It is natural for teenagers to seek privacy and they will do this by retreating into their bedrooms for long periods at a time whilst keeping their door firmly shut, away from their parent’s prying eyes. It is important for parents to respect their teenager’s privacy and not take this new found assertive [and possibly secretive] behaviour personally. Most teenagers will want more isolation as they get older and this is normal in the development of a teen approaching adulthood. Instead of seeing this behaviour as suspicious, see it as a healthy behavioural change that most of them go through.
Having said that, it can be a challenging time for parents when they have to adapt to a child who suddenly seems to want their own space—it can leave them wondering why they are being pushed out. However, allowing your teenager privacy helps them to learn how to self-regulate, how to make more independent decisions and helps them along the path towards becoming an adult who can survive in the world without the constant need for their parent’s reassurance.
Top tips for dealing with your teenager’s need for privacy
Tip 1 Give them as much private space in your home as possible
If possible, allow them to have their own bedroom [with a door!]. If this isn’t possible, find a private corner in a part of your home for them where they have a lockable cupboard or drawers.
Tip 2 Hand over responsibility of this private space to your teenager
Don’t fear an untidy space. This teaches teens to regulate their space and take personal responsibility for managing it.
Tip 3 Never punish your teenager for wanting privacy
Parents can initially feel left out when your teenager starts to become more secretive. Don’t assume that this means your teen is hiding something from you. It is more about their wanting to be alone than the fact that they are hiding something specific. See this behaviour as normal and natural in their journey towards adulthood.
Tip 4 Provide a mobile phone or private area to speak on the phone
It is perfectly acceptable to place limits upon how often the phone can be used but having access to their own phone fosters healthy independence in your teenager. The more freedom you offer your teenager, the happier your relationship with them will be as they will appreciate your trust in them and there will be fewer opportunities for resentment to build.
Tip 5 If possible give them their own bathroom
Teenagers become extremely self-conscious and embarrassed about their bodies, and for this reason, it is a good idea to provide privacy. If possible, offering a teenager their own bathroom is ideal but a shared bathroom where there is guaranteed privacy is just as effective.
Tip 6 Offering privacy fosters a trusting relationship
Teenagers won’t always express appreciation but keep doing the right thing by allowing them some freedom and space. The more privacy and freedom you allow, the more your teenager will want to prove to you that they can be responsible.
Tip 7 Let some untruths go
This may seem counterproductive, but there will be some times when your teenager tells you a lie. I’m not talking about lies to do with their safety, staying out after their curfew or about the company they keep. I am referring to lies that are used to cover up embarrassment or inadequacies. Most teens lie but it is not meant in a malicious or evil way. Let them know that you want the truth and that lying isn’t condoned, but don’t make a huge deal over small untruths that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Learn to pick your battles.
Tip 8 Don’t take it personally if your teenager confides in someone outside the family
Watch your own interpretations and need to be constantly involved in your teenager’s life. It really is okay for them to have a confidante outside the core family circle. As long as this person seems mature and isn’t the local rebel who is always in trouble—leave your teen to get on with it. Even if this person isn’t the perfect role model, allowing your teen the freedom to choose his own friends helps him to learn to deal with different kinds of people. You can always be there, monitoring from a distance, but the more you let your teen make decisions for himself, the more their confidence will grow in their own abilities.
Tip 9 Be a good role model
It is extremely important not to be a hypocrite and to practice what you preach. If you ask your teenager not to lie, then do your best to live by this rule as well. Give yourself the same time-out and privacy that you let your teenager enjoy. Teenagers can be quite egocentric and may not respect your privacy whilst expecting you to keep your nose out of their affairs. Let them see that you too need time alone or that you need to keep some things private from them. Teenagers will constantly be watching your behaviour—how you treat others, how you deal with life’s challenges and how you deal with stress. Many of their behaviours will be learned from you.
Being a parent is a tough job and there is always this balance to be achieved between being protective and also encouraging independence. A parent’s job isn’t to shield their children from every possible challenge but to prepare them well for life as an adult where they will be able to take responsibility for themselves and learn to make decisions for themselves.
A teenager’s need for privacy is part and parcel of their growing independence. Show trust and respect your teenager’s need for their own space and privacy.
This was first published in the May 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.