Excessive behavior that is socially destructive and characterized by fighting, stealing, arson, truancy, and leaving home is called a conduct disorder.
Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life threatening eating disorder characterized by loss of weight that falls 20 percent or more below the normal standards.
Pediatric and clinical social worker Margey Cheses, M.S.W. and L.I.S.W., has a definite opinion on the subject. "It is a risk versus boundary issue. It is always best to try and avoid intrusive behavior by keeping the door open so a daughter will share issues with you. That is not always possible to do. If you suspect that it is a question of personal safety, notice risk factors, or observe changes in behavior that appear suspicious then it is time to intervene," Cheses says.
"If you are in doubt, put down your defenses as a mother. Observe your daughter and listen carefully. There may have been times you haven't heard things because you didn't want to. Children are a wealth of knowledge if you listen and take in their perspective."
Try Talking Before You Snoop
If you suspect your daughter is taking drugs, engaging in unsafe sex, showing signs of anorexia nervosa, or participating in any other dangerous behaviors, come right out and ask. Don't allow a conduct disorder to go unchecked. "Asking her won't give her ideas," Cheses stresses. "What it will do is give her permission to talk about it. Talking also helps to build trust in a relationship and should be pursued before you begin to snoop."
Cheses recommends you…
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Look at your child while she is talking and observe her behavior.
- Ideally keep a dialogue open so you won't have to be intrusive.
- Believe in your daughter and give her confidence and support.
If you cannot get the information you need by talking and think your daughter is in danger, then Cheses says it may be time to check her private space.
Knowing What to Look For
Common high-risk behaviors that pardon your snooping are eating disorders, substance abuse, dangerous sex practices, and potential suicide. Sometimes the only way to confirm your suspicions is to invade your daughter's privacy.
"An eating disorder can be a tremendous risk to your daughter's health," Cheses explains. "The longer it continues the more difficult it is to stop it. You can look for diet pills or bags of vomit in the trash or hidden in her room. It is also a good idea to eat with your child.
Intervention is confronting an individual over a situation with the goal of making them face up to what they are doing and seeing how their actions are affecting him or herself and those around him or her. Intervention could entail anything from conversation to physically moving the person to another location.
"If you think your daughter has a drug problem, you don't want to hold back. Look for dilated eyes and notice if she is tending to distance herself from you, emotionally and physically," says Cheses.
Once again if you have to check her dresser drawers, count her cash, or read her locked diary, crossing the boundary line is secondary to the potential risk factors and your daughter's safety.
Dangerous Sexual Practices
A mother needs to know if a daughter is being victimized sexually, practicing unsafe sex at a young age, or making up for some emotional deficiency by reaching out sexually. If the only way you can confirm your hunch that one of the above is happening is by invading her privacy, then you should check her Internet chat rooms and look for secret letters or notes to friends.
The Potential for Suicide
If you suspect that your child is suicidal, do not take any chances. Do not delay gathering all the information you can, talking to them, and initiating intervention immediately!
Learning More Telltale Signs of Significant Trouble
Depression among teenagers and young women is a matter of great concern today. It is something for which moms should be on the lookout. Indications that your daughter is suffering a normal bout of depression that lasts approximately two weeks includes symptoms such as sadness, despair, loss of interest in usual activities, and lethargy.
Major depression is much more serious. A specialist should be consulted if your daughter neglects her daily functions and stays in bed, is prone to crying, or expresses that she feels like a failure or does not like herself.
Agitated depression is at the other end of the spectrum and is characterized by hyperactivity, nonstop activity, sleeplessness, avoidance of others, and the inability to find pleasure. It, too, may necessitate calling the doctor.
Determining What's Next
If you have confirmed that your daughter is having significant and serious problems, it is time to be up front, Cheses says. Intervention is necessary. Start by telling your daughter you snooped. Give her the reasons why. Tell her what you found and then figure out a plan to help her. That could very well include therapy with an objective, trained professional.