For a teen to really have their own room, parents need to stay out of the room. If the teen says “no, you can’t come in,” parents need to walk away instead of either opening the door anyway or demanding the teen unlock the door. Most parents don’t do this. Because a teen’s room is still part of the parents’ house, parents don’t think twice about walking in the room. As such, most teens’ rooms are theirs in name only.
Most parents begin to struggle with the idea of giving a teen a space that is all their own when they realize what is really required of them as parents. Giving a teen space and privacy is great in theory, but many parents struggle to put it into practice. Some parents panic and wonder what their baby is really doing behind closed doors. Are they hiding alcohol? Watching porn? Texting those friends who are nothing but bad influences? Other parents see a place that is “off-limits” to them and react with either anger or suspicion. The idea that their child has, effectively, kicked them out of a part of their own house can infuriate parents and seem ungrateful or defiant on the part of the teen. In other cases, the parent sees a teen’s desire for space and wonders what their teen is hiding. After all, those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear, right?
Teens need space. They are dealing with more complex emotions than they have ever felt and are experiencing strange bodily changes. Their friends are usually their first confidants, and a teen’s hormones are all over the place. Stress appears in their life for the first time, and they may struggle to articulate what is wrong. They may not even know what’s bothering them only that they are angry or sad. At times like these, a teen’s room should be a refuge. It should be somewhere that a girl who had a spectacular fight with her friend can scream into a pillow and curse that traitorous, backstabbing witch! It should be the place where a boy who just got dumped by his girlfriend can cry and listen to sad love songs without feeling like he is being weak. A teen’s room should be where they can let down all their walls and simply let go. They can’t do that, however, when they are listening for their parents with one ear and can’t trust that the door will stay closed.
Beyond the need for a personal refuge, teens need a room to themselves so they can begin to develop their own sense of boundaries. It is during the teen years that teens take basic lessons they learned from their parents and begin to investigate what those lessons really mean. “Be an independent person” and “be true to yourself” are perfectly good pieces of advice, but how is a teen supposed to learn how to actually be independent or who they are if they don’t have any space to investigate those things?
Parents do, however, have legitimate reasons to be concerned about giving teens a space where there is no parental influence. Unfortunately, parents need to let those fears go. Soon enough the teen will be on their own regardless of whether or not they have learned to take care of their space or set boundaries. At least if they are able to start practicing those things at home, their parents will be able to help them set any mistakes right.
Parental concerns about giving a teen free reign in a room seem to fall into three main categories: fear of temptation, cleanliness and loss of control. There are ways around these concerns, however, that will let parents give their teen their own room without worrying.
TemptationOne of parents’ biggest fears is that if they give a teen an inch, the teen will take a mile. Parents worry that if they give their teen a space that the teen knows lacks parental supervision, the teen will take ruthless advantage of that fact and do all the things they are not allowed to do. Parents fear that teens will use their room to watch porn, sext, drink or hide “contraband” such as dirty magazines, condoms, cigarettes, marijuana or liquor.
Giving a teen their own space does not mean that a previously well-behaved teen will suddenly go careening off the rails. Teens who are determined to hide things will find a way to do so even when they don’t have their own room. The backs of closets, under the bed, school lockers and even secret places outside can all be used to hold a teen’s hidden treasures. A parent needs to recognize that sooner or later the teen will be on their own. They will have space to do whatever they want. A parent who uses the potential for bad behavior to keep barging in to a teen’s room is setting the subconscious expectations that a teen will behave badly. Such things are normally self-fulfilling prophecies.
Parents who are terrified a teen will give in to temptation need to take a few deep breaths and relax. What such parents are really afraid of is giving up control which is a different issue entirely. To address reasonable concerns about temptation, set some basic rules for your teen. Confine computer usage to a common area such as the living room or kitchen so you can see if your teen is watching porn or observe if their mood drops after using the computer, which may be a sign of cyberbullying. Tell teens that while their room is their space, they must leave the door open when friends of the opposite sex are inside. For those parents concerned about teens staying up too late, make it a point for all members of the family to charge their phones or tablets in the living room, and make sure the teen doesn’t have a TV in their bedroom.
HygieneTeens are notorious for being slobs. Typical teen stereotypes include a teen girl who leave makeup all over the bathroom counter and a teen boy who leaves everything everywhere. While there are plenty of neat and tidy teens, there is some truth to the stereotype of the messy teen. That’s why it became a stereotype in the first place.
Teens need to learn to pick up after themselves and take care of their living space. They can’t learn those skills if you are always cleaning up after them or standing over them and watching to make sure they clean up their mess. Instead, give them space to learn what they consider to be tidy. A parent might think that the house is a mess if there are a few pairs of shoes laying around and a book on the table. A teen might feel like the same house is spotless. Neither person is necessarily wrong, they just have different opinions. Let your teen decide if they want to keep their area tidy and what tidy really means to them. Most teens don’t actually want to live in a pigsty.
If the mess gets to be too much, close the door on the teen’s room. Also, make sure the teen understands that every so often the whole house will be deep cleaned for hygienic purposes. Their room is included in this. Give the teen a warning a few days to a week before tackling this deep clean. Whatever is left out when the cleaning takes place is at the mercy of the parent. Don’t use this as an opportunity for cruelty disguised as a lesson. A parent who knows their teen treasures that model airplane but throws it out since it was on the floor during a cleaning day is not teaching their teen responsibility. They are consciously being cruel. That said, a parent has no responsibility to clean up after their teen. If things get put back in the wrong place or what appears to be meaningless junk gets thrown away after the teen had ample warning to move it, that is on the teen, but do give the teen some leeway. If they have one small corner dedicated to miscellaneous stuff that they haven’t decided where to store, leave those two square feet of floor space alone. The Black Plague is not hiding in that collection of old papers, key chains and hair scrunchies.
Loss of ControlA parent’s fear of lost control is both the easiest and hardest struggle to circumvent. The reality is that a parent cannot control their teen forever. The tighter parents keep their teen’s leash, the more likely a teen is to either slip the leash or go completely wild when they are finally free of their parents’ home. A parent needs to calm down and understand that they can’t control their teen forever. Eventually, they have to let go.
Some of this fear, however, can be alleviated by setting down some basic ground rules with the teen. Tell them that they have to use their computer in a common area and remove the TV from their room. Explain that their room is their space, but they have to respect that it is part of the rest of the house. For example, they cannot fill the walls with holes. A couple of pictures might be fine, but they can’t use the walls for pellet gun or dart practice. Similarly, a parent might tell a teen that they can play their music in their room, but it can’t be so loud that it disturbs other occupants or shakes the windows.
These rules go both ways, and letting a teen lay down some of the rules will prove to them that their room really is their space. Common rules laid down by teens are that parents must knock when the door is closed and wait for the teen’s permission to enter. If the teen says “no,” the parent has to respect the teen’s wishes. The parent can still lay down an ultimatum such as “come down for dinner or you are banned from Netflix for a week,” but the teen should still have the choice to either continue sulking or lose their Netflix privileges. The parent can’t just walk in and tell the teen they are being ridiculous.
A parent should also respect the teen’s rules when the teen isn’t home. If the teen’s room is really their space, a parent can’t go sneaking around it looking for dirty magazines when the teen is at school. Doing so is a gross violation of a teen’s trust.
Many parents are leery of giving their teen a room in truth as well as name. Refusing to do so, however, can lead to rebellion, resentment and the feeling of helplessness from the teen. They may struggle to really feel at home in their parent’s house because they are shown every day that no part of their home is truly theirs.