There was a scene in the movie "Apollo 13" in which astronauts ripped off the sensors that monitored their vital signs because they were tired of being watched like lab rats. They were being monitored...

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There was a scene in the movie “Apollo 13” in which astronauts ripped off the sensors that monitored their vital signs because they were tired of being watched like lab rats.

They were being monitored for their own good, but sometimes people need privacy more than protection.

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It’s gotten a bit harder since the Apollo years to get a little privacy. NASA has been working recently on a softball-sized device that would float around the space shuttle and the space station keeping an eye on things, including the astronauts.

Don’t know whether they’ve perfected it yet, but I could use it sometime. I like my privacy, but as a parent I’m committed to the business of intelligence gathering.

Saturday evening, my son and a friend were wandering around our neighborhood after dark, which comes much too early this time of year. I got worried, about cars, about other people, about what a couple of 12-year-old boys might get into.

My worries flowered from random thoughts about my own experiences around that age. My mother ran a tight ship, but she couldn’t watch me every minute of the day, and neither can I, nor should I be with my son all the time.

He needs the freedom to grow, freedom that all kids need and that most parents have some worries about.

When kids are little, it’s easier for parents to decide how much freedom to give them. No, you can’t walk across the street alone. But that gets harder as they grow up. When is staying home alone OK? When is dating OK? Is she ready for the car keys? Their abilities grow, the stakes get higher.

At the same time, it’s harder for a parent to know what is going on in a child’s life. Preteens and teens don’t always talk, and when they do, they may not tell you things you really need to know.

Their lives are no longer yours to direct in the same way. That’s scary sometimes.

You’ll remember that mother from Friday Harbor, Carmen Dixon, who eavesdropped on her teenage daughter’s conversation with her boyfriend and heard the boyfriend talk about a robbery.

Dixon’s testimony helped convict the boyfriend, but last week the state Supreme Court ruled Dixon had violated her daughter’s privacy and the law.

It seems to me there are at least two separate issues here.

There is the matter of legality, on which the Supreme Court made the appropriate ruling, based on state law.

And there is the matter of a parent’s right to know what her child is up to. This one is more complex.

I’m not much for the kind of snooping Dixon did, but I would do it if I thought there was good reason to. I want information, but there are limits to how far I would go to get it.

I’d like to listen in on some of my son’s telephone conversations, but I’ve never done it. And I won’t, unless I see signs that something bad is happening.

I want a more open relationship with my son, one built on trust. That doesn’t mean I’m not ever suspicious, but that I will treat him as I would like to be treated. Nosiness is not a good enough reason for violating that trust.

I’m up front about keeping tabs on his Internet use. My wife regularly goes through his school binder to find notes he was supposed to give us, homework he was supposed to turn in, assignments he “forgot,” and so on.

He whines and moans at the injustice of it, but the necessity of it is obvious, at least to his parents.

My wife is especially good at getting information from gabby friends of his and from teachers and other parents.

Soon enough he’ll have all the rights to privacy that grown-ups have. The right to have your keystrokes monitored at work, to have spyware infest your home computer, to be asked for your Social Security number for any significant, and some insignificant, transactions.

Privacy is an endangered concept. Who’ll get access to information from your GPS-enabled cellphone and track your movements? We could all use a little personal space.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.