Why Teens Need Privacy From Their Parents

Smiling mixed race teenage girl writing in journal

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The desire for more privacy is a natural part of growing up. As teens get older, they begin facing big challenges, like learning what kind of person they are, where they fit in, and what they want to do in life.

Their brains also are rapidly developing; they are gaining new thinking skills and developing new social interests. As a result, it is only natural that they would crave more privacy and space as they work these things out.

For parents, this time period can be a huge adjustment as well. After all, there are so many unknowns with your teen that it can be unsettling at times; but it is important to recognize that wanting more privacy does not necessarily mean your child has something to hide.

Being more protective of information about themselves goes hand in hand with the development of independence and autonomy. Only when there is extreme secrecy should this be considered a potential red flag.

By understanding the relationship between privacy and trust, why you should usually respect your teen's privacy, and when it is appropriate to snoop, you will be able to raise a healthy, trustworthy, and independent teen.

The Link Between Privacy and Trust

As teens grow up, they want to be trusted to do more things than they did were when they were younger. They also want to be thought of as mature, responsible, and independent. Giving teens some space and privacy can work wonders for their development. Not only do they feel trusted, but they also feel capable and confident.

Remember, too, that teens also endure physical changes that make privacy at this age imperative. A child who always felt comfortable changing clothes in front of their parent may no longer want to disrobe with them in the room. They also may lock their bedroom door or the bathroom door to ensure that their privacy is respected. This is a normal part of growing up and not a reason for concern.

Teens may also feel more comfortable asking questions or confiding in a same-sex parent about certain issues. This is especially true if they need guidance about romantic relationships or the physiological changes they're experiencing.

When teens are given the privacy they need, it helps them become more independent and builds their self-confidence. As their parent, strive to strike a balance between knowing what your teen is doing, trusting your teen to have some private matters, and knowing when to step in. Overall, just trust your instincts.

If you and your teen are battling over their need for privacy, there are probably trust issues at the root.

When teens believe their parents have invaded their privacy, the result is often more conflicts at home. Teens either feel like their parents don't trust them or that they expect teens to behave like school-age children.

If this is your experience, take a step back and determine where you can give your teen more space and privacy without compromising their need for safety and guidance from you. If you suspect that your teen is hiding something, you may need to investigate.

Giving Privacy to Demonstrate Trust

While it is important to give teens the space that they crave, keep in mind that teens are not always ready to deal with the adult world alone. They still need you. It is not uncommon for teens to make quick decisions; and they do not always think through the consequences of their choices.

As a result, teens still need your advice and support. They also need to be in regular contact with you and communicating on a regular basis. Giving them privacy is not the same as giving them free rein, which almost always results in problems down the road. Consequently, you must find a way to balance their need for privacy and your need to ensure their safety and security.

Finding the Right Balance

One way to determine where those boundaries exist is to ask yourself what you really need to know and what you do not need to know. For instance, you need to know where your teen is going, who they are going to be with, and when they will be home.

But you do not need to know what they discussed with their friends. Of course, some teens are willing to share this information, but if your teen is not willing to share much about their night, don't be too alarmed and don't demand it. The key is knowing what you absolutely have to know as a parent and the things you can allow your teen to keep private.

Other ways you can give your teen privacy include:

  • Allowing them to see the doctor privately if that is their preference
  • Asking before getting something out of their wallet or backpack
  • Giving them time alone
  • Knocking on the door before going into their room
  • Leaving their cell phone alone and not snooping through texts and emails
  • Leaving their journals and notebooks alone
  • Letting them have private conversations with their friends or siblings without demanding a lot of details
  • Respecting the privacy of their room by not going through their things

Earning Privacy Through Responsibility

Of course, the best way to determine how much privacy and freedom your teen is ready for is to gauge how responsible they are with their obligations. In other words, do they get to school on time, do their homework, respect their curfew, and complete their chores? If they are able to complete these things without a lot of nagging from you, you can probably loosen the reins a little bit.

Overall, there should be a direct link between the amount of responsibility and honesty that kids have shown and the amount of privacy they are allowed to have. And, if your teen messes up or violates your trust, allowing them a little less privacy for a period of time is a logical consequence.

Online Privacy

A teen's need for privacy on social media is similar to their need for privacy IRL. As a parent, it is your responsibility to mentor and guide them to make sure they know what behavior is safe and appropriate. You should also role-model appropriate social media use by not posting photos and information about your teen on your own feeds without their permission.

When it comes to their social media use, teens need to earn your trust just like other privileges. But once they have earned that trust, it's fair to give them their privacy so they can continue to mature and become more independent.

When to Invade a Teen's Privacy

There are times when it may be appropriate to snoop on your teen. For instance, if you overhear them talking about dating violence, see them crying over an Instagram post, or you find a JUUL in their pocket while doing laundry, it is time to pry a little bit. Your job as a parent is to keep your kids safe. These types of things are red flags that something harmful is happening in their lives.

Nevertheless, parents should not spy on their kids or snoop through their phone in order to find out about minor situations like a fight with a friend. Instead, reserve your checking in for times when your teen's behavior has changed dramatically.

For instance, if you notice signs of depression, issues with sleep, or unexplained marks or bruises on their body, it is time to take action. Other red flags include losing interest in hobbies, becoming withdrawn, stopping socializing, or showing signs of drug or alcohol use.

That said, snooping shouldn't be your first move in these circumstances. First, try to communicate with your teen about the changes you are seeing. Ask why they no longer want to play on the basketball team or hang out with their best childhood friend. Then, listen to what your child says. 

If all you get in response is a shrug or "I don't know," consider having your child talk to a counselor. Meanwhile, if your teen mentions suicide, wanting to die, or that life is just not worth it, forget snooping and seek medical help right away.

If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

A Word From Verywell

Too little monitoring can leave teens without the help and support they need to make safe decisions about their life and their relationships. But hovering over them and demanding too many details can send the that you don't trust them.

The goal is to parent teens in a trusting environment where they get the support and advice they need to learn how to make good decisions and responsible choices, as well as the space and privacy they need to build confidence and independence.

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15 Sources
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