Parents should set privacy boundaries with their teens.
Parents should set privacy boundaries with their teens.

Parents need to respect their teen’s privacy

During their teenage years, our kids' quest for privacy becomes increasingly important.

Parents often say: "I know what I got up to at her age!" Or: "I was rotten and did things mum and dad never knew about!"

We worry for precisely that reason - we were teens once too. And we want our kids to be smarter and better than us.

Ultimately, the increasing desire for privacy is a normal part of the teenage years. But where do we draw the line? How much privacy is too much privacy when it comes to our teens?

Unfortunately, there are no black and white answers. Instead, how much privacy is too much privacy is a matter between you and your teen.

The best approach is to negotiate privacy issues directly with your child based on your own personal values and the values of your family.

For example, some families may think spending time alone in a bedroom with a boyfriend or girlfriend is OK, while other families may not. Or some families may feel it is OK to duck out on family time to spend time with friends, while other families will not.

In the end, where you draw the line is up to you and your child and what you believe is right for your family.

While there are no hard and fast rules, here are some guidelines to help you manage the negotiations with your teen.

First, talk to your child about what they want and what your expectations are. Respect your child's feelings and opinions, even if they are different to yours (and they probably will be).

When you take your teen seriously it gives an important boost to their self-esteem and helps them work out where they fit in the world and in your family. It also lets you see where your differences lie and how you can let them have their privacy without jeopardising your family's core values.

Second, once you have discussed the issues, establish clear and fair family rules about privacy behaviour. This helps your teen understand where the limits are, and helps you apply the rules consistently. As they grow, reconsider these areas. They will likely expand in favour of your teen's privacy and independence. While we should honour the desire for privacy, we shouldn't do it all at once. As our teens demonstrate responsibility with small things, we can grant them more privacy.

Parents can build trust with their teens without breaching their privacy, Dr Justin writes. Picture: iStock
Parents can build trust with their teens without breaching their privacy, Dr Justin writes. Picture: iStock

Third, keep your teen close. Though your influence is waning, your teen is still deeply connected to you. Do your best to show them that you will always be there to talk to them and help them work through any hurdles that might come up. They might not need us as much, but that doesn't mean we love them any less.

Online privacy may require a slightly different approach. The first reason is that kids do not need to be on social media (though of course our teens won't agree).

In fact, due to US federal restrictions about data gathering, social media platforms cannot legally allow access to kids under the age of 13.

If your teen is going to be on social media after the age of 13, you need to spend the first couple of years teaching them about the public nature of social media and the possible implications of potentially bad online behaviour.

Dr Justin Coulson is Australia’s number one parenting writer. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Dr Justin Coulson is Australia’s number one parenting writer. Picture: Mark Cranitch

You should be closely monitoring these early experiences. This includes having access to all their social media accounts.

But just as with other privacy issues, as your child demonstrates the capacity to use social media responsibly, you will need to let go and trust that they can behave responsibly. There's a real danger in ongoing monitoring of teens' online behaviour.

A study in the Journal of Adolescence suggests that snooping actually leads to less openness between teens and their parents. In fact, parental snooping might trigger a cycle where teens become more and more furtive at home.

The more we push, the more we impinge on their privacy and the more we demand they tell us everything (including their passwords), the sneakier they get.

They feel we're intruding on their autonomy. And we are! Ultimately, the best thing we can do to prepare our kids for the teen years is to pre-arm them during the tween and early teen years.

Talk to them when they're 12 or 13 about the stuff that could happen, while they are still reasonably accepting of your thoughts and opinions.

When you get to the tricky ages of 14, 15 and beyond, you'll have to trust that you have taught them the best that you can.

If we are patient, and if they've been taught well, our teens will open up again - it may take a few months, or even years, but some day it will happen!