. As kids grow into teens, boundaries change and evolve into questions about what their curfew is, time spent away from the house, and clothes they wear. Boundaries allow teens to become independent as they begin to want more autonomy in their lives. This can be a difficult transition for many parents, as they try to figure out what is the appropriate amount of autonomy to give teens.

Within families, there are three primary types of boundaries: enmeshed, rigid, and clear. Enmeshed boundaries are often the most challenging that frequently lead to violations of privacy, such as reading private material in a diary. Families who are enmeshed have boundaries that are unclear and not delineated. It does not allow for each member of the family to gain independence or privacy. Additionally, families in which enmeshment is present between parents and kids often involve a level of control where parents overly expect children to follow their beliefs and expectations. In enmeshed families, children are discouraged from having a life outside of their family or any privacy. If they do wish to have privacy, they are often met with strong resistance from their parents.

Enmeshed family relationships can lead to a number of issues. Children in enmeshed families may seek out codependent relationships with others. On the other hand, they may become overly guarded when meeting new people. Similarly, they are at an increased risk of being involved in emotionally abusive relationships. Parents who are looking to snoop into their daughter’s diary may find that they are within an enmeshed family system. This type of behavior is often part of a larger pattern of behavior within parenting that signals difficulties with boundaries.

Establishing healthy boundaries involves family members being able to develop a private life outside of others in the family unit. Boundaries allow family members to keep some information private and some information within the entire family. Problems often arise when parents are not clear about what boundaries lie between private and family information. In order to have clear and healthy boundaries, parents are encouraged to be transparent, honest, and communicate openly with their children. This also means parents should allow some information to be held in private. For example, even if you do need to know where your daughter and her friend are going, you may not need to know the ins and outs of everything they are doing. This is one of the reasons why it may be worth considering allowing your daughter to have a private journal, in order to maintain healthy boundaries. 

Reading her Diary is Often Wrong

It creates enmeshed boundaries.

As mentioned previously, enmeshed boundaries are present when there is no separation between private and family events. Often, parents who have enmeshed boundaries will not allow their children to have a private life as they feel the need to control their daughters. Enmeshed boundaries can lead to many challenges, including decreased confidence, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. When parents are more enmeshed, it may also come across as critical to children, which can lead to them closing up and being reluctant to communicate with their parents. If this is the case, reading your daughter’s diary has essentially backfired and led to unclear boundaries in your relationship, which can further lead to challenges.

It shows you don’t trust her.

Trust is supposed to be the foundation of the relationship between you and your daughter. When teens are writing in their journal something private that they are not sharing with you, this is saying that they would prefer to deal with it on their own rather than confiding in you. This violation of this boundary shows that you don’t trust your daughter to share information with you that is important, and to know what things she should reveal to you. If you can’t show that you trust her, how is she supposed to trust you? Most people forget that trust is built with two people and not one. That means that if you are expecting your daughter to treat you with respect and trust you, she will expect the same of you. Failing to trust your daughter may lead her to not trust other relationships in the future, including in her relationship with you.

It is intrusive.

It can be very healthy for daughters and teenagers to keep some things private in their diary. Diaries are a safe space for teens to explore their thoughts and feelings alone. Do you share every detail of your personal life with your daughter? Of course not! There are some things that are okay to be kept private. In fact, having a diary can have many benefits for both you and your daughter. She is able to express herself freely, develop awareness of her emotions, and potentially reduce stress. These are all positives that can contribute to her development as an emerging adult. As an adult, if you are expected to keep some aspects of your life private, it is normal to allow teenagers some allowance for privacy as well.

It’s controlling.

Parental psychological control is an intrusive form of parenting in which parents attempt to exert control over how their children should feel or they place their own views on their children. It is a form of manipulation in an attempt to control children. Using this type of psychological control is similar to gaslighting, in which you are attempting to remove yourself from any blame and allow yourself to gain the upper hand in the relationship. Developing this type of relationship with your daughter leads her to become fearful of you, rather than see you as an ally. Unfortunately, this too has the effect of damaging your relationship.

It creates a cycle of distrust.

Unfortunately, reading your daughter’s diary doesn’t lead her to be more open with you in the future. Instead, often the very opposite happens which makes reading her diary backfire. Your daughter may feel like she can no longer trust you and will continue to find ways to keep things secret from you. She may also feel as if you don’t respect her space and will be more hesitant to bring you into her world. For you, it may also lead you to ask less questions about her life when you already know many of the details. In the end, it doesn’t seem to help with gaining more information about your daughter’s life although that was the original intent.

You didn’t ask her permission to read private information.

One of the biggest problems with reading your daughter’s diary is that she did not give consent to allow you to read the diary. This is an enormous violation of trust and privacy that may make it so that she does not feel the need to see your permission for things in the future. Teens often rightly expect trust and permission to work both ways. If you want to create a relationship in which your daughter seeks permission for things to do, going behind her back can greatly undermine that.

It’s often more about you than her.

When parents read their daughter’s diary, it’s more often than not a reflection of their personal anxieties than their daughter’s behavior. It is typical and very normal for teens to begin to have greater autonomy and independence. This can be very difficult for many parents to grapple with as they are unsure of how to navigate these changes. Due to this anxiety, parents may find ways to attempt to control their own anxiety by controlling their daughter and kids. Although this may help you feel slightly better initially, in the long run it will not help your anxiety.

You might read something you wish you didn’t see.

You may end up reading something that is not harmful or concerning for her safety, but you may also see something that still bothers you. For example, you may read about multiple things you do that your daughter does not like. Or she may use some language about you that is not very kind. Although in your heart you may know that she truly does not mean these things she is writing in her diary, it can leave you feeling bad and unsure of how to address it. 

What Could Happen if you Read her Diary?

When someone’s privacy has been violated, they often respond intensely and negatively. Think about the word violate and how it is related to privacy. Violation is a strong word inferring that you are interfering with someone’s basic rights. Many people in fact argue that privacy is a basic right that all humans deserve. In very rare situations, you may find something that makes you feel grateful that you have read your daughter’s diary. In most cases, I have seen that violating privacy by reading a daughter’s dairy only results in negative consequences. For example, your daughter may react by getting angry, upset, and lashing out in rebellion. These are all normal and valid feelings to have after experiencing a breach of her trust. 

A violation in privacy results in damaged trust. Most often, kids who feel that they cannot trust their parents will attempt to hide and lie things from their parents. The more that parents pry into the privacy of their kids, the more kids will attempt to hide from their parents. With their diary, they may go to extra lengths to keep it secret by keeping it all electronically or in a way that is inaccessible to their parents. This can lead to more secrecy in other ways as well. Kids may not share much during their conversations with their parents and may continue to spend more time outside of the home. This creates a negative cycle where parents further distrust their daughters and their daughters continue to hide more and more. Ultimately, this cycle drives parents and teens apart and creates a distant and hesitant relationship. In the end, snooping backfires as you are able to get less information about what is going on with your daughter, as is often the intent with snooping in the first place.

Parental psychological control, which reading your daughter’s diary may be interpreted as, can also have lasting negative effects. Among daughters, parental psychological control has been found to be particular detrimental in some research studies. Parental psychological control can lead to increased depressive symptoms, relational aggression, lower self-confidence, worse school and academic outcomes, and increased risk-taking behaviors (e.g., binge drinking). While reading your daughter’s diary once may not lead to these effects, it is possible that reading her diary is a sample of a greater pattern of behavior akin to parental psychological control. Although in most circumstances, I would argue against reading your daughter’s diary, there may be some times where it is permitted.

When Is Reading My Daughter’s Diary Justified?

You might be wondering if there are any times where reading your daughter’s diary is justified. Many people will argue that there are a few times where it is okay and generally advisable to read your teen’s diary. Those times are if you are genuinely worried for your daughter’s safety and have noticed significant changes in her mood or behavior. If you have noticed significant changes in these areas such as new friends, concerns for drug use or self-harm, closely monitoring your daughter overall is warranted. You may want to further monitor other areas of her life. This monitoring should not be confined to just reading her diary, but also to monitoring her daily activities, social media, and phone use. 

Another time where it might be warranted to read your daughter’s diary is when you have previously approached her about a serious situation and you know she purposefully lied to you and are concerned she may continue to lie to you. This may happen if you are worried that they are hiding drug use from you. This situation is often more difficult to navigate because you may not always have evidence that your daughter has lied to you. Because of this, it is very important to always consider the impact of what could happen if you do read her diary.

Additionally, you may not know how to proceed once you have read her diary. Regardless of if you decide to read your daughter’s diary because you are genuinely worried or if you decide to read it out of curiosity, you will likely still have issues with your trust. It’s important to know what will happen if you do end up deciding to read her diary.

If You Read her Diary

Have you ever contemplated what will happen after you read her diary? What if you find absolutely nothing that is cause for concern? You will likely feel intense guilt over having violated the privacy of your daughter and not know how to proceed. You may end up feeling like you cannot be honest with your daughter after you have already knowingly violated her trust. If this happens to you, it is up to you to decide how you want to proceed. There are several options for how you could proceed in talking with her or choosing not to talk to her, which are discussed below. 

Reading a diary is also a slippery slope. If you don’t find anything the first time, it will likely turn into a habit where you consistently read her diary until you find something that is harmful or hurtful. This is because as humans, we tend to look for information that confirms our suspicions. Because of this, you may end up misinterpreting some information in her diary as harmful when it is actually harmless. It may lead to further snooping behavior of within her phone, social media, and other areas that are private.

What’s worse is what do you do if you do find something that is cause for concern? Or something that just doesn’t sit right with you that you then feel the need to bring up with your daughter? Have you considered how you will approach this conversation with your daughter? It will absolutely require an admission that you found this information by reading your daughter’s diary, which can lead to lasting harm in the relationship. If you do find information that is concerning, you may be thinking that this is exactly why you have to read your daughter’s diary. You are working to keep your daughter safe and this represents one of the many reasons why you need to read her diary. If you are in this situation, you will likely benefit from responding openly and honestly with your daughter. 

There are three ways that parent can respond to information they have found in their daughter’s diary after they have read it:

1. Tell your daughter that you read her diary and communicate openly and honestly about it.

If you do decide to read your daughter’s dairy and discuss with her what you have found, it’s important to come clean and be honest. It is important to bring up your concerns from a place of empathy and understanding, rather than one of defensiveness and attacking. Your daughter will likely be defensive when you do reveal to her that you read her diary. If you focus on staying neutral, calm, and validate how she feels about the breach of privacy, know that things can change in your relationship. 

Let her know that you do respect and value her privacy and want to find ways to have her feel safe bringing things up like this to you in the future. It’s important that there should be a compromise and decision about moving forward that involves actions from both parties. You can’t just expect your daughter to become more trusting of you without any changes in you as well. Ask her what she needs from you in order to feel confident and trusting in your relationship. This will be a good opportunity to explore bigger ways of managing communication challenges in the future.

2. Do not reveal that you read her diary but try to initiate a conversation related to one of her diary entries.

If you do find something in your daughter’s diary that you do want to talk about, you may also consider bringing it up in a way to open the lines of communication without revealing you have read her diary. This can be a difficult way of approaching things as it may be hard to remember exactly what you read in her diary and what she has revealed to you. This option also runs the risk of your daughter assuming or realizing you have read her diary without her permission. If you do decide to go with this option, it’s best to be vague and to be natural in your conversation. Try to bring it up in a way that does not make it clear that you have read her diary. If you do decide to go with this option, it is important to note that you must be okay with the possibility of her finding out that you have read her diary. 

3. Do not reveal any of the information about what you read in her diary.

Maybe you have decided to read her diary, but immediately regret your decision after doing so. Or maybe you did not find anything that is concerning and decide that you should trust your daughter and not spend any additional time snooping through her private writings. If this happens to you, I encourage you to focus your efforts on building a strong relationship with your daughter. This will likely reduce some of your anxieties about raising her, and also allow her the freedom and space to communicate openly with you.

What to do Instead of Reading her Diary

There are many ways to accomplish your goals of understanding your daughter more aside from reading her diary. In most circumstances, the goal is to develop a strong relationship that allows your daughter to share freely with you and connect with you. In order to develop this relationship, there are several steps you can take. 

Talk with her.

Have you tried talking to your daughter about what you’re worried about? I mean really talking to her. Not just the typical “How is your day?” conversation. Instead of trying to find out what is going on with her secretly by reading her diary, it’s best to start with building greater trust by checking in with her. Teens and kids tend to be more open and honest with their parents when they feel they can openly communicate with them. That means being able to talk with their parents without the fear of being judged. You can encourage your daughter to confide in you with her worries so that you are a resource and support system on top of her journal.

Be an active listener.

Ideally, you will facilitate open communication with your daughter through active listening skills. Express an interest in your child’s thoughts and interests. Respond positively to them whenever possible in order to further strengthen your relationship. Knowing that your daughter feels comfortable opening up to you may make it less likely for you to attempt to look into her journal.

Build your relationship.

If you are worried that your daughter is not going to open up to you about some of the things you are concerned about, it’s time to work on building your relationship with her. Building your relationship with your daughter will create a much longer lasting solution to understanding what’s going on in her world. My recommendation is to start with fifteen minutes a day of quality time where you are only with her. You may just go for a walk and talk, or you can spend the fifteen minutes doing an activity like baking, cooking, or playing a game together. It doesn’t matter what you do with this time as long as you are spending quality time with her where she can have your full attention. Over time, this will build and grow your relationship so that you won’t need to worry about reading her diary. After a while, she will be bringing you her concerns and worries without being prompted.

Consider a shared journal.

Some daughters feel less comfortable with talking in person. As an alternative, you may want to suggest a shared journal. A shared journal is a way that you and your daughter can write things back and forth to each other as a way of communicating. Many teens are much more open to this form of communicating given that it is less intrusive and can be less intimidating than talking in person. It’s important that if you do have a shared journal, your daughter should still be able to maintain her own separate private diary separate from this one.

Emphasize the importance of her privacy.

When teens are given privacy, it allows them the ability to develop independence that they need as adults. There are several ways that you can help your daughter know that it is important that she has a safe space to share private things.  Start by giving them some time alone to run to the grocery store or other errands. You can also allow them to see their pediatrician privately when needed. Knock on their door before entering their room and always ask for permission before going through their things.

Support her in starting a diary.

Provide her with the resources to maintain her own private diary so that she knows it is important to have a safe space where she can explore her feelings. She may benefit from a gift of a journal and some pens to help get her started. You might also want to consider buying her a journal that already has a lock built in on it so that she knows you trust her and consider it important for her to have a space where she can share private information. For additional tips and advice on how to get her to start her own diary, check out this article that breaks down the entire process.

Final Thoughts on Reading Your Daughter’s Diary

Parents wanting to read their daughter’s journal often come from a place of good intentions. Many things have changed in the world today and parents are looking for ways to protect and prevent any challenges their daughter may experience. However, part of being a parent is allowing your child the opportunities to grow through these challenges. Being a supportive parent means allowing children the opportunity to continue to grow in their relationship with you, and to continue to grow independently. In order for this to happen, parents must allow their children to have both a private life as well as a family life.

Overall, there are several risks and concerns that should be considered when it comes to reading your daughter’s diary. Although it may come from a place of good intentions, it can have lasting effects on your relationship if you do decide to read her diary. It’s important for you to also consider writing down your feelings and thoughts about the possibilities in a journal so that you can understand and decide what would be the best course of action. 

If you are truly concerned for your daughter’s safety or the safety of others, it may be right to move to read her journal; however, there may be other options to consider when communicating with her. It’s best to avoid reading your daughter’s journal if possible, in order to develop and strengthen your relationship. If you continue to foster trust and maintain boundaries in your relationship, you may find that you no longer have any serious concerns that cannot be addressed through a conversation. Following the suggestions in this article will help ensure that you are set up to develop a strong relationship with your daughter to help her grow into an independent and confident adult.

About Dr. Carrie Jackson

Carrie Jackson is a contributor of JournalOwl. Her primary interests are to increase access to evidence-based mental health treatments for children and adolescents, providing specific information to parents and individuals with ADHD.

Carrie is a graduate of West Virginia University with a doctoral degree in Psychology, and a specialization in Clinical Child Psychology. Carrie has worked as a therapist and evaluator at several children’s hospitals, providing care and treatment to clients with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and anxiety. She has also worked with children with chronic medical conditions, providing supportive mental health care to children with cancer and burn survivors. 

Although originally from South Carolina, Carrie has lived in two countries and four states. She enjoys hiking, traveling, and trying new recipes.

Health Disclaimer

JournalOwl is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, medication, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptoms or conditions. JournalOwl is not authorized to make recommendations about medication or serve as a substitute for professional advice. You should never disregard professional psychological or medical advice, or delay in seeking treatment, based on anything you read on JournalOwl’s website or platform.

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