Navigating Teen Privacy
Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 13, your child starts locking his door. I remember approaching my son's room a few years back, laundry piled past my nose, when I couldn't turn the door knob and burst in like I always had in the past. I stared at the knob for a minute, and then looked back down the hall to make sure I was in the right place.
"Hello?" I called.
"Why is your door locked?" I asked in disbelief.
"What do you want?" he called back, seemingly exasperated.
I was in shock. What do I want? I'm the mother. I have 15 pounds of laundry that I'm about to drop, and I can't open one of the doors in my house! My son, of course, opened the door with the standard I-can't-believe-you're-bothering-me look on his face.
We have since compromised. He no longer locks the door, but I knock first and introduce myself: "This is your mother. Remember me? I need to speak with you for a minute."
At some point, teens will want more privacy. They might start locking their door. I know I did. I didn't want anyone bursting in to see my impersonation of Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. It might also be a diary, text messages they don't want you to see, or phone calls muffled under their pillow. In any case, it will happen. When it does, you need to decide where you'll draw the line when it comes to privacy.
Privacy is a privilege
The following advice is offered in "A Parents Guide to Surviving the Teen Years," an article published by KidsHealth.org sponsored by the Nemours Foundation:
"If you notice warning signs of trouble, then you can invade your teen's privacy until you get to the heart of the problem. But otherwise, it's a good idea to back off. You also shouldn't expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. Of course, for safety reasons, you should always know where teens are going, what they're doing, and with whom."
Teens are learning to be independent people. They need to know that you respect them and their need for a degree of privacy. This will help them build self-confidence and independence. However, they need to earn your trust first. Privacy should be understood to be a privilege. If you think your teen is involved in risky behavior, then you need to get to the bottom of things using whatever tools are necessary.
Parents of teens are constantly teetering on that tightrope, trying to find a healthy balance between knowing what their teens are doing, and trusting them enough to allow some privacy. Even though we often want to save them from themselves, learning from one's mistakes is part of growing up and becoming a better person.
Finding the balance means getting in touch with your valuable intuition. Parents should give some slack when teens exhibit responsibility and maturity and pull in the reins when their behavior ignites concern for their health and safety.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a mother of two teens, ages 13 and 15. For the past 12 years, she has been writing about parenting and family issues as well as children's health.