Balancing Teen Privacy and Responsible Parenting

Get answers to questions about privacy and your teen

Teenagers. Chung Sung-Jun / Staff / Getty Images

Every teen needs some privacy. They need to know that you respect them, their space and their things. But too much privacy can be as bad, or worse, than affording them not enough. While trying to learn to be independent people, teens need privacy, but they do make mistakes and will need to be saved from themselves.

As parent, knowing how much privacy you should give your teen can be difficult. They're in the stage of life where they're forging an identity and vital self-confidence.

This requires a sense of independence and a greater level of privacy. Offering these builds an essential trust as they navigate their way along the sometimes tricky path to adulthood.

However, while still respecting that privacy, it is equally important to have some awareness of what your teen is doing—and to be able to step in when their health or well-being may be at risk.

New Challenges for Parents

Knowing the line between your teen's privacy and your responsibility as a parent—and when to cross it—has only become more complicated. Where once the privacy line could be neatly drawn at their bedroom door or around their a diary or other private journal, now the line is blurred and mobile, surrounding your teen and putting their computer or smartphone at the epicenter of their privacy. 

The time a teen can spend interacting with the outside world has expanded greatly through social networking and other seemingly ubiquitous portals that lead outside of your protective influence.

Cyber-bullying, for example, breaches the barrier that once stood between bullying at school or during extracurricular activities and the sanctuary of a teen's home; it can follow the teen 24 hours a day.

Why Does My Teen Want to Be in Their Room All Night?

Today's plugged-in teen isn't really spending much of their time "alone" in their room.

They have cell phones and computers with text messaging, social networking, email and the Word Wide Web. Or they could simply be watching television in there. If this sounds like your teen, you may want to see what you can do to move some of those things out of their room, and then maybe they'll follow.

However, be sure to take into consideration that your teen may just want to shut out the noise of the day for a little while, get some privacy and relax in their own world—a feeling you're no doubt familiar with. This is normal behavior for everyone who has a busy schedule, and your teen is no exception. But, if you find this is happening too much, talk to them about it. Try setting a schedule for when you would like to have some family time. This can show them that you respect their independence and their time, while also reaffirming that as a teen they have a responsibility to fulfill with you and the family as well.

The Balancing Act with Teen Privacy

Let's take their room, for example. You want them to take responsibility for keeping it clean. They want to have their personal space without you poking your nose in. One month after allowing them to take care of their room on their own, the health department is ready to condemn the place.

This is a simple, if perhaps extreme, example, but you get what I mean. Your teen's privacy never trumps your responsibility of checking up on them. This goes for email, cell phone, bedroom, etc. While being sensitive to their privacy, don't forget to trust your instincts.

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