A 16-year-old from Mumbai preferred keeping his room shut all the time and would get irritated if his parents tried entering his room. This may be a common situation in households with teenage kids. Parents, too, worry that their child prefers spending most of their time alone. But there’s a thin line between respecting a teen’s privacy and parental supervision. Privacy and trust must go hand in hand, say experts.
When does a teen’s need for privacy become a concern?
Teenagers preferring to keep their room shut all the time, is not a healthy sign, shares Dr Fabian Almeida, consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai. Advith (name changed to protect identity) had a similar issue, and his parents, too, were curious about why he spent so much time alone. Dr Almeida shares that his parents brought him in for counseling out of concern and he was then diagnosed with chronic depression. He shares that the parents had not observed any problematic signs and let him be, thinking he needed privacy as he was busy studying.
Manju Sharma, principal, Delhi Public School, Mysore, agrees that the closed door of a teen’s room is a barrier between parents and the child. She adds that it is among the common concerns she hears from parents. “As parents, we need to give teens their privacy. At the same time, once it exceeds a set time, say 30–45 minutes, parents should check on the teen.”
What’s happening to your teen behind closed doors?
Your teenager could prefer staying alone. However, teenage is a tumultuous period in the lives of children. Dr Almeida shares that behind closed doors, the child could be helpless, dealing alone with the after-effects of bullying or have other mental health issues. Since they spend most of their time alone, they may be hesitant to speak up about issues they are facing. “The teen might not know whom to reach out to or speak to about their concerns. Parents need to intervene and speak to them,” said Dr Almeida.
How to respect privacy while preventing isolation?
Teens should be able to discuss their day-to-day activities, friends and even random topics like movies with their parents, says Sharma. “Once you develop the bond of trust, your teens will be able to talk about anything with you. It could be a feeling of insecurity or any other concern that they are facing,” she said.
Dr Almeida says that as parents, while we respect a teen’s privacy, we also need to ensure that they are okay. He suggests that parents can knock before walking into their child’s room to supervise, to avoid infringing on their privacy.
According to Sharma, once parents invade their privacy, children may lose their trust in them. She says, “Remind them [teens] that you respect their privacy and ask if something is bothering you. Let them justify their insistence on closed doors. With this, you can listen and understand their reasoning.”
How to instill mutual trust?
- Always knock on the door before entering their room.
- Do not check their mobiles, tablets, laptops or computers without their permission.
- Allow them to have private conversations with friends and family. Build friendship and trust and wait until they reveal it to you.
- Give them privacy to spend their time alone in their rooms. But it shouldn’t be for long hours when they become completely disconnected.
Whether the child is studying or doing any other activity, there is no need to close or latch the door, says Sharma. “If they are inside the room for long hours, encourage them to step out for snacks with family. You can also ask them to take a break and sit with them to talk about their day,” she said. She further points out that, while it’s fine for parents to check on their teens, they shouldn’t react badly if the teens are found taking a break or sleeping on the pretext of studying. Instead, she stresses the need for gentle parenting.
- Teenagers insisting on privacy and locking themselves inside their rooms all the time could be a warning sign.
- Open communication with teens helps in parent-child bonding and developing trust.
- It is crucial to respect your teen’s privacy. However, you can check on them from time to time by knocking before entering their room if their room’s door is closed.
- Gentle parenting practices can help raise open and communicative teens.