Cincinnati Family Magazine

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April 24, 2024

Understanding Teen Privacy

Respecting your teen’s privacy lets your adolescent know you accept her as a burgeoning adult. But, how far should you go?

Full2288.jpgRespecting your child’s privacy lets your teen know you are beginning to accept her as a young person on the verge of adulthood. She might then loosen up some of the tight hold she has on her secrecy. “Once my daughter and I established the routine that we would knock before coming into her room, she started leaving her door open more frequently,” says mother of three Tania Sajia. “I think she just wanted to have a bit of control and know that we understood she was her own person.”

Respecting a teen’s privacy can also backfire. They may view your respect as permission to retreat into their own world. “My daughter started withdrawing from the family and interpreting our respect for her privacy as a license to do whatever she wanted,” counters Tisha Johnston.

With teen daughters who are best friends, both Sajia and Johnston questioned how much privacy their teens needed and deserved. “It is important that parents realize each child is unique, and because of that, the amount of respect and privacy must be unique,” adds Gibbs.

It is equally important to determine how much privacy you are comfortable with. If you’re not comfortable with the established boundaries, you’ll be less inclined to respect them. “Although I allow my daughter to keep her door closed when she has her friends over, she isn’t allowed to have boys in her room at all,” adds Sajia.

Defining Respect

Upon self examination, some parents find they do not have clear boundaries for demonstrating and earning respect. It can be tough to resist the temptation to snoop. Reasons such as “I just want to see who she’s chatting on-line with,” “I want to know if there will be drinking at a party” and “I wonder if he has a girlfriend” prompt parents to cross the line.

Interestingly, the level of respect you’re willing to extend is often based on the level of trust you have in your teen or ‘tween’s actions and decisions. “Parents must trust their child in order to respect his privacy,” Gibbs poignantly notes. However, you must ask yourself if his secrecy is potentially harmful or irritating.

Does your teen want to watch his favorite TV show in the privacy of his own room, or is he looking for opportunities to visit explicit Web sites? Does your daughter want to gush to her friend about a boy in her class behind a closed bedroom door or experiment with drugs and alcohol? If you suspect your child is involved in a dangerous activity or has developed a harmful habit, respecting his privacy may need to take a back seat to preserving his health and safety.

Children thrive and flourish on mutual consideration. “Your teen needs to know you respect her privacy, but that you also have rules and expectations,” Gibbs explains. Talk with your teen to explain your concerns for her safety and well being, your expectations for mutual respect and the repercussions if your trust is broken.

Respect is Everywhere

You can demonstrate your regard for her privacy in a variety of different ways. Resisting the urge to ask for several details about a social function or knocking before entering his room are small steps that help ease parents into increasing levels of trust.

Clear and consistent communication also significantly impacts respect. “If you talk with your teen and stay involved in her life, you’ll have a better handle on where she goes and who she spends time with. You’ll trust in her decisions and feel less of a need to spy on her,” Gibbs says.

In addition to talking with your child, the way you talk to her is another opportunity to teach respect. The tone of your voice shows your respect because sometimes the words you choose to convey your point are more impacting than the point itself.

If you need to discuss concerns regarding your child’s secrecy, select a neutral location (i.e., living room or kitchen table) to discuss the situation. Choose a place where everyone is comfortable to freely express themselves and always approach a conversation from a mutually respectful point of view.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a mother, freelance writer and licensed clinical social worker.


As parents, we sometimes are so busy taking care of our children that we lose track of some of the details of their lives. This activity will help make you aware of how much – or how little – you know your child.

Directions: With pen in hand, see how many of the following questions you can answer. Don’t be surprised if you get stumped along the way. Ask your son or daughter at the same time to fill out the sheet as well. When you’re both finished, exchange and discuss the answers with each other.

  1. What is your child’s favorite game or sport?
  2. What is his height (within one inch)?
  3. Who is your child’s closest friend?
  4. If your child could do anything he chose for a day, what would it be?
  5. What is your child’s favorite TV show? Favorite character?
  6. What was the last movie your child saw?
  7. What is his favorite food?
  8. What is your child’s favorite thing to do after school?
  9. Would your child rather ride a bike, ride a horse or drive a car?
  10. Who is your child’s favorite singer or musical group?
  11. If your child had a choice to have a pet, what would it be?
  12. Which would your child rather do: wash dishes, mow the lawn, clean his room or vacuum the house?
  13. Do your child’s friends call him by a nick name? If so, what is it?
  14. In the evening, would your child rather play a game with the family, go to visit a relative or read in his room?
  15. What was the last problem your child brought to you for help?
  16. What gift would your child most like to receive?
  17. What does your child do that he is proud of?

Summary: If you get more than 15 right, congratulations … you really know your child! From 11 to 15? Not bad, but try to pay a little more attention. Fewer than 11? Better spend a little time catching up on what’s new with him.

Adapted with permission from Family Health Council, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA. Compiled by Barbara Huberman, RN, MEd, Director of Education and Outreach

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