I Snooped and Learned She's Withholding Information, Now What?

Updated on July 10, 2008
K.M. asks from Tacoma, WA
14 answers

My 13 year old step-daughter lives with her mother in another city. We see her every other weekend, holidays, days off from school, etc. (whatever works for our schedule and hers). The problem that I have is that she does not share very much information with us and the important people that I know in her life (aside from family) are 2 girl friends and an obnoxious kid (according to her) that lives on her street.

Every now and then, I look at her cell phone to see who she is talking to (we pay the bill) and I check her email to ensure that she is checking it with some regularity (we also pay this bill and set her up with the account). About 6 weeks ago, I checked her email and noticed a lot of traffic between her and my 15 year old nephew. I read the most recent one from the top down and thought it looked harmless until she admitted to him that she has been seeing some guy since March and none of her parents have a clue. She seemed to think it was hilarious that we don't know. He has impressed upon her several times to tell us. She hasn't.

I have been sitting on this information for over a month and have given her every opportunity, short of outright asking her if she's seeing anybody, to tell us about it. She is very careful about what she says to us and I am frustrated, to say the least. He called one day and her phone was next to me when it rang. I asked her who it was and she just said, "One of my friends," then left the room to have her conversation with him. I have not approached this with my husband, since I don't want him to know that I snooped. He already thinks that I am overly critical of her.

I have so many concerns.... Why isn't she telling us about him? Do her friends know? How old is he? Where does he go to school? If her mother doesn't know they are "dating, does she at least know who he is? What kind of person is he if he condones keeping their relationship a secret? Have they been alone together? I don't want her to hate me for snooping, but it scares me to think that something bad could happen. If she is keeping this from us, could it be bigger than just "dating"? How do I get her to talk to us about this without sounding like I snooped?

What can I do next?

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your suggestions. I hate that I know what I know and I doubly hate that I had to snoop to get it. We are supposed to see her this weekend, so I plan to open discussion in some non-chalant manner, basically putting the ball in her court to share about boys and such. My main concern is that she is keeping it a secret at age 13...she is too young to be keeping something like this from us. I will update you after the weekend.

WEEKEND UPDATE: We had a talk about her friends and who they are, since I don't know many of them. We talked, to include the boy she is supposed to like so much...I gave her every opportunity to tell me, including asking which boys she liked. She said she didn't like any of them like that and even ranked the supposed boyfriend third out of the four we talked about - either she is lying to me or she is lying to her cousin. Now I am confused and feel like I am back at square one.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Hi KM,
I have 3 girls and my now 17 year old daughter got into trouble on the internet 2 years ago. She would go onto MSN and one day she left it open and I read her messages and I was shocked. I talked to her about the seriousness of what I read and then we made some changes which she agreed on. I don't like to use the term grounding, but we did take away privleges which she had to earn back. She has only been allowed on MSN 3 months ago. She also had to give up certain friends.
Kids will listen to their parents when it is explained to them in a way that they see it is best for them. My daughter told me she was glad to not hang out with her bad girlfriend because she was the one causing most of the problems with being allowed too much freedom.
I also showed her some articles relating to her situation for her to read up on, so it's not like I am the bad guy
Good luck

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answers from Seattle on

hi K M - I am going to say a couple of things that may sound kind of harsh...so I will apologize up front if they offend you, although that doesn't change my opinion. :)
You and your husband hardly ever have this girl. Two times a month is almost nothing! if I were her, and found out that my step mom invaded my privacy, without my dad's involvement, boy would I be mad! I am not saying that you don't have a right to be involved in her life or her decision making, but right now, her custodial parent is the one doing the bulk of the parenting.
She probably isn't telling you anything because she doesn't feel the need to. She sees you 4 days out of the month. Her mom probably knows a lot more than you think. The boy probably doesn't know that she is keeping it a secret, and there probably is nothing wrong with him at all.
Instead of having a discussion about "who" she is dating, i would just have a general discussion about dating. what her expectations would be of a boy she was dating, and what your expectations are of her. The boy I nanny is almost 13, and he has had one "girlfriend" after another, and they never go "out on dates" they just talk a whole bunch on the phone. It is probably harmless.
I know I came across harsh, but let me say this too. 4 days a month is nothing. Your husband's daughter will learn how to form relationships with men based on the relationship that she has with her dad. I know that you said that she is in another city, is it out of state? Because if he is just half an hour away then he should be spending more time with her. the more time you spend with her the more likely she is to open up. What about summer vacations? I say all of this because it seems painfully obvious to me that she does not feel close enough to you or your husband to share things that are happening in her life.
Good luck to you. L.

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answers from Seattle on

I am a stepmama too, so I understand your frustration. As I see it, the fact that she has a boyfriend at 13 is honestly not the end of the world. I would not prefer it to be sure, but I think the bigger issue is your relationship with her. The last time I had my hair done, I had a conversation with my haidresser that changed the way I view/handle the relationship with my own stepdaughter. My hairdresser told me how she felt about her own stepmom; how she had never felt like she could have a moment alone with her Dad once he married her stepmom, how critical her stepmom was of her siblings and her, as well as her children, how she would NEVER have thought of her as a "Mother..." I do NOT want those sort of thoughts and feelings to characterize my relationship with my stepchildren and me. It hurts like anything when I feel like the love I feel for them is not returned in kind, but I think that's just "the nature of the beast." I try to think of how I want people to treat me and my children. I also try to be a blessing to my family, regardless of how they appear to view me at the time. Being a parent is a thankless job, to be certain. Being a stepparent is even more so, I think, but I know it is a delight to my darling husband to see me loving his children as if they were mine. The trick is not to have the same expectations of them. This is hard stuff. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make His face to shine upon you and give you peace. :)

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answers from Portland on

I think that you should give your step daughter some privacy. I'm sure if she finds out you snooped [regardless if you pay her bills or not], she will never EVER trust you, and she will know that you don't trust her as well [and I should mention that teenagers do REBEL]. All teenagers need their privacy. I think, in my opinion, you are digging too deep. Just think of when you were her age? Can you look at it through her point of view?

I know that we should keep tabs on our kids, but there are certain boundaries. You should be straight forward with her, and mention that you stumbled upon her email, etc. Let her know that you trust her and that whatever the case, let her know that she can confide in you and trust you with whatever the matter may be. Tell her she doesn't need to hide things from you. Teenagers need that validation to know that they can go to their parents for anything. And being that you are her step mom, wouldn't it be nice to be a confidant of hers? Knowing everything without having to snoop around?

From a personal experience of having my privacy invaded by my parents, I know that it's never a good thing knowing that you have no safe haven to have your own personal privacy.

Hope this helps. ;]

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answers from Seattle on

I don't have a teenager yet, but I definitely remember being one. And at 13 I was doing much more than I should have with my 15 year old boyfriend. My mom snooped, and all it did was make me hide info more. My boyfriend and I were not a secret, but the amount of sexual activity we did sure was. It all snowballed to a horrible, abusive relationship that ended 4 years later with my mom hiding her head in the sand. I wish I had felt like I had a relationship with my mom that I could talk more about my relationship with my boyfriend. Luckily, I was a good kid, and aside from my boyfriend, I was not interested in drinking, drugs, parties, etc.

I don't think snooping makes for a good relationship, however; I do think there should be ground rules that you all agree to for her protection. Her father, mother (and stepfather, if so), and yourself need to sit down and agree to what is appropriate. I think with the anonymity of the internet, you have to have rules that she must tell her parents who she is talking with. You don't want to be in a situation that she is giving out information about her self to strangers. It shouldn't be a snooping situation, it just need to be family rules about internet and cell phone usage. She needs to know that her internet and phone usage will be checked regularly. Here's a good place to start for internet safety:

It also sounds like you're not that involved in her daily life. Does she have friends over to your house? Have you at least met who she hangs out with? You can't expect her to offer up the information when you haven't created a home where she can be herself. Part of being a teen is struggling to be your own person, and that means keeping things from your parents. It's your (and your husband's) job to create a loving, non-judgmental environment for her - and just hope that she opens up more as you guys grow as a family. I also agree with the other person that said dad and her need to have more of a relationship. I stayed with my dad twice a week, but still felt like it was his home and my home was with my mom. Dads and daughters need to form great relationships, because that is where girls learn about good men.

As for the information you found. I do think you need to tell her father about it. What he decides to do with the info is up to him (and her mother). You should probably just stay out of it until you guys have laid the foundation and ground rules. Also, I hope that there is ongoing communication about sex, disease and pregnancy in your family. She is far too young to end up pregnant or worse. Just be glad you found the info now, so you guys can make changes without blowing up at her because she's gotten herself into a bad situation. :-) I have to say, I'm completely nervous about what extra things we'll have to worry about when our little (toddler) girl is a teen. YIKES!

p.s. I hope this doesn't sound harsh but it has to do with building a better relationship with your step-daughter. I was hoping you don't refer to your step-daughter as a "half child" in front of her. I am adopted, and nothing hurt more than constantly hearing one of my grandmothers always introduce me as "This is D.. She's adopted." It immediately made me feel like, "Don't mind her, she's not mine," and I would be worried that if you said that around her, you might be making her feel the same way. I know it's a funny and cute thing to say, but it's definitely a way to drive a wedge in between the two of you without you even knowing it. I'm sure you love her like your own, but those tiny comments can really hurt. And, I'm sure she's an amazing non-half girl that will grow into a complete woman. :-D

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answers from Seattle on


Since you pay the bills on the phone and the email, you shouldn't fee guilty for snooping. The fact that she's seeing this guy and not telling her parents says that there is something to hide.

I would sit down with her dad one night after she's gone to bed, or when she's not in the house and tell him what you've found out, and what you know. Because you're the step-mom you have less authority. If it's possible sit down with both her parents and lay out everything that you've found out.

You are very right to be concerned, this sounds like a situation that can get grossly out of hand fast, if it isn't already. Not to scare you, but I'm thinking kids having kids here. All of you as her parenting team need to sit down and work out a strategy and a plan of attack for reigning this girl back in before she becomes another Brittney Spears train wreck.

Hope this helps,

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answers from Eugene on

One side of me says - let her be...because with the other postings stating you only see her a few times a month. And on the other hand - I don't want to jump to conclusions, but you never know what actually happens at her mother's house either. I don't blame you for snooping - you want to keep your children safe from harm (including your step-children). My mom snooped into my room all through the different stages I think until High School. Of course I didn't know this until she told me in my later years. My mom's style of parenting is pretty plain and simple - I abide by more of her rules and use a lot of her style in my own parenting. Anyway - back to your situation....you might just want to talk to your husband and see what he has to say about the subject. Either he wants to communicate with his daughter or talk to his EX about what to do with their daughter. I don't know what kind of relationship you have with your step-daughter. That is a walking on eggshells type of deal you got going on there. Good luck.

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answers from Seattle on

well, first and for most she is a teen! AND 13 everything is a secret its just how they do they dont know how to handle alot of emotions at 13. And god forbid you say you snooped you will be hated for the rest of her life.DRAMA,DRAMA!ON top of it all you are the step-parent you are worng away .NOT to be mean it's just how it is.You are not going to find out every little detail of her life her friends will know and thats ok .If the boy is hurting her or meatally abusing her then hey by all means do something because you love her and care about her . If you wnat to know something maybe do a girls night out and try to relate to her on a more personal level and then ask if there is a boy she likes or two boys what she likes to do for fun stuff like that. SNooping is bad! Then It's a fight with hubby nobody want to fight with hubby. just be cool and be the parent but, in a more clever way in time she will think it's ok to open up to you ,trust is a big thing in teens and maybe she thinks you are trying to get her dad to hate her. so be clever about it and it will work out !

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answers from Portland on

I personally believe the best policy is to state upfront that the family rule is: if mom and dad give you a phone or internet access or whatever, mom and dad have FULL access to how you use this technology. That way you're not "snooping" and it will cause them to think about what they write or do with the technology.

If the child balks at this, tell them you will take away the phone, computer, etc. It's their choice.

I mention this more for your younger children as they grow up and want all the same toys...

That being said, you've snooped and found some important information.

The problem is: you're the stepmom, she spends the majority of time with her mom, and her father already thinks you are too critical of his daughter.

Given all of that, I think you have two choices:

1. Ignore what you saw, stop snooping and follow the lead of your husband. Support him in however HE decides to raise her, no matter how much you may disagree. Of course, you can and should speak up about the rules you want for your 6 and 9 year old regarding current and future use of technology and dating and so on.

2. Take the advice from the pp below and just tell the girl, "how's your boyfriend?" I would also NOT say, "I looked at your text messages." You could say what the pp suggested or something like, "Oh, just a woman's intuition. I was 13 once, too, you know."

Try to keep the conversation friendly and open - see if she'll tell you about him - his age, where she knows him from, where she meets him and so on.

You could then simply tell your husband that you had a funny intuition that his daughter was seeing someone and that you found out you were right. I would then leave it at that - don't tell him what he should do and don't call the mom. If he decides to do nothing, then leave it be. Even if it means she finds herself in over her head.

I am not a stepmom, but I have friends who are and it is TOUGH. You sound like a good person, who truly wants to help this girl. But, as the stepmom, I believe the best thing you can do for this girl is to let the two parents work out how they want to co-parent.

My prayers are with you. M.

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answers from Seattle on

Talk to her father, your husband, right away about what you have found out. A 13 year old should not be keeping a secret about dating anyone. First off it is too young to be doing anything besides talking on the phone or seeing the boy at school. Girls and boys are starting this going out on dates too early. Group dates (boys and girls together)shouldn't be starting until at least 14 years old and parents do the driving (dropping off/picking up). Solo dating closer to graduation from high school. Parents are too easy on kids now. That is way there are so many pregancies, drugs, drinking, fast driving, and such. Parents need to be parents not friends. Being their friend comes after they are 18 and out of your house.
If more parents cared then we would have more virgins graduating from high school.
Sorry, if it sounds old fashion to some, but it is the truth.

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answers from Anchorage on

I have another option. Ask her how her boyfriend is. When she asks how you know just say "I have my ways". Don't tell her you snooped and don't tell her father. She needs to have an adult she can turn to.

Will this open conversation for the two of you? I don't know her personality so I hope this helps.
It sounds like you want to make an effort to protect the relationship she has with your nephew as he is giving good advise.

I completely agree with snooping for teenagers. My kids all know I will snoop as much as I like. 13 is SO hard, good luck to you!

Some more after your update

I think you have made progress by just showing genuine intrest. She may have been lying to your cousin to make herself look cooler and older. I remember saying I was a freshman and people would think I was in college. I didn't correct them. It sound like you found a good solution and handled it with great tact!

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answers from Anchorage on

She's supposed to withhold information, all kids do whether your own or stepchildren, it's a normal and healthy part of the developmental process of forming their own personality and developing autonomy from the authority figures in their lives. You shouldn't have snooped, it doesn't matter that you pay the bills, especially as a stepmom- the trust there is always fragile even in the moments when it seems the most cemented.

I'd watch her behavior rather than looking through her stuff and projecting what it might possibly mean. If her behavior gives you reason for concern then address her from that angle- if she gets defensive explain to her that actually causes you more concern. Since you do pay the bills you can withhold the items until she talks, letting her know that she does have to communicate with you to get privileges that you provide, but I wouldn't go into the interactions assuming guilt or that something bad will happen to her, it will just alienate her all the more. The best of luck to you!

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answers from Seattle on

By all means SNOOP! Holy cow! You're not doing it to be malicious in any way. I wouldn't know half the things I do with my daughter (also 13) if I didn't. Don't you remember being 13? I sure do and you couldn't pay me to do it again. She is a child and you are one of the many people looking out for her. Talk openly with your husband and hopefully there is some open communication with the mother. I check email, phone records, backpacks, everything! At the same time I let my daughter know that she can come to me about anything and we have a very open relationship for the most part. But there is just some stuff that you keep from every adult.
You said she is talking to your nephew and they are friends. Be thankful that she feels there is someone she can be close to and talk openly with. Right now I wouldn't be concerned. She's not going to tell anyone everything and as long as you're not seeing any major changes in behavior I think you can rest easy.
Being the "custodial" parent I know that I am more in tune with what is going on with my kids than their dad. However they spend about 8 weeks a year total with him. Talk to your husband and try to be as open as you can. He's probably concerned too. I know i would be greatful if my daughters' step-mother was as concerned as you are!
In situations like this parenting is a GROUP effort.

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answers from Seattle on

KM- I too am a stepmother of a 14yrs girl. Lord do we forget the things we did at their age!!! To start, I do have requests on here and I would appreciate it if you would look at them and add your advice, thanks. As far as internet, I am very one-sided as far as kids go. I DO NOT LIKE MYSPACE!!!! These kids just dont get it through their heads how bad it can be! Cell phones,OMG, we got her 1(prepaid always!!) when she was 12, she still lived w/ her mother and that was our only way besides just showing up there, to contact her. Well, that one wasnt her fault, it was her mothers. We get her a phone for xmas last yr, we paid 50 every 2 months for time!!! plus whatever she was able to add herself!!! After a cpl mos. we start getting a 9.99 charge on our cell bill??? it turns out that she activated a text to chat thing on daddys phone and used it on hers once it was activated!!!! that led me to check her phone history, wow, she was telling some guy her age, school, and sent pics as well!!! Trust is dwindling! I have been very open w/ her about things that could happen to her... she thinks I just dont understand. I have sat her down and told her the kind of things(BAD) I had done and the things I had been through at her age and even before for that matter, I gave birth to my 1st child at 15. I thought maybe just maybe she would come around, not. I have told her(she has to have attn from boys) why I was that way as well and that I know where her mind is... and why she is that way. She agrees in amazement when she gets me going on my past and how similar it is to her here and now. I think as far as what you say, that she is just being a teen, just have SET rules for pc and cells. and let her know that you will check every so often to ensure her safety, because there are crazy ppl out there and at 13, I know its hard to believe, but, YOU can be fooled. we see it everyday on the news, in the papers children and adults as well, get stalked, confronted, promised great things, and even unfortunatly loose their lives, and these wierdos are good at what they do and say to gain your trust!!! Ok I could go on forever but I really do want you to check out my requests and give me some advice as well!!!:-) Thanks and you can contact me thru comcast net its bobbyandlorrie WINK HAGD

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