I eavesdrop. Say what you want about it, but the greatest pastime of living in NYC is the ability to overhear the things people talk about and how they magically think the person sitting next to them on the subway isn’t going to hear.

So I was walking somewhere, I think it was through the park, and I heard a Mother say to her child, who was about three:

“Privacy is a privilege.”

Is privacy a privilege? Or is it a right?

Are there times when we have no expectation of privacy, like when you are in a crowded city and having a conversation that will undoubtedly be heard by at least one other person?

In the modern age, does privacy exist?

Can children expect to have privacy, or does the parent always rule out? is privacy something to be earned with age and responsibility?

Should one be given privacy from their partner?

There are so many ways one can look at this- but when you think privacy, what are the first things that come to mind?

68 thoughts on “Privacy

  1. If you want something to be private, don’t talk about at all. Privacy in today’s world of social media may be more difficult to achieve.

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  2. If a kid does something wrong, even illegal, then who gets in trouble for the actions? If a parent has to go to court or gets visited by police or some type of welfare office or school officials or anything like that…then there is no such thing as privacy because parents should know what’s going on.

    Society will whine about most parents not letting kids grow up…UNTIL the kids do something really crazy, and then society wonders why parents didn’t do something earlier. Damned if you do & damned if you don’t.

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    1. You’re right…if you give your kid free reign, you should no better. If you helicopter, you’re grooming them to never fly solo. Can’t win

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  3. My first question is how old was this child? Just makes you wonder why the subject came up. Was she/he hiding in their bedroom doing something bad?
    I think we all have the right to privacy in our home. We knock if we want to enter a bedroom. Now granted when the kids were little I had the right to check on them more often
    Should we get upset about someone in public listening to our conversation? No. If its something you absolutely don’t want anyone else to hear then don’t talk about it in public. Annd especially if you are talking loudly on your phone in public then I am going to listen!
    Reminds me of when I was in the waiting room one time. A mother was calling ALL her relatives to give them an update on her daughter’s surgery. I heard tbe exact same story in detail close to a dozen times! I was like, really, can’t you talk quieter or step outside? It was a nice day out.

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    1. I would have thought….one email to everyone would be easier!! This kid was maybe three. It was outside the playground if I remember correctly, so I’m assuming he was off in a corner or something. I just wondered if saying that was best way to handle situation

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      1. Exactly, an email! Or one group text, would have saved the ears of the rest of us in the waiting room. LOL!

        I am wondering the same thing. I don’t mean to be morbid, but I couldn’t help but think of the message that may have sent to the child. Made me think about sexual abuse. If the child doesn’t think they have a right to privacy then will they speak up???

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  4. I think the mother had it correctly as “Privacy is a privilege.” I would imagine in busy metro areas, this is very true as more monies or resources can buy more privacy. I often am careful with my phone not listening to me or rather listening to me. Once it even recorded me without my permission and taped a conversation to send on text to my husband. How embarrassing! I was glad it was not someone else….I double if a 3 year old gets it. She might have been reminding herself.

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  5. When I think of privacy, what comes to my mind first is that we don’t have it anymore. The creepy way you can have a conversation with someone about something (like a vacuum cleaner), and suddenly you you start seeing ads for vacuums on your social media platforms. So in that respect we have lost privacy…but on the other hand, it’s also become easier to keep things private from loved ones. All kinds of ways you can get away with stuff now.

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  6. Privacy might be a thing of the past. Even living alone as I do, Google knows, remembers and passes on anything I do on my devices. I don’t really have an expectation of privacy no matter where I go anymore. I think the concept of a “right to privacy” is rather outdated unless one chooses to live deep in the forest and disconnect completely.

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  7. This is a good one. My parents, especially my mom, never respected my privacy growing. She would read letters from long distance friends(snail mail is a thing of the past now in that regard). She accidentally on purpose opened my bank statements. She looked in my purse. Now you can get your bank statements online, and text/email friends.
    It was really wearing on me growing up and even as an adult that any tidbit about my life was up for analysis or judgment. As time went on I shared very little with my family if it could be remotely controversial in theiir eyes.
    I’ve tried to be more respectful with my children and their privacy.
    I’m not crazy about how we have lost privacy with technology–you can find a pic of my house on google maps. OTOH I just started using google calendar so I am giving away my privacy that way. Not sure if there are better calendar apps out there.

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  8. When you are in public you should have no expectation of privacy.
    The partner thing is hard. You should trust enough to not snoop on phones and such, but also, if you want to keep things private from them you might want to reflect on what it is and why you don’t want them to know.
    The child thing is also hard. I didn’t look at their devices, but I was friends with them on social media so I could see what they were posting.

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  9. Privacy is very important. The trick as a parent is to give your children personal privacy while still letting them know that you, as their parent, are responsible for their safety and should know their whereabouts. Those teenage years are tricky. And hopefully you give your children a balance of love and caring as well as the right to an appropriate amount of personal privacy.

    In a relationship some people need more privacy then others. It’s a balance. When the kids are little you rarely get to go to the bathroom by yourself let alone have personal privacy. So privacy comes and goes at different stages in your life. I remember loving those rare times when my husband took the boys and I had alone time. Now, as a senior citizen, even though I see my family often, As a widow I live alone and so privacy is not an issue. There were days during the height of the pandemic when I had way too much alone time. Is that privacy? Fortunately, I can entertain myself and keep busy but there can be too much alone time too. So I think it’s all how you view what privacy is. I cherish privacy. It’s different from being alone. Privacy is the right to have your own personal space when you want it. And no, I don’t like hearing other people’s phone conversations. I consider that bad manners. I wonder if they are oblivious or looking for attention! But I don’t think that’s really a privacy issue. It’s just rudeness.

    I didn’t have much privacy growing up and so I made sure my sons felt respected and trusted. I wanted them to feel like coming home was a good thing. Not a prison. Or that they’d be grilled for every move they made. Growing up without much privacy was not something I recommend. It’s stifling!
    I had an over bearing mom who was in everybody’s business. For some reason she was terrified of her kids growing up and leaving home. I had to hide my diary, my mom would always find it and read it. Letters that my friends wrote to me were often opened before I got home from school and could read them. I had zero personal privacy. I remember feeling like I was suffocating when I was at home. There was nowhere in my house that I had any personal privacy. Plus I shared my room with my sister, and I felt every move I made was watched or judged. I longed for privacy as a kid. Performing on stage and playing music was actually more privacy for me than being home alone. I was free to express myself. So privacy can mean something different to everyone.

    Living in a dorm in college was actually my first living experience where I had personal privacy. It was great! Frankly, There was a reason I got married for the first time, at the age of 20 , while still in college. It was To get away from overbearing parents. Sounds silly now but it made sense to me back then. (The first marriage only lasted a few years but I don’t regret it.) It gave me independence and prepared me for life. Plus I have an awesome son. Perhaps, had I grown up with some privacy I would never have married so young. Who knows. Obviously, i made sure I didn’t raise my kids like I was raised. Not having personal privacy is a stifling way to grow up. Privacy should be natural. And one’s personal privacy is up to the individual.

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    1. Lesley your comment really resonates with me. I also felt like I had more privacy moving into the dorm from my parents’ home. My sister was married right after she graduated from college, and I think in that her mind it made her an adult. She also divorced.

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      1. TWF yes isn’t it funny how dorm life gave us more freedom and personal privacy? I don’t think I thought marriage turned me into an adult like your sister felt, but I understand why she thought that way. Times were very different then. For me personally, I knew my parents would let up on their over protectiveness if I was married. (Pretty crazy. I would NEVER encourage my child to marry at 20). My mother was primarily only worried I’d lose my virginity before marriage. She couldn’t handle that by 1969 everything was changing rapidly. The irony was that I was totally innocent in that way, I just wanted my freedom. The world looked at women so differently in the 60’s and 70’s. There was such a double standard. In fact, I auditioned for a part in the play Hair at the coconut grove playhouse which was not far from the University, and was I hired as a singer and dancer. But the school of Education was very strict and wouldn’t allow me to take the role. The school said it was unbecoming for a future teacher. Ugh! Times were so backwards in those days. I assured the university I would keep my clothes on but they said I couldn’t graduate if I took the part. That would never happen today! And it was the Broadway traveling cast, so I would have gotten paid a lot. There were so many restrictions for women back then. But, getting married put me in another category. I was considered an adult by the college once I became a wife. Seriously, I was suddenly allowed to live off campus if I was married, and then I could audition for any part I wanted! Young women today have no idea of how restrictive things were then.

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  10. Oops I had another point to make. I’m not worried about my personal privacy on line. I enjoy technology too much to be paranoid about big brother. And living in an over 55 condo there will always be busybody neighbors who gossip. My oldest son takes me to my chemotherapy sessions. He’s in his late 40’s. For a while some of my condo commando neighbors thought he was my boyfriend not my son. Lol I thought that was ridiculously funny. (My youngest son lived with me when I first moved in so they were used to seeing him all the time when he was home from college). That kind of privacy I don’t care about. Let people think whatever they want. It’s my personal privacy that I cherish. Having my own thoughts, my feelings, viewpoints without being questioned. etc. That kind of privacy is important to me. I’m fine in group settings. But I need my own personal space when I want it! Everyone deserves that right. And yes, it’s something we all deserve. (Unless you are a criminal).

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  11. privacy is a right that is easily squandered by one’s self. We put so much information about ourselves on social media and we don’t think once about how easily it can be shared. I hear so many people talking on the cell phones without regard to what we’re talking about and without regard to who can overhear us. you can’t have privacy if you put your business out in the streets in full view. People need to learn when they need to keep their mouths shut if they want privacy.

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  12. Privacy to me is being allowed to sit in stillness, alone with my thoughts, no interruptions. I have no expectation of privacy when I’m out in the world, or using the www, but at home I do. My husband is clear on this point.

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  13. Very interesting. I’m inclined to go against the grain and say privacy is a right, but you have to make the effort to seek it out. Sitting on a subway, having a conversation with a family member, you certainly can’t expect privacy to be a privilege! But if you’re out hiking in the mountains, that’s another story.

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    1. Agreed. If you say something in public, you have to assume someone else can hear you. When my daughter was in pre k a few of us would run out for coffee after drop off…we always wondered if someone was listening to our inane conversation and blogging about it…

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  14. I’ve long accepted that – as adults – we have no privacy, either online or out & about. The amount of personal data stored on each & every one of us is both staggering to think about – and yet, now just the norm. The right of a child’s privacy should be different. They’re not yet in a position to decide what they want “out there” and they’re entitled to feel safe from intrusion at home – even, maybe especially – if the people doing the intruding are their parents. Yes, it’s a fine line, but respect needs to be at the heart of where that line gets drawn. I do not post photos of my grandchildren online in respect of my daughter’s wishes. My sister once shared online a photo I’d sent her, without asking permission, despite me having made my daughter’s policy on the matter clear. So, my sister no longer gets pictures. I have never required my grandchildren give me a kiss or a hug. When they do it of their own free will – it is way more meaningful but, what’s more important, is they’re learning it’s OK to have physical autonomy.

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  15. Privacy is a natural, born right, I thought. Now, if we’re talking about technology, social media, the government…well, I think all of that has made it seem is privacy isn’t a thing at all.

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  16. The first thing that comes to my mind is people in poverty with several families to an apartment or concentration camps or incarceration. I think these people would hold privacy up as sacred.

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  17. I have dual opinions on the matter of privacy. I think that privacy is a right but also a privilege. Like if you earned trust, you have a right to privacy, but also if you trust someone, shouldn’t you feel the need to hide things from them. As a mom, I would be afraid if my son had too much privacy when he becomes a teenager, but I also want to trust him enough to give him space and know that even if he feels the need to have privacy, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is doing something wrong.

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      1. Whatever!!! Your posts keep me busy for a steady minute! But, yeah, I like that part about getting older. Nobody really pays attention to us. Old people are boring, according to my 16 yr old.

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      2. Well, if you drill down, the majority of young people are boring because they follow the trend. The only non boring ne is the one who starts the trend

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