“Go to your room!” “Do you want new curtains for your room?” “Why don’t you and Becky go play in your room?” We use the word, “your” to refer to a child’s room, starting as early as the child can remember.
That’s all well and good until you have a teenager who suddenly wants to argue about the nuances of the word, “your,” or, from their perspective, “my.” “It’s my room, what difference does it make to you if it’s messy?” “So what if I want to paint my room red and purple?” “What were you doing in my room?” “Stay out of my room!”
Parents of teens are faced with the question, “Whose room is it, anyways?” The parents pay for the home, and the electricity and have probably bought most of the furniture in the room, so is the room technically theirs? Has a lifetime of labeling the room as belonging to the child transferred ownership to the child? How much privacy is too much? How much is too little?
It’s important to keep 3 things in mind: 1) The room belongs to whomever has earned it. 2) It’s your job to help teens transition to independent living, and, 3) Until they turn 18, it’s ultimately your job to keep them as safe as possible.
First, the room belongs to whomever has earned it. Whoever went to work and made the money to pay for the room owns the room. Whoever helped the wage earner(s) by doing household tasks like raising the kids or packing lunches also owns the room. Ownership can be transferred to any kid who is doing his job. At earlier ages, a kid should have jobs like going to school, brushing his teeth, and being nice to his sister. When a kid is 15, coming home on time, refraining from drugs and alcohol, and passing his classes become his job. If a kid isn’t doing his job, he doesn’t automatically own his room.
Next, parents need to slowly transition power to the teenager so that it isn’t all dumped on them on their 18th birthday. Letting a kid let a room get terribly gross and messy can be a great learning experience for future apartment living. Having a kid run out of clean clothes because they are piled under her bed is a great lesson in independent living. Thus, it is a fine idea for parents to give teens some latitude with their personal space so they can prepare for life on their own.
Finally, safety is still the parents’ responsibility and if you think your kid has illegal drugs, or is haphazardly burning things that might start the house on fire, or is hiding razor blades and cutting herself, the parent does need to violate privacy boundaries to keep the child safe. This is not to be misused by paranoid parents, but used cautiously by parents who have reasonable cause to enter or search a teens’ room.
Dr. Marlo Archer is a licensed psychologist specializing in working with kids, teens, and their families. She can be reached at www.DrMarlo.com or 480-705-5007. Follow Down To Earth Enterprises on Facebook or DrMarloArcher on Twitter