The kids are all right

I need to do an ethicist response post, because I haven't written one for the last two columns, and I wouldn't want people thinking I've given up. But not only do I not have any substantive problems with his two answers, but the format I happen to write in makes even addressing the second letter off-putting. The second question is about whether or not a parent should read his college-age daughter's online livejournal, which is of course quite similar to a blog, without his daughter knowing he's reading it. Talking about that on my blog, which I know my parents read, is rather odd. But I'll do it anyway, just to note that Randy is, if anything too concerned about the daughter's desire for privacy. I only say this because family members finding and reading one's blog is a well recognized phenomenon, so people who are trying to avoid it tend to take substantial steps towards anonymity. If the daughter's blog isn't anonymous, it's likely she's considered her father reading it. But it couldn't hurt for him to check with her.

Stylistically, I think there's something really wrong with the transition between the first two sentences of the first paragraph of his first answer and the second two sentences. But it seems so off to me that I don't know how an editor would have failed to catch it, so I'll assume it's a purposefully odd style that I just don't like.

Update: A reader suggested to me that I'm not being critical enough of Cohen, which is not something I ever expected to hear. In particular, he's worried about Cohen's claim that,
"But it would be no more ethical for you to read her journal surreptitiously than to skulk around her campus hoping to pick up snatches of her conversation." Cohen goes too far with that, but I'm not as confident that he's wrong about his overall point. The reason is that I think people have different obligations to their family than they do to society at large (that should be wholly non-controversial), and that those obligations can meaningfully be described as ethical. If I had to flesh out that second claim, I'd do so on a pseudo-contractual theory that by interacting with someone in the mode of a family member you're implicitly or explicitly agreeing to responsibilities which you don't have to others.

Given the above, while the reader who brought the under-critical nature of this post to my attention thought it was very persuasive that it's far more efficient for a writer to censor themselves rather than to impose self-restraint on each individual reader [I'm paraphrasing, I think fairly]; I don't find that to be a decisive consideration. It's interesting, but I'm not sure it gets the argument all the way to the desired conclusion. I don't have a fully developed theory of intra-family ethics (does anyone?), so I'm not certain where to go from here. Randy is too harsh to in saying that it's ethically wrong for a father to read his daughter's online journal/blog. On the other hand, it seems likely to me that a better outcome will follow from the father informing his daughter than otherwise, but when I'm talking about what the father is obligated (not-wrong) to do, that's not particularly conclusive either. If she's not blogging about anything that she'd mind her parents reading (and as I said above, in my experience most non-anonymous bloggers take into account that people who know them in real life will be able to find their blogs), there's no harm in her father telling her he found the blog, and it may help to build intra-family trust. If she is blogging about things which she wouldn't want her father to know, it's probably going to hurt their future relationship for him to know about it and either have to hide from her that he knows or confront her about it with her feeling that he's found out illegitimately. The only way I see a better outcome from not telling is the paternalistic case where she's blogging about things which she wouldn't her father to know, but he in some sense should know. This update is too long and I'm not sure how to wrap it up.