I was in a hotel room with my mom, me on my phone and her on my iPad. My iPad is linked to my phone, so it receives and stores all my text messages. I happened to glance over at her and saw she was going through and reading all of my texts. She was also doing it without my knowledge. I asked her what she was doing, and she plainly said she was reading my texts. She doesn't try to hide it, but she does do it unbeknownst to me. For context, I am 20 (almost 21) and am in college (so I don't live under her roof except for a few weeks a year).

She does a similar thing with my emails. She knows the password to one of my email accounts (because it was made when I was 13, so it was appropriate for her to have access), and for annoying reasons I can't change it. She sees no issue with reading my emails. We had a fight last year when she asked for the password for my other email account but I refused to give it to her.

She believes that, as my parent, she is entitled to absolute access to all my texts and emails. Regarding my financial situation, my parents do pay for things like car insurance and, yes, my phone. One could argue that because she pays for my phone, she's allowed to do whatever she wants with it. However, I have a large enough chunk of savings / disposable income that I can be financially independent if needed. I am perfectly fine "cutting myself off", so to speak.

I want to confront my mom about this (over the phone, because I won't physically see her for several months). What should I say to let her know that reading my texts is off-limits? I want to nicely, but firmly, tell her that it's an invasion of privacy and that she is not entitled to see my personal communications.

  • 6
    It's not an invasion of privacy if she owns the phone. I highly suggest you get your own phone, contract, and apple account if what you want is privacy. There's no need to cut off your mom or add drama - just get your own stuff and move on.
    – user24631
    Jul 8, 2017 at 5:44
  • 1
    @Physics-Compute whether or not it's an invasion of privacy depends on location - it would absolutely be an invasion of privacy in the EU.
    – Erik
    Sep 28, 2017 at 11:49
  • Get a new Apple account and use it on your (i?)Phone and iPad. It takes half an hour to do so. Oct 6, 2017 at 7:28
  • @Physics-Compute Paying for a phone subscription is not the same as owning the phone. The parents pay for it for her so its her phone, easy as that.
    – EpicKip
    Jun 4, 2018 at 12:44
  • You could try not caring if people read your emails and texts. All of that is logged and stored for someone to read anyhow if subpoenaed. Assume someone is always reading them.
    – Kai Qing
    Jun 5, 2018 at 17:37

7 Answers 7


It sounds as if you already told her you didn't want her to read your emails. Her response was that she has a right to read your personal communications.

You need to do a little bit of reading before you approach your mother again about this, and do it quickly. Read about boundaries, because it will be critical to having a healthy relationship with your mother. In fact, all healthy relationships need and respect boundaries.

Boundaries exist everywhere in the form of laws. You're not allowed to go into a stranger's house and leave with their TV. You're not allowed to leave the scene of an accident where someone has been injured. Laws are there for our protection, so that we can coexist safely and respectfully. There are consequences to breaking these legal boundaries. Personal boundaries function in much the same way.

People often say they set a boundary, but it didn’t help. There’s an art to setting boundaries. If it’s done in anger or by nagging, you won’t be heard. Boundaries are not meant to punish, but are for your well-being and protection. They’re more effective when you’re assertive, calm, firm, and courteous. If that doesn’t work, you may need to communicate consequences to encourage compliance. It’s essential, however, that you never threaten a consequence you’re not fully prepared to carry out.

Read about boundaries until you are sure you can not only set them but can explain why they are important. Your mother will push back. You need to remain calm and reiterate your boundary and why you're imposing one. Set a consequence and state it. Then walk the walk.

The conversation should take place when you're both in a good place mentally. It can go something like this (this example is truncated for brevity's sake):

You: Mom, I love you, and it's important to me that we have the best relationship we can have. (Add to this what you can: how grateful you are for all that she's done, etc.) But I want you to know that I'm hurt when you don't respect my requests for privacy. Therefore I've changed all my passwords on my accounts, and ask that you respect them.

Mom: But I'm you're mother. I have a right to know what's going on in your life!

You: You do know what's going on in my life to a great extent. You see what's going on and I tell you about things you don't see. But I'm an adult, and I am entitled to some privacy. That's why I've changed...

Mom: But (another reason, say...) I don't feel that you are respecting my rights as a mother if you...

You: Let's discuss your rights as a mother...... (discussion)

You: I agree that (what you do agree with). We'll talk about (bombshell issues) another time. But right now, I don't agree that you have a right to read my personal communications. I've given this a lot of thought and decided this was best for our relationship. Please respect that, and don't ask me for my passwords. I will not give them to you, and I will feel disrespected if you ask even though I've explained this to you.

What is a consequence? You refuse to talk about it.

You: Mom, you know how I feel about this. I love you, and I don't want to argue with you, so I'm not going to discuss this any more. If you keep on insisting, I'll have to (leave/hang up.)

If it continues, tell you you'll talk to her again (whenever), and hope you don't have this argument again.

Eventually she'll learn the boundary.

You don't have to move out to establish boundaries. You just have to believe you deserve certain privileges and be able to articulate them to people who are accustomed to treating you as if you don't.

Again, read more about boundaries. They will help you understand more about some causes of conflict in relationships and how to minimize what you can in healthy ways.

What Are Boundaries
Having a conversation to assert your boundaries

  • 1
    Put a password on your phone and ditch your old email account for a new one. When she complains about it that will be a good time to have this conversation. You're an adult, she should not know the password of anything that you use.
    – Bronco
    Sep 28, 2017 at 20:25

I like Willow's assessment of the situation, but I'd like to suggest different actions to take.

  1. continue to confront your mother in a respectful way
  2. Don't make the confrontations overbearing or the only thing you two discuss
  3. Recruit one or more other adults like a grand parent or other parent figure to advocate on your behalf. Preferably someone your mother knows and respects.
  4. Continue to remind your mother that she has done a good job raising you and your desire for privacy is not to hide anything, but just a normal request/need for you to feel relaxed.
  5. Don't use your privacy to do illegal or hurtful things :) I had to say it, I'm a parent.

My advice hinges on the idea that I don't want this privacy issue to cause a further rift in your relationship with your mom. Sure, you're right (as Willow stated), but I believe that patience, humbleness, and a continued effort to win your mother to your viewpoint will win the day in the long run.

I find the world is a better place when the people who are right deal gently and patiently with people who are wrong. It helps me when I realize I'm probably wrong more often than right, and I should treat others (someone who is wrong) the way I want to be treated (when I'm wrong).


A responsible parent would have been teaching you good security protocols all along, but it's not to late to learn them yourself.

You are an adult. Change all your passwords -- use strong passwords, a different password for each account (a password locker like 1Password can help you keep track of them all), use 2-factor authentication whenever available. Don't tell anyone else your passwords unless it's intentionally a shared account (which is almost never a good idea), and safeguard physical access to your devices (that includes using passcodes on your phone and tablet, also that only you know). Problem solved, not only for your parents, but also for other wrongdoers.

Pay for your own phone account, take away that excuse. You say you have plenty of money to do that. If you're 20, you have the wherewithal to earn and spend enough money for any accounts and devices that you really need.

Practice saying, "I am a legal adult. It's not safe to have unsecured devices or accounts. Adults don't snoop into each others' email or texts."


I don't think there's anything you can say that will do the trick.

Are your digital devices owned/paid for by you? If no, save up, purchase your own.

Once that is done, or if they are owned by you (includes if they were a birthday, graduation or other kind of "gift" and not part of a paid-for communications plan your parents are allowing you to stay on), you password protect those devices, and you don't give the password to your mother.

You are an adult, and there's no reason for you to have to justify your own privacy that she is violating. What you say should pretty much begin and end there. Be ready for a war, but I think you need to stand up for yourself here.

If they try to use financial support or housing as a leverage to keep tight control over you, then you have to assess the pros and cons of true independence, without a safety net, vs ceding some of your adult rights and independence.

  • 3
    I disagree with the implication that if OP's mother owned the device (say, if OP borrowed it from her) that would make it okay for her to invade OP's privacy; in much the same way your landlord can't just pop up in your living room.
    – user7953
    Jul 5, 2017 at 11:20
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    I agree with you, and that's not the implication. I don't think it's morally or ethically justified, either. What I'm talking about is removing any possible "justification" someone who doesn't feel that way might try to bring ("I'm paying for it, it is, technically and legally, MY device...."). Clearly, what's right isn't enough to stand on, by itself, from a practical perspective. Also, if it's on the mom's account and she owns it, she can circumvent, potentially, personal protections put onto a device by resetting the device, as the authorized owner. Jul 5, 2017 at 18:36

Privacy is important and imo, your parent is in the wrong. If at 20, you are not already trustworthy in her eyes -- then she is too late to help you change. Her time as an active parent has passed.

I know she'll always be your mother but you've reached a difficult stage. This is where you start acting like an equal adult (but still a respectful and loving son or daughter).

  1. I'd text or call all my friends and give them a new email address.
  2. I'd either close the old email address or use it only for family.
  3. I'd consider getting another phone and would work part-time for it. There are cheaper cell phones and plans that are good for local calls.

If you are rude or angry, it will not help your image as an adult. It is difficult for children to learn how to be adult with their parents and even more difficult for parents to learn how to allow their kids to be adults. You negotiate this new era together.

Start by forgiving your parents for all the mistakes you think they made. In most families, parents have made plenty of mistakes -- but they were made with their child's best interests at heart. Do not judge them for loving mistakes. Once you parent, you'll understand.

Do not wait to be given responsibility. Take it. When you visit, do not wait to be asked to do chores; take out the trash; do some laundry; mow the lawn; make a meal; offer to do the grocery run.

It sounds easy to take an adult role but a child is only 'attached' to a parent by a cord, but a parent is attached to a child with a solid metal chain. This will not happen overnight. Parents have way more trouble letting go than their children do.

Of course it is hard to work and go to school. Many people do it. Just because your parents have chosen to help you with school, doesn't mean you should not contribute as much as you can. (Aren't you lucky! I hope you are grateful.)

Some of the jobs I had while putting myself through school included:

  • Car park attendendant. I could work nights and study because most nights traffic was slow. (I averaged 5-6 hours of study an 8 hour shift.)
  • Night shift caregiver. I worked group homes and senior residences and again most nights I could study while I was being paid. (I averaged 3-4 hours of study an 8 hour shift.)
  • Library worker. I filed books. It wasn't fun but it was mindless -- no stress at all. I was given a key and could file early mornings when the library was closed. (0 hours of study.)
  • I was the cleaner at a condominium. I could set my own hours so I vacuumed and washed floors after school. I arranged my schedule for mostly morning classes. (O hours of study -- but best pay.)

I agree with you that unless you live under your parents roof that they are not allowed to go through anything of yours without your say so. I don't know exactly know how to say it but you should try saying it firmly and but gently and if you want you could also remind her that you can afford to go on your own. I think some parents are very attached so maybe she just trying to find a way to connect to your world because your drifting farther from hers. So whe would be trying to grasp on to anything she can to try and pull you back. This is what i think you don't have to try or believe everything but this is what is happening to my brother but in a different way without the emails.


I don't think any parent has a right to read their child's emails and texts, because it's not just your child's privacy, it's also other people's privacy. You get stuff from work that contains clients' information your parents have no right to look at.

I can't let my parents look at my texts or emails, because they contain clients' information. I'm a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and I work as a home care aide. That's the thing that people don't realize: There are other people, who are sending texts and emails to your child, so that it becomes a private issue for them.

I get it if you want to search people's things if you just said something, but you have to have a really good reason to do it, if you're doing it because you can. That was a strict rest of this child in Delhi stuff more. Also give them a reason to trust you, stop being so overprotective and a helicopter parent, you're not doing these guys any good if you're smothering them and overprotective. They'll rebuild against you.

I didn't have an overprotective parent, I don't do drugs, I don't drink, I don't have sex, I have not done anything fishy for my mom to check my things. She trusts me, she respects my privacy. Also if I have an issue with a product I can go to her and ask for help. She's not going to get mad, she will help me. So no, I don't believe you have a right to look at your children's texts and emails, specially when they contain facts about other people, in which case you violated their rights.

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