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Westport cops teaching parents to spy on their kids

May 9, 2019

Westport Police are actively teaching parents how to snoop on their kids, but is that an effective way to parent?

“Let’s think of a word stronger than ‘mistrust,’” said Alan Kazdin, research professor and Sterling professor of psychology at Yale University. “Snooping for its own sake is not the way to raise a person or be with someone you love.”

Parents who take part in the “hidden in plain sight” program on May 13 or 14 will have a mock bedroom to search, and be taught about “concealment areas, hidden containers, clothing, paraphernalia, logos and more,” according to a Westport Police Department Facebook post.

But according to Kasdan, “A relationship with adolescents can be difficult,” without active snooping.

Kasdan does not minimize the dangers into which teenagers can get, and he does not suggest that parents ignore problem behavior such as potential drug use.

But he said that if parents are going to act like police, they should abide by police regulations. Most importantly, don’t rifle through your kids’ things unless you have strong “probable cause.”

If a parent begins to mistrust their child and resorts to snooping through their things without reason, “That’s going to be a disaster,” he said.

“Don’t snoop without a strong suspicion. This whole snooping thing is a mindset that you don’t want,” he said. “You want the mindset of protection, you want the mindset of love.

If a parent does make the decision to go into their child’s room and search for evidence of bad behavior, the most important thing, Kazdin said, is to have a frank conversation afterward.

In fact, the “hidden in plain sight” program does “aim to arm adults with the tools they need to have serious, often difficult conversations with young people should they find these products or pick up on other warning signs of drug use.”

But Kazdin was wary of that, too.

“I’d be curious to know what their guidelines are. The phrasing could get a huge pushback,” he said. “It’s an area of research, it’s not my opinion. How you phrase it is really important.”

Kazdin, who ran the Yale Parenting Center, said he brings parents in and practices these conversations multiple times with increasing difficulty and conflict.

“It’s very much like a pilot’s simulation,” he said.

Kazdin’s advice was to decide on negative behaviors parents are willing to let slide, perhaps “let go anything that’s not permanent and not developmentally restrictive.”

And parents who think their kids talk to them about everything are probably wrong. Instead of assuming you know everything, a parent should make it clear that mistakes can be forgiven without repercussions.

“You start with the talking, you start with an amnesty and help,” he said.

It’s paramount to convey, though action, that the parent is attempting to protect their child, to let them know, Kazin said, that “in the long term I care about your life more than anyone. It will never change my love for you.”

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