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Privacy: A Right or A Privilege?

I respect privacy, I really do. When I was raising my children, I told them they could have privacy, in the bathroom. When my comment was met with a “look of confusion”, I would say, “I own the house, all of it, so…no locked doors, except in the bathroom.”

This will stun youth whom have never been told they couldn’t do something. And it will totally shock youth who run the house.  If the child refuses to abide by the new rule, not to lock their bedroom door, there is a solution, take the door off the hinge. I give you, “the parents” permission to do this. Remember you run the house!

Many parents come to me when their child is at the fork of the road. They know their child is starting to dabble into things that are not positive. The parents just are not exactly sure what those are. Their child’s attitude is changing. Their child has become rude, disrespectful and insulting. Parents want to know what happened to their sweet child of yester-year. I explain to parents that as much as they want to put distance between themselves and their child, this is not the time to do so. These are the times when parents would most like to run away from their child, but don’t. When parents call me to work with their family, I appreciate it takes a lot for them to make that first telephone call. It was not an easy decision to decide you need help, intervention. Secondly when parents call me, they are frantic something terrible will happen to their child or to themselves.

The first thing I do when I accept a case is search the child’s bedroom. I start out giving parents the choice to search on their own or search with me. They or we find something every time. I prepare them for this before the search, even though they insist there won’t be much because “their child would never…. get high…. drink…have sex, etc.” For many of these parents, they have not gone into their child’s bedroom for a long time. Some have not entered for months. Some have not entered for years. The reason they have not gone into their child’s room revolves around “privacy”. Abiding by their child’s demand for privacy seems easier than fighting them.

Recently, I was visiting a special friend of mine in Costa Rica. She said she had made an observation. “When I was a child, my parents said to go to my room because it was a punishment. Now fast forward, a child sent to their room loves it. For them it is more of a punishment to stay in the living room with the family. The worst punishment of all, taking away the cellphones and pads.”

Here’s one story-once a clean-cut, athletic fifteen-year-old daughter was suddenly wearing tremendous amounts of makeup. Her clothes suddenly had holes everywhere and she looked exhausted most of the time. She ignored her mother, her grades were dropping, she wasn’t eating. The only thing she wanted to do was spend time with her boyfriend. The mother searched the room on a Wednesday afternoon while her daughter was at school then met me right after the search. We got right to the point. “What did you find?” I asked. She handed me a zipped locked bag with something in it. “What is this?” I asked her even though I knew. She told me she had found a used condom in her daughter’s bed. “What do you think about this?” I asked her.  She said, “I think my daughter is allowing her best friend to have sex with her boyfriend in my daughter’s bed.” It was all I could do not to shake this mother and say “Are you kidding me?”

Being an interventionist for decades, I am used to this progression, which shows itself  after a room search. Instead, I gently offered, “Is it possible it could belong to your daughter and her boyfriend?” She looked at me totally perplexed and after a long silence, she asked, “Do you think my daughter is having sex?” I just handed her back the zip locked bag and said nothing.

Many parents do not know they can take the power or role of parenting back once they have lost it. They can get it back once more, but only once. And when they get it back, they cannot let it go again.  If they do lose power the second time, life with their child will be a merry-go-round. It will send the child a message the parent is fickle and the teen will make it their mission to break their parent down once again. Being a parent of a teenager, is not always fun or popular. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Here is another, common final story. For a period of time, I based out of Alaska. Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I am thankful to be ensconced in such beauty. But beauty does not always exist “behind the door”. Sadly, Alaska is and has been number one in the USA for domestic violence. I work a type of domestic violence, many do not fathom is possible, youth is abusive and the parent is the victim.

Before me sat an absolutely beautiful professional business woman. She held an upper level management position with a well-respected agency. At first blush, she presented as a woman who had it all together. After hearing her story, I was truly saddened by the lifestyle she chose to live “after work”.

This mother stayed at work as late as she could each day. When she returned home, she heated a microwaved dinner, eating it in her bedroom, only after she locked her bedroom door.  She had a son who also lived in the house with her. He was only fifteen years old. He slept all day, went out all night, and sometimes was gone for a few days at a time. She had no idea where he was. He stopped going to school. Mom was worried about her son. She never saw him, they never ate a meal together, and she felt unsafe in her home.

In the earlier stages, when the youth, took over the house, mom tried to be an involved parent. Her son became increasingly more disrespectful, defiant, eventually doing anything he pleased. One winter evening, as she was going to the kitchen, she noticed her son was at the end of their driveway talking to people seated inside a parked car. She had a bad feeling. The mother observed one person seated in the driver’s seat an two men in the backseat. What happened next, changed the family’s dynamic forever.

Mom put on her coat and went outside to see what was going on. Her concern heightened as she approached the car. She noticed her son was standing outside without a coat, she told him to go back inside the house. He ignored her. She got closer to him and repeated for him to return to the house. She never expected what came next. He turned around, punched her in the face and said, “Get back in the house bitch. I’ll deal with you later.” And she did just as she was told.

Mom retreated into her bedroom and did not come out again that night. She never spoke to her son about this incident, making believe it never happened. After that night, the mother never questioned her son about anything. Six months later, after her son turned sixteen years old, she moved out of the house, left the state, and took a position with another agency. She felt there was no more she could do. She saved herself.

Locked door, no answer when you knock? What’s a parent to do? Privacy is not a right, it is a privilege. Children around the world do not lock their bedroom doors. Most share rooms with siblings. Many homes have only three bedrooms so siblings share. When a teen locks their bedroom door and won’t answer the parent, “Whose is Running the House?” If the locked doors continue or the silence continues, the parent should take the door off the hinge or take the doorknob off. The youth won’t like it.  A parent doesn’t need thanks from their teenager. That will come years later when you don’t’ have to bail your child out of jail or attempt to find drug rehab for them. You are the parent. You are not the friend. Establish boundaries. If the child repeatedly slams their door, take the door away. “Can I do this?” parents ask me all the time. The answer is simple, Yes, you can. I give you permission!

Conversely, these are a few ideas for parents to try to take back their house. Some ideas include:

  • Eat dinner together a few times a week without television
  • Take turns cooking or cook fun meals and recipes together
  • Tell your child you love them every day without expected a response. Don’t assume they know it. Kids love and need to hear this.
  • Watch a special television series together
  • Visit with them routinely in their room, not to inspect, simply to visit or bring them a snack.
  • Laugh together
  • If the parent has had a bad day, let the child know that and talk to them so they can see there are ways to work through difficult situations
  • Go to your child’s plays, recitals, sporting events
  • Say goodnight to them every night regardless of their age.
  • Balance with laughter”
  • Discipline by setting limits”

And if a parent intuitively believes something is remiss in their child’s room, they are probably correct. Parents can look in their child’s room because it is the parent that runs the house!

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