I have to admit I want to know where my daughter is all the time, and know that she is safe. She seems so young, beautiful, and vulnerable to me as she seeks greater independence and freedom in her day-to-day life. I am haunted by images of girls her age who have disappeared, never to return to their families, because a man who was a predator took a fancy to them or saw an opportunity.
So I decided to get an app on her phone, and mine, that would allow me to see where she was. While installing the app, I thought, why not add my partner? She drives to and from Oregon on a weekly basis, and then I would be able to see where she was and when she’d be home. Done in a flash! Now we all get notices about each other’s whereabouts.
The next day, my partner noted that she knew what time I dropped our daughter off at school, thanks to this app. I found myself checking her location twice during the day. My daughter had lost her phone privileges this week, so ironically, we aren’t monitoring her, which was our intention, but each other. The following day, when my partner texted “I see you’re home!” I honestly was just a bit taken aback. What have I done? The element of surprise in day-to-day life seems to be over! Between this and the banking technology that provides instantaneous info on purchases, it’s a snap to get a picture of my day.
I realized how easy it is to feel obligated to provide this information on one hand, and to abuse access to it on the other. My partner isn’t controlling. But what if she were? It would be extremely difficult for me to see a friend or go to a social service agency without knowing I might be observed, interrupted, or questioned. I could give up my phone or get rid of this application, but if I were in an abusive/controlling relationship, doing either of those things would likely increase conflict and danger.
So what role does privacy play in healthy relationships? I love making a decision about how to spend my time without checking it out with anyone, not because I have anything to hide, but because I am an adult and I enjoy feeling in charge of myself. I also love trusting my partner, and being trusted. Feeling like an independent, decision-making grown-up is essential to my comfort in my relationship. Actively choosing closeness with the knowledge I could also choose distance or privacy keeps things interesting, and keeps me in touch with my choices, limits, and integrity.
And that brings me back to my daughter. It’s not her I distrust, it is other people; I am not sure she is ready to negotiate the big world on her own yet. On the other hand, I don’t want her to learn that closely monitoring a person’s movements is a normal aspect of an intimate relationship; or that she does not have the right to move through the world on her own, making decisions, and having that exhilarating feeling of being free and responsible for herself. So what I am going to do with this app? I think I’ll live with it for a while, but I am already looking forward to getting rid of it.