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Teens and the privacy-safety balance
Chaos & Contentment
teen with phone

“How about a little privacy?”

My daughter used a tone in her question.

“I’m the mom. I’m supposed to check your phone,” I responded. “You know the rules.”

She continued, arms raised and eyes wide, “I can’t even lock my door!”

I attempted justification.

“There is no reason for you to lock your door. You can shut it, and I’ll knock before coming in. Most of the time, you can’t even hear me because of your earbuds! What am I supposed to do?!”

As she slammed the door, I could hear her stomping around. My stomach turned, and anxiety rose within me. 

Navigating this parenting stuff is so hard, knowing when to begin letting go. I want to protect them, but they also need freedom to start navigating life on their own. The timing of this involves multiple factors, including my teenagers’ maturity, the specific circumstances, and my own values and beliefs. Generally, as my teenagers grow older and demonstrate responsible behavior, I gradually give them more autonomy and privacy.

It really depends on your circumstances and on the child. In my case, I don’t have to worry about many things other parents do. I haven’t had issues with drugs or alcohol concerning my daughter. However, organization, self-care, anxiety and depression have been issues we’ve encountered. It’s my job to check in on my children from time to time. 

Speaking with other parents surprises me. Some seem to expect no responsibility from their teenagers, while others give too much freedom, risking the possibility of making life-changing mistakes. For instance, I feel completely comfortable leaving my daughter at home overnight by herself — but some other parents were astonished that I did this. She is OK with it and even likes it. The only reason I wouldn’t leave her for an extended period of time is because the animals may starve to death and the house may be condemned! But I trust her not to have others over, and she lets me know when she comes and goes. 

I can honestly say my parents should not have left me alone when I was a teenager. I broke every rule! I was a latchkey kid literally before I can remember. Perhaps by the fourth grade, I came home from school to an empty house every day. I must have demonstrated some form of responsibility because I was home alone quite a bit. Or maybe it was the situation; my parents didn’t have a choice. My father traveled, and my mother worked full time. Childcare and after-school programs were not as common when I was young, except for sports. However, my daughter is not me.

Being a single mom has forced me to put more responsibility on my children. Regardless, teenagers need structure, chores and consequences. As my daughter grows and matures, maintaining open communication and fostering a trusting relationship is essential. Regular check-ins, discussions about her well-being, and addressing her challenges help me navigate the balance between granting her privacy and ensuring her safety. I’m doing my best to find this balance, considering both my experiences and her individual needs. I also can’t force her to open up to me about these challenges. This is where I put faith in God that he’s got her. Until she is an adult, it is my responsibility to trust yet verify. I can’t verify everything — hence a lot of faith; however, I can check in enough to know when something just isn’t right.

I rest assured that someday my children will understand why we hold onto the reins. I look back and evaluate how I was raised. Regardless of my opinion now as a parent, my parents did the best they knew how with what they had going on. It’s also crucial to remember that my own experiences growing up as a latchkey kid might influence my perception of what is appropriate for my daughter. My experiences can provide valuable insights into how I approach parenting, but it’s equally important to acknowledge that my daughter’s needs may differ from my own or other teenagers’.

Sometimes I get invited into the bedroom instead of asked to leave. These moments, when she is ready to talk to Mom, remove any of the doubt felt when the door is slammed.