Your teens need their space

In this article, Dr S Yamuna, physician and counsellor for adolescents, addresses a few concerns regarding the need for space and privacy among teens.

By Dr S Yamuna  • 9 min read

Your teens need their space

Teenage years, the transitional stage to adulthood, are full of excitement and turbulence. Teens would prefer to travel this road with minimum interference from you. Dr S Yamuna, a physician and counsellor for adolescents, answers parents’ queries about handling their teens’ need for space and privacy.

Q. Recently, I discovered my 16-year-old daughter’s diary under a pile of clothes. I read it. She had written about a ‘crush’ on a classmate. I was angry that instead of concentrating on her board exams, she was scribbling silly things about some boy. Ever since I confronted her, she is acting cold towards me and keeps her cupboard locked. Did I do the right thing by reading her diary?

A: You have definitely infringed on her privacy by doing this. Further, you have confronted her and made an issue out of it – this is definitely not acceptable to any teenager. Having a crush at 16 years of age is completely normal; in fact, it is a normal developmental milestone. What you need to do in such a situation is simple – first, you need to accept that crushes are a part and parcel of a teen’s life. Once you have accepted this, you need to sit and discuss with your child that crushes are okay at this age, but crushes go hand-in-hand with her career pursuits. When you explain this to her in a calm manner, she will understand.

Q. Being an active Facebook user, I sent friend requests to my teenaged daughter and son. But they refused to accept my ‘friendship’ requests. I am hurt by this behaviour, considering that my friend’s children have included her in their friends list. Is it okay for me to ‘befriend’ my children to keep an eye on them? Are my children trying to hide something by rejecting my Facebook requests?

A: Expecting your teenagers to add you to their friends’ list will be possible only if they have introduced their friends to you offline. If they think that you are not ‘cool’ enough or that it may be embarrassing for them to accept you as a friend online, they definitely will not accept your friend request. Why do you have to depend on Facebook when you can have a real life conversation with them? Maintain an open communication system with your children and then you will not need something like Facebook to keep track of your children’s activities.

Q. Once every week, I rummage through my 17-year-old son’s room to ensure that he is not cultivating bad habits. One day, I was surprised to discover a very expensive watch, which no one in the family could have gifted him. When I asked him about it, he questioned my right to ‘snoop’ in his room, and later claimed that the watch was his friend’s, who had asked him to keep it with him for some time. I somehow do not buy this story. Is it wrong of me to go through his possessions, or enter his room?

A: 17-year-old needs his own space and the bedroom becomes his most important private space. If he gets the impression that you are spying on him, he will have negative feelings towards you and he will feel that ‘my mother does not trust me’. Instead, have day-to-day conversations with your son. To get your son to talk about the watch, in a calm manner ask him about his friends and what they do when they hang out together. If the conversation is smooth, your son will have a straightforward answer to the question on the top of your mind.

Q. I often check my daughter’s email and Facebook accounts. Though I have not found anything to worry about, it is annoying to see how she happily accepts the friendship requests of all and sundry, despite my lectures on online safety. How do I convey this message, without letting her know that I spy on her?

A: Have a general conversation with your daughter. Invite discussions on the ills of using Facebook and how it is unsafe to talk to strangers online. Let her also express her views and ideas. Explain to her that Facebook is like a crowd of people – some of them whom you know and some of them who are strangers. Tell her to ignore strangers as she does not know anything about them.

Q. My daughter is 14-years-old and is very secretive. I sometimes listen to her telephone conversations, just to be sure that she is okay. Recently, I overheard one such conversation, where she was using bad language (or language which was not appropriate). First, I want to know if it is okay to overhear your child’s conversations with her friend. And also, should I tell her to avoid using bad language? If I do, she will suspect that I have invaded her privacy. Please advice.

A: Absolutely no over-hearing. It is like peeping into someone’s bedroom and that is not a nice thing to do. The lingo that teenagers use is very different from the way parents communicate with their children; you cannot judge whether the language is good or bad. Listening to a part of her conversation and coming to conclusions is not a good idea; you do not know the context in which the conversation was taking place. Do not piece out every word that is uttered.

Q. My 16-year-old daughter has been upset for the past few days and she would not tell me why. I found out through her friends circle that she had a fallout with her best friend over a boy. I want to talk to her and help her, but she is not telling me anything. If she finds out that I spoke to her friends about it, she might get even more upset. How do I deal with this?

A: Trying to gather information about your daughter is normal and there is nothing wrong in doing so. But first, try asking your daughter the reason for being upset. Show utmost concern when you talk to her and I am sure she herself will tell you all about it. The words you use and the body language also matters. Instead, when you ask her friends, you are letting them know that there is a lack of communication between your daughter and you, and in the eyes of her friends, you are letting your daughter down.

Q. My neighbour recently caught my 15-year-old son’s best friend smoking. She told me that my son was there with him. I want to confront him with the question, but I do not know how. Will he consider it an invasion of his privacy if I ask him about it?

A: Wanting to know your son’s habits and that of his friends is completely acceptable and this is very normal. But, instead of confronting him abruptly, which may cause him to be taken aback and perhaps hurt, try having a casual conversation about it with him. It can be a dinner table discussion on the ill-effects of smoking or a general conversation about his friends and their habits. He may end up telling you about his best friend’s smoking habit.