How Much Privacy Should You Give Your Teen?

If you're going to read your teen's messages, make that clear to your teen ahead of time.
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As a parent of a teenager, you’re frequently walking a fine line between letting your child have independence and keeping a close eye on him to ensure he’s not in any trouble. There’s a good possibility you’ve already heard at least once from your teen that you’re “not giving him any privacy!”

And, while it’s true, a teenager deserves a little privacy from prying eyes as he navigates his way into adulthood, there’s a difference between mindful parenting and snooping.

Aim for the former, avoid the latter and you’ll be sure to give your teen plenty of privacy without having to worry 24/7.

Be Up Front About ‘Checks and Balances’

It’s not snooping to review social media use (including being “friends” or “following” them on various sites), check out cellphone text messages, and verify your teen’s location. Rather than snoop for this information, tell your child upfront that you expect to have access to this material.

Additionally, going into your teen’s room to put away clothes, pick up laundry and complete other chores is not snooping – but you need to make that fact clear to your child regularly, too. The key is for both of you to be on the same page about what privacy your teen is entitled to and what information and activities you’ll regularly be privy to.

Also, let him know that if “private” material is left out on the open, you’ll assume that it’s available for everyone in the household to see or read.

Stay Away from Snooping

The most logical reason for snooping is because you have an inkling that there’s something going on with your teen that he doesn’t want you to know about it. Rather than spying, though, start a conversation with your child. Be prepared for denial or silence, but at least the dialogue has begun.

Deciding to snoop before talking to your teen demonstrates a lack of trust and respect. The best parenting strategy is to model the behavior you desire – not behavior that fosters resentment and distrust.

Offer Moderate Privacy with Friends and Dates

For most parents, it’s obvious that you wouldn’t allow your teenage daughter and her boyfriend to have total privacy in her bedroom with the doors closed all night long. However, respect that she wants to watch a movie in the living room without the watchful eye of her father or her little sister.

Set ground rules, that align with your values, such as dates are welcome in your home, but any closed doors are off-limits.

With friends, be a little more relaxed. Check in with the group periodically, but allow them to enjoy each other’s company without too much intrusion. If you overhear a topic of discussion that concerns you, don’t burst in.

Instead, pull your teen aside at the appropriate time and share what you heard. This allows your teen to give you the whole picture of what they were discussing—it might be a less concerning than you thought.

In just a few years, your teen will be a full-fledged adult, and this is the time that they’re learning how to make appropriate decisions on their own. Give them the privacy to do so, but encourage them to come to you if they want any guidance.

A teen who thinks he’s being spied or snooped on will just go to further lengths to hide both dangerous and innocuous information from you. An open environment, however, will go a lot further in fostering a healthy parent-teen relationship.

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