Here are some common interactions that parents of teenagers go through which often leaves them baffled. When 13-year-old Shiva returns from school his mother asks him, “How as your day?”, he replies, “It was fine.” and goes to his room unwilling to say anything more.
Anjali, a 16-year-old always wants to close the door of her room. When her parents ask her why, she says, “I just want to”.
Parents often find it hard to deal with the changes that happen as their children move into adolescence. “What happened to that child who used to be so excited to share every small detail of her day at school with me?”, “Why don’t they want to talk to us anymore? Why do they shut us out?” they ask.
Parents of teenagers who come for our workshops are relieved to know that it’s not just their child who is pushing them away. They are surprised to find out that many children at this age fight fiercely to have their own privacy.
Privacy: Why do they fight for it?
As part of this process, teenagers are driven to create a distance between themselves and their parents. Wanting privacy is part of this separation process. The brain tells them, “If you are so attached to your parents, how will you survive in the outside world. You have to create your own space”.
Once we understand this, it’s valuable for us to recognise that rather than feeling hurt and wondering if something has gone wrong, we could view this behaviour as an important part of the child’s development. Just like we would help a child learn to be independent.
How can we support a teenager’s need for privacy?
Allow them to close the door at times (maybe we could have rules about not allowing them to lock it). Knock before we enter to tell them we are coming in.
Let them share what they wish to and accept that there will be parts of their life which they will keep to themselves.
Do not pry into their phones and keep trying to track them.
If they like to keep their things such as clothes and books in a particular way and don’t want you to tidy up, allow them to keep it as they may wish. Even though it looks like a mess to you!
When they share things, don’t ask too many questions. This makes them hold back. Be satisfied with how much they want to tell.
Parents often fear that if they do not know every detail of their child’s life, how would they know if their child is safe and doing the right thing.
Keeping the balance between respecting privacy, yet being alert
It is hard to figure out how to give privacy and yet be vigilant. We cannot be clued in to our children’s lives by policing them. Teenagers can always find ways to hide things from us. We can hope to have a better idea of what is happening in their lives by working hard on the relationship. By respecting their privacy, offering them trust and not being judgmental we have a better chance of building good channels of communication with our children.
The good news is this- The respect and trust we give our teenagers does pay off! The phase of pushing away does come to an end. Once they find their own identity we can reclaim our children… not as children but young adults who come back to talk to us.
Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator at Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up www.parentingmatters.in