Teens and Privacy: How Parents Can Balance Trust and Safety
Fri, December 3, 2021

Teens and Privacy: How Parents Can Balance Trust and Safety

For children 9 to 18 years old, wanting time alone or more freedom does not mean that they have something to hide from their parents. / Photo by theartofphoto via 123RF


It is a natural part of adolescence to want for more privacy. From being eager-to-share in childhood, the individual eventually grows into a more private young adult. Not all parents are thrilled about this change because they have to balance giving their teen the independence they need but still make sure that they are safe. It is not easy but there are ways for parents to honor this normal part of growing up.


Parents’ Trust Is Important

According to the parenting website Raising Children, “trust is the key” to find a balance between the child’s need for privacy and the parents’ need to know what is going on in their child’s life. The reason why teens need more psychological and personal space and privacy is that they are dealing with teenage challenges such as knowing what kind of person they are. Teenagers are also gaining new thinking and physical skills as well as new social interests. It is a part of growing up that they learn how to handle the challenges with responsibility and independence.


When Extreme Secrecy Becomes a Red Flag

For children 9 to 18 years old, wanting time alone or more freedom does not mean that they have something to hide from their parents. However, extreme secrecy can also be a red flag.  A child who spends many hours in their room, seems very withdrawn, and refuses to talk to the parent can be a warning sign of drug use, alcohol use, anxiety, or depression. The child may also be spending too much time using the internet or computer.

What parents should realize is that not all teenagers are always ready to deal with being in the adult world. Since their brain is still developing, they may make decisions without thinking of the consequences of their actions. This is where the need to keep them safe comes in. Parents can give their children the support and advice they need. However, monitoring still requires using more discretion and sensitivity.

Stop Micromanaging Your Child

Some parents constantly interfere with their children or teens. Sure, they may have gotten used to it when the child was still so young but applying this parenting method in later years is likely to do more harm than good to the child, said Michigan-based therapist Carrie Krawiec, LMFT via The Week magazine. She said that micromanaging is also overparenting. One sign of micromanaging is that the parent gets into a power struggle with their child over their friend choices and questioning other adults in the child’s life, such as the coaches or teachers.

In whatever way parents may present micromanaging to their children, the latter will have the impression that their parents don’t have confidence in them, resulting in problems. Krawiec added that if children don’t feel that they can do things in the right way, it interferes with their ability to enhance their self-belief. There is a possibility that the child will grow questioning their parents’ integrity and not want their feedback even if it’s healthy or safe to do so. Children who perceive their parents as critical may look for happiness and encouragement in other unhealthy forms, like their delinquent friends.

Therapist Dana Carretta-Stein also shared that parents who usually micromanage their children are struggling with a sense of control. It is a sign that the parent is anxious, and a therapist can help in finding the root of what is causing it. Poor boundaries and insecurity are some of the reasons that some overparent their children. Another reason is that the parent may want the child to achieve things that are beyond what is age-appropriate. Whatever the reason is, the parent thinks less or more of the child’s activities so they fill the gaps.


Improving Parent-Child Bond

Carretta-Stein said it’s okay if parents want to ask what their kids are doing online. Parent-child communication is ideal because it strengthens their bond and improves their intimacy. However, don’t look into something without first asking for their permission. The child will feel more respected if they are asked first. In the same way, parents can be observant of their child’s behavior. It will help alleviate the frustration and anxiety of the child if the parent explains why they need to know their online activity or if they are acting extremely secretive. Do not use the “because I said so” technique because it will not make the child feel respected and validated, warned Carretta-Stein.

Here are some of the practical ways that parents can do to respect their child’s privacy, as recommended by Raising Children:

1. Knock before going into the child’s room

2. Ask before getting things out of their bag

3. Know first if the child wants you to be there with them

4. Avoid reading your child’s diary or checking their email

5. Avoid communicating or friending with them on social media if they refuse to.

Teenagers Using Social Networks: Statistics

According to the Pew Research Center, teens are now sharing more information about themselves on social media than in the past. A typical teen Facebook user has 300 friends and 79 followers on Twitter. However, 60% of teens on Facebook keep their profiles private and the majority said they have a high level of confidence in managing their profile settings. Database company Statista also shared the most popular social networks of teenagers in the US. In the fall of 2018, 46% of US teens use Snapchat, 32% use Instagram, 6% use Twitter, and 6% use Facebook. The number of teenagers using Snapchat decreased to 41% in Spring 2019 but teen Instagram users increased to 35%.

As of 2019, 90% of people in America who are between 18 and 24 use YouTube, 76% use Facebook, 75% use Instagram, 73% use Snapchat, and 44% use Twitter. Data is based on Our World in Data, a scientific online publication that focuses on large global problems.


Children’s Misuse of Privacy and Breach of Trust

At some point, the child may misuse the privacy or break the trust that their parents have given them. One way to handle this is by withdrawing some privileges, such as taking away computer or TV time. Parents can also inform their children that they have to monitor them a little more closely than before to rebuild the trust. If these are major breaches of trust though, negotiate in practical ways. It can include grounding for some time, withdrawing privileges, and stop giving pocket money.