Children's Privacy

How do I respect my daughter's privacy?

Question

My 15-year-old daughter jealously guards her privacy and I want to respect that. At the same time, I feel the need to know what she is up to. Is there a way to do both?

Answer

You and your daughter are experiencing one of the most challenging developmental stages of life–adolescence. This is a season of trials, temptations and opportunities. Some of the significant developmental tasks of this stage include individuation, differentiation and emancipation and the desire for privacy is an integral part of this process.

How much do you know about adolescence? A good first step would be to do some reading on adolescence and learn from others experience about the predictable land mines as well as the tremendous growth opportunities of this season of life. We’ve also found it helpful to talk and pray with other parents of teenagers. You can avoid a lot of unnecessary mistakes by knowing what’s normal, what isn’t and what others have found helpful in some of the difficult and confusing situations you will face.

A good next step is to talk and pray with your daughter. Let her know that you are committed to helping her develop healthy boundaries and becoming the unique young adult that God has designed her to become. What does privacy mean to her? How much does she think that a responsible and loving parent needs to know about her activities? There is a balance between honoring privacy and protecting a child from dangerous situations and individuals. If she were the mother of a 15-year-old daughter what are some ways she would try to balance these two tasks? Where is the line between honoring privacy and being an irresponsible parent?

Listen to her responses and ask questions to clarify what she says. This is not a time to debate, correct or convince.

She needs to sense that you are really working at understanding her and not just setting her up for a lecture.

Make sure you understand both what she is saying and the concerns behind what she says. Take several weeks to weigh and pray about what you’ve heard.

As you have honored her by listening to her you now have the opportunity to share some of your perspectives and concerns. She needs to know that you respect her, that you want to understand her and encourage her growth and development while at the same time maintaining your responsibility as a parent to guide, provide and protect. If she tries the “Mom, don’t you trust me?” routine, a great response is, “Yes honey, I trust you. What I don’t trust is adolescence and the confusion that can take place during this critical time of your life.”

Let her know that the amount of privacy she will enjoy is directly related to the degree of trust she maintains. It’s important she knows that you will honor her privacy, and at the same time if you have any good reason to suspect that she is in danger, either through unhealthy friends or unwise choices she is making, that you will do anything and everything necessary to protect her and help her.

The best way to “know what she is up to” is to be a part of her life. Cultivate a healthy relationship with her. Learn how to understand her world. Nurture “fun” times with her that build opportunities for casual conversation. Discover the situations in which she is most likely to be “open” and chat with you. Make sure you do not sound like you are interrogating but rather showing interest.

One of the best things we did was to develop relationships with the parents of some of our son’s friends. We get together on a regular basis, talk about what we see and hear and make time to pray together for specific needs and concerns. It’s great to know that we’re not alone and it’s good for our kids to see a living model of how parents can work together. With some wisdom and discernment raising adolescents can be one of the most rewarding parts of the parenting journey.

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