Your Teen’s Right to Privacy

Today’s teenagers live in a world that their parents often find scary and alien. It seems that there are no protective walls around their youngsters – computers and cellphones open them to a wide world of exposure and vulnerability that the parents don’t even fully understand. Moreover, teens are more independent and are physically away from their parents more hours of the day and night. Parents are losing a grip – they no longer control or even know, what their child is up to. Many take to looking for clues as to their child’s whereabouts and activities, while others insist on constant check-ins and reports on the who, where, what & why of all activities. But how much does a parent really need to know about his or her teen’s activities? How far do the parent’s rights extend – does the parent have the right to full disclosure of all a teenager’s comings and goings? Does a teen have any right to privacy?

If you’re wondering where to draw the line on your teen’s privacy, consider the following tips:

Everyone is Entitled to Personal Space
It is healthy for every child to have a sense of privacy. This helps the youngster develop appropriate personal boundaries, a sense of “me” vs. “you” that helps the child come to know who she is and what she stands for – with the subsequent ability to stand up for one’s OWN values and beliefs. Privacy is attained by maintaining physical privacy – the ability to dress and bathe in privacy and the ownership of a private space (a bed, maybe a bedroom, a private wardrobe, personal possessions that are not for the use of others without permission). Your teenager is at an age where it is inappropriate to rummage through her drawers or belongings. Unless you suspect your teen is hiding drugs, weapons or other dangerous possessions, you have no right to search her belongings. In fact, the kind of privacy you should give your teen is the privacy he or she deserves. If your teen has grown up to be responsible, caring, and trustworthy, then there is no reason for you to watch his or her every move or even suspect impropriety.

Talk about Life
Raise interesting issues for discussion at your dinner table. Raise topics from your weekly news magazine or paper. Talk about what’s going on in the world and in your local community. Talk about violence, crime, sexuality, bullying, materialism, fashion, addictions, war – everything that is out there. Help your kids think about life and clarify their own values. Provide education in discussion format – not lectures and dire warnings. This will help your teen make good, healthy choices.

Be a Good Listener
Kids who can talk about their stresses tend to act out less. Instead of turning to drugs, stealing, sex or other distracting unhealthy activities, your child can turn to YOU for support, approval, comfort and nurturing. Work hard to listen without offering criticism or even education. Just show compassion and trust for your youngster, conveying that you believe in him or her.

Confront Untrustworthy Behavior
Catching under-aged teens drinking alcohol or stashing inappropriate materials are reasons to initiate an intervention, but this response has to be done appropriately. If the disturbing behavior is mild, parental intervention alone may be sufficient – heart to heart talks, discussion concerning consequences and other normal parenting strategies can be employed. If the offence is recurrent, however, or if it is serious, then it’s best to enlist professional assistance. Speak to your doctor for a referral to a mental health practitioner.

After your child has acted in an untrustworthy manner, it is tempting to “check up on him” from time to time. However, acting in a sneaky way is likely to backfire at some point. Don’t do anything that you don’t want your youngster to do. Therefore, if you don’t want to find your youngster searching your purse or your private drawers, refrain from that kind of behavior also. If you don’t want your youngster checking your email or social feeds, don’t do it to him. If something in your child’s demeanor makes you feel concerned, talk about it openly. It’s fine to ask your child to show you (on the spot) his last string of communications with friends if you have serious reason to suspect dangerous or illegal activity on his part. Otherwise, never ask for such a thing.

Some kids who are addicts will act in deviant and sneaky  ways because of their addiction. Work with a professional addiction counselor to create appropriate interventions in the home. If checking on the child is recommended by the counselor, then of course, follow the recommendation.

Checking In
For reasons of common courtesy and safety, it’s reasonable for your teen to let you know when and where he is going. Depending on the age of the teen, it will also be appropriate to ask permission to go there! If you have curfews in place, it is important to expect the teen to comply with them or renegotiate them to everyone’s satisfaction. However, once your teen is out and about, it is intrusive to call and check on him or her. If the child is traveling a long distance, it’s fine for him to call to say he’s arrived (i.e. he has taken a flight), but you don’t need him to call for local trips to friend’s houses. On the other hand, if your thirteen year-old daughter has to walk a few blocks alone in the dark to her destination, you might ask her to call – it depends on the safety of the area in which she is walking.

Act as if your child is completely trustworthy unless your child shows you otherwise. If there is a problem, sit down and try to work it through, explaining your concerns and working towards solutions. If this is insufficient, enlist the help of a professional family therapist. If the child is acting out – engaging in inappropriate and/or dangerous activities – do consider bringing a mental health professional into the picture.

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