How to Respect a Teenager's Privacy

Individual privacy is sacrosanct, but most parents don’t think twice about intruding into their teen’s personal space. Here’s why and how you should respect your teenager’s privacy.

By Arun Sharma

How to Respect a Teenager's Privacy

It is ironic that while our awareness about our right to privacy is increasing, so is the struggle to protect our personal space from inquisitive intruders.

But, what exactly is privacy?

The definitions of privacy, propounded by various intellectuals, are many and diverse. However, the Psychology Dictionary (psychologydictionary.org) defines it as, “The right to control other's access to one's personal world, whether psychologically of physically.”

According to Alan F Westin, Professor of Public Law and Government Emeritus, Columbia University, and author of the book, ‘Privacy and Freedom’, “Privacy is the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.”

In simple terms, privacy is all about having the right to regulate how much access others have to us and to our personal space.

While our prosocial traits encourage us to share with others, maintaining a realm, or demarcating a sphere of our life, that is off-limits to others also comes naturally to us. And, this desire for privacy is critical, as it pushes us to create an unobtrusive zone for ourselves. Within this space, we feel safe – from being criticised or judged, to give vent to our feelings, to live without conforming to established rules, to preserve our darkest secrets and much more.

As children reach teenage, they begin to express a desire for greater independence and the need for privacy. According to *Arundhati Swamy,

A teen’s need for privacy is expressed in subtle, devious or forthright ways. She may ask for a separate room for herself, to knock on the door or seek permission before entering or insist on locking the door from the inside. Common strategies include setting a password for access to their phone and computer; using the easiest and quickest ways to close a gadget window, moving away when receiving a call or using code words during phone conversations, code names to conceal the caller’s identity. Sometimes, a straightforward message or accusation can stun the parent during an argument.”

Now that we know how deeply teens yearn for privacy and how protective they are of it, let’s look at some simple things that we, as parents, can do to respect our teen’s privacy.

  • Understand the unspoken words: A few years back you could have done things like hugging your child at the school gate or styling his hair according to your wish. But, teenage changed it all. He feels annoyed at being petted, views your attempt to participate in his affairs as intrusion, tries to keep a distance – and, this isn’t the end of the list, there’re many more. You need to understand your teen’s unspoken thoughts. He is in the process of establishing personal boundaries and, with his attitude, is trying to bring it to the attention of those around him.
  • Mind your language: Many a time, the way parents communicate –– the questions they ask or the concerns they convey — can ruffle a teen’s feathers as far as privacy is concerned. When questioned by parents about their friends or studies or habits or what they are up to, teens feel that parents are asking for information that is personal or confidential. It could serve both you and your teen well if you choose your words wisely while posing questions or raising concerns.
  • Give autonomy: It can be extremely difficult for you to agree with the thought of allowing your child that extra bit of independence. Your perception of him as someone who “isn’t wise enough to decide on his own” or “would land himself in trouble” or “would fall into bad company” prevents you from giving him the freedom he desires. Relax! Assure yourself of your child’s abilities and hand him the charge. Not only would responsibility foster reliability and competence, but also relieve you of the job keeping him under your watch, all the time. It would also let him enjoy a greater degree of privacy.
  • Probe, but don’t investigate: While you want to know everything about your teen, your teen’s new-found penchant for speaking in monosyllables dries up the flow of information you so badly seek. Work on establishing a healthier rapport with your child. Draw her into a conversation to seek answers to questions arising in your mind about her. Remember, teens love to talk about themselves and are always looking for a sympathetic ear. Asking pointed questions often makes teens feel that parents are using their authority to demand information and invade their privacy.
  • Don’t hang around: While you may enjoy a close relationship with your teen and his peers, who may smile and wave back at you, it doesn’t mean that your presence is welcome in ‘their world’. So, when you happen to walk up to this chatty group to catch up with them, you are greeted with uncomfortable smiles and conspiratorial silence. Don’t miss the signals and hang around, as not only would that embarrass your teen but also curb the group’s privacy.
  • Don’t intrude: Keep in mind some simple things like knocking on the door before entering your teen’s room, not sifting through her belongings, reading her diaries or notes, or eavesdropping on the conversation she may be having with her friends.

Giving your teen his privacy may make him feel more comfortable and accepted, but, it can also backfire. Your teen may misinterpret the new-found freedom as the permission to do whatever he likes. So, while you maintain a distance and give him the freedom from interference, also draw a line which he shouldn’t cross.

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