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Is It Okay to Snoop on Your Kids?

You have to know where your kids are, what they're up to, and who they're with. But tweens and teens also have a right to privacy. How can you keep close track of their lives without violating their trust?
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Mom the Spy
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Tom Nick Cocotos

A show of hands please: Who hasn't looked through her kids' things -- opened a tempting e-mail, rifled through school papers, maybe even peeked at a diary entry or two? If an informal survey of my friends is any indication, a lot of moms are bigger sneaks than they'd ordinarily care to admit. "It's not that I don't trust my children, it's that I worry about them," says one mom, who, like others in this story, didn't want me to use her real name and risk blowing her cover with her kids.

And now you can add to the mix all the ways kids give and get info -- between texting, e-mail, and social networking sites, tweens and teens can have dozens of so-called friends, connections, and plans you're clueless about. For parents, technology offers multiple ways to monitor what's going on. We've graduated from nanny cams to GPS-enabled devices for checking on their driving. There are even Web sites that let you see how they did on this morning's math quiz.

Of course, it'd be better if you could just ask your kids what you want to know, but you may not learn everything -- or, sometimes, anything. "My 9-year-old shares every detail of her day, to the point that I tune her out sometimes," reports a mother of three from Baltimore. "But her 13-year-old sister has always been excruciatingly private."

So, especially if your son or daughter is a close-mouthed kid, you can't help but wonder what exactly your options are. I mean, even if I could crack my teen's Facebook profiles, should I? On the other hand, kids do require adult supervision -- at least sometimes. Faced with this tangle of responsibilities and opportunities, I talked to child-rearing pros and moms (nosy and not) about everything from cell phone logs to IMs. Here's what I learned about being in the know.