Privacy and your Teenager

As your child reaches their teenage years they will start becoming more of their own person. This is part of growing up and it’s also part of your job as a parent – teaching them to live a life of their own.

But it’s hard isn’t it? To go from washing their hair in the bath to having them close the door and ask you to leave the room when they are showering. From knowing all their friends at primary school, to barely knowing who they call a friend in secondary.

Privacy is a thorny subject for some and what one parent calls spying another would call doing their job. Take your teens bedroom for example. Do you go in there regularly? Most of us do – mainly to pick up dirty washing and dig out plates, cups and bowls. But while you’re in there do you have a look round? Look in their drawers? Under the bed? If their phone was in there, would you read their texts?

Some parents think this is a right, after all, it’s your home. But what is it you’re looking for and what would you do if you found something?

This is the real issue I think. Do you trust your teen? If you have no reason not to trust them, why are you looking in their personal space? If they were to find out (which they will, we all know when someone has been looking through our stuff), what message are you sending them? That you don’t trust them? That you’re nosey? Either way, it’s important to let your teen know what your boundaries are.

Be upfront and clear on what you expect and what you will do if you feel the trust has been exploited. Maybe, for example, one day whilst you are picking up some dirty washing in their room, you find a roll up in a pocket. You have every right to feel upset. You will want to tackle them about it. They may try to accuse you of spying on them. In this situation – if you were simply tidying up and found it – don’t let them turn it around. This isn’t about you being in their room, it’s about what you found and what it means. As a result you may then feel you need to keep a closer eye on them and they, in turn, should know this.

If you’ve found something whilst ‘snooping’ then you need to be honest about this too. Apologise for snooping. Explain that you know you shouldn’t have been in their personal space, but now you’ve found something that you’re not happy about and it needs to be discussed. Also, tell them that from now on you will be keeping a closer eye on things until they rebuild the trust.

As a parent it is your right and responsibility to keep them and the rest of the family safe. What we are trying to do is teach our teens that privacy is a privilege they earn, not a right.

Social networking
When it comes to social networking, knowing what your teen is up to is even harder. Most parents I spoke to knew that to join Facebook, a child has to be thirteen. But, most admitted their child was on it before that age. The common feeling seemed to be that as long as they accepted you as a friend on their Facebook page, it was okay. That way parents felt they could keep on eye on what their child was doing.

But as your teen gets older this is harder to do.

“My son had me as his friend for the first year or so” Jan, mum to Sam 15, tells us. “But as he got older he deleted me and wouldn’t add me again. He said he didn’t want me ‘spying.’ Initially I was annoyed and argued with him but he explained why – that he really didn’t want me reading everything he put (which I did, dilegently!) and he’d like some privacy, I could see his point: after all, the stuff they talk about is teenage boy stuff, I don’t really want to hear it.”

So if you trust your teen, then you can afford to take a back seat as they get older. But, be still be aware.

“My son is on Twitter more than anything now and I don’t know if he realises anyone can read what he says – even me!” laughs Bec.

“Some of what is on there shocks me because some of the “people” he follows are so vulgar. The other half makes me laugh. When I expressed my concerns with my husband he said I was over reacting, that all teenage boys have ever wanted to do is talk about girls, sex etc. The trouble is nowadays, they do it so publicly. I stopped reading the comments after a while as I found I was constantly asking him question. I’ve explained to him what we expect from him and I trust him not to be silly. I also told him to be respectful in what he ‘tweets’ and to consider if he’d say that to someone in real life.”

And that seems to be the crux of it. Have a conversation about your expectations and how you will respect their privacy as long as you are sure they are safe. Do they understand how public the site is and who could read what they say? Is it the kind of language they would use every day?

Remind them NEVER to share their password with anyone. Never to give out personal details and so on. Bullying can be a real issue on all networking sites and should someone else know your child’s password they can then post what they like in your child’s name. Make sure they know to tell you – or another adult they trust – if they are at all worried by anyone that approaches them on line.

Sam, mum to two teen girls said: “I think it’s important to have some idea of what your child is doing online, but I don’t think we should be reading their private conversations.”

Chrissie who has a sixteen-year old disagrees: “I think where the internet and mobile phones are concerned they should not have privacy until at least sixteen. I check my daughters phone randomly – much to her annoyance!”

It is hard though. Many thirteen-year olds have a phone and I know plenty of parents who read their texts. That same teen two years later has realised this and puts a lock on the phone and there’s very little you can do as a parent apart from start a shouting match. But always try to talk to your teen and explain your worries and again, make your boundaries clear.

As Nicki says: “They need to pull away from us but loosening control isn’t an easy thing to do as a parent. Hopefully you have brought them up well so they are aware of what is right and wrong and what is risky or dangerous behaviour. We have to trust them.”

by Joanne Pasquale. Mum to 3 children/teens aged 15, 12 and 7.

If you’d like to read more from Joanne, please follow her blog ‘The Reluctant Housewife’ at

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