Child-Parent Trust Key to Room Search

Article excerpt

I was watching a morning talk show when a well-coifed psychologist and self-proclaimed parenting expert was asked this question: Should parents search a child's room if they suspect the child is using illegal drugs or drinking alcohol? His answer: Absolutely not.

Doing so, according to him, would be a violation of the child's need for privacy and would break the trust between the parents and their child.

If I've heard that advice once, I've heard it a thousand times. The trouble is, it couldn't be more wrong.

On the surface, this advice has a certain amount of logic to it. Trust, the argument goes, is an important aspect of a parent-child relationship. Searching a child's room sends the signal that parents don't trust their child. When children believe their parents don't trust them, they are prone to act out. In adolescence, acting out can include the use of alcohol and drugs. Hence, searching a child's room can make things worse. Instead, parents should simply ask their children if they are drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs and trust their children to answer truthfully.

This argument makes sense except for one thing: The most important form of trust that needs to exist between children and their parents is the children's belief that their parents will take care of and protect them - no matter what. No matter whether they are tired or busy; no matter whether doing so is easy or difficult; no matter if it conflicts with what the child may want to do at any particular moment.

Babies, for example, need to trust that their parents will get up in the middle of the night to see what is wrong when they are crying. Toddlers need to trust that their parents will pull them back when they dart out into the middle of traffic. Elementary school children need to trust that their parents will not let them run away from home when they get angry.

And adolescents need to trust that their parents will pull them back if they get into trouble with alcohol or illegal drugs.

In short, children need to trust that their parents will use their greater maturity and wisdom to look out for them, making sure they don't get into any real danger. Children need to trust that their parents understand that they are, well, children.

Yes, as children grow older, parents should afford them increasing opportunities for autonomy and independent decision-making. Doing so helps children develop self-confidence and a belief that someday they will be capable of living on their own. At the same time, however, parents also need to communicate that if their children get into serious trouble, they will not simply turn a blind eye but instead will step in and do whatever it takes to protect them from harm. …