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Privacy in the Family

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

I am often asked why privacy in families is so important and for some the answer is not always well received but you would do well to understand why the answer could ruffle a few feathers. Like many 70’s and 80’s kids, I grew up in the generation of young adults and teenagers not being allowed to close their bedroom doors. The only doors that were allowed to be closed were the bathroom door and the toilet door. You were allowed to close the door if you were getting changed, otherwise it was to remain slightly ajar. Having a closed door was seen as disrespectful. Having a closed door meant that you were obviously hiding something. This kind of parenting was built on the premise of, “my house, my rules.” So effectively, you always felt like your room wasn’t actually your space. It was part of your parent’s space, and it was a privilege for you to be allowed to stay. There was no nastiness or shouting about it, it was a known, unspoken and accepted rule of the household. As such, it was a foregone conclusion that your parents could, at any time, come into your room, without knocking and have access to anything that they wanted without the need for your consent. Can anyone see a problem here?

It wasn’t until much later in life, when I had my own kids that my thinking on the subject came to the fore. It somehow didn’t feel right, this “my house, my rules” approach, especially as they began their teenage journey into young adulthood. My kids (and I love them for this), challenged both my husband and I on our thinking. We were forced into a space where a discussion was necessary. It was a BRILLIANT discussion because during that meeting, the truth landed squarely in my heart. At the centre of the conversation, we realised three things:

1. Our kids needed to know that we saw them. Not just as our kids, but as young people with opinions and ideas.

2. They needed to know that we respected them just as they respected us.

3. They needed to be validated or affirmed and their needs to be taken seriously.

In essence, they needed to know that they were each seen and heard. As my husband and I began to unravel our thinking as well as our actions, we realised that it is profoundly destructive to not teach your children about boundaries and privacy. It is difficult for children to exercise boundaries and respect someone else’s privacy if they have never had the opportunity to practice in a safe environment, (that being their home environment.) We had a look at our own lives and were able to see clearly how we had to find our own way of teaching ourselves to set boundaries and respect each other’s privacy.

Now privacy must not be confused with secrecy. I say this because in my mind, growing up, I saw these two as conjoined. In my mind, they meant the same thing and when someone said they were a ‘private’ sort of person, I would interpret that as being a ‘secretive’ person, a person who perhaps was not to be trusted. Obviously, this is not the truth. Privacy, according to the Oxford Dictionary, means, “a state in which one is not observed or disturbed by other people.” Another way that people might express this is, ‘I like my own space’ or ‘I need to be alone.’ These two statements would cause me so much anxiety. I would feel completely rejected, completely cast out and overlooked. As I got older, and with some much-needed therapy, I came to understand that these statements had very little to do with me and rather more to do with the other person, who they were and what they needed. Now just because I realised this when it came to other people, does not mean that I automatically intuited this into my thinking and parenting of my kids. It ended up being that our children were the ones who asked to sit down and talk with us.

So why is privacy in families important? To begin with, as previously stated, allowing family members their privacy teaches our children from a young age to respect people’s space,

time and social limits. Privacy is one of the defining foundational aspects of who we are as human beings. It is one of the things that will define our relationships within our family unit, as well as within our friendship circles, school environment and later, our work environment. But it all starts at home. As parents, it is our job to nurture and equip our children to lead a thriving, independent lifestyle outside of the home. Allowing and teaching privacy in our homes leads to growth and independence in our children. It gives them space to explore who they are without judgement, criticism or condemnation and allows them the liberty to think freely without discrimination. It gives them the basic human right of dignity and allows them the freedom of autonomy. Without privacy, our children cannot exercise healthy boundaries within their own lives and they will not understand or respect other people’s boundaries which can lead to co-dependence, insecurity and people-pleasing. All of these traits can be incredibly destructive and overwhelming.

Start with the basics. I live in a home with nine other people. That is a lot of people. It is clear that with so many people under one roof, each person needs a space to retreat to. We have taught our children/teens that their rooms are their safe spaces. They need to be comfortable and calm within their own space. The space needs to reflect their personality, their goals, their interests and their passions. Now obviously this is all within reason. Our children still need to be nurtured and guided without being controlled. It is vital that parents remember that your child’s room is not your space. So, if you suggest a colour scheme or perhaps some curtains or blinds and your teen/child refuses that, it is not a personal attack against you. I’ll say that again. It is NOT a personal attack against you.

Firstly, you must be commended. Your child feels safe enough to disagree with you! Secondly, your child feels safe enough to express their own ideas with respect and without fear and thirdly, your child trusts you enough to know that you will follow through in helping them to feel held and safe in their space. The beauty of this kind of approach is that we are allowed to journey with our children as they grow and develop into young adults. We can be involved in and watch as their interests and personality's change, as they get older. We can walk beside them without controlling or suffocating them.

On a side note, if your child is showing some disturbing or dangerous signs or interests, that needs to be handled swiftly and with care. Don’t wait. Get your child the help they need. However, it must be said that before you intervene, please take a moment to evaluate your own feelings. Are you operating out of fear? Does this feel like a genuine threat to your child’s wellbeing both in mind and body? Can you approach your child without feeling the need to walk on eggshells? These are just some of the questions that you can ask yourself before intervening. It will help you to think clearly and to be prepared for a little push back, should there be any.

To end off, please remember to walk your talk. Let's start with the easy stuff!

  • Knock before entering your child’s bedroom.

  • Allow them space to ‘cocoon’ (hoodie on, earphones on, door closed, room low-lit and possibly an animal for calming effect.) if necessary.

  • Ask permission to go into their room when they are not there. If you cannot get hold of them, (remember that we now live in an age of technology - use it!) then send them a message or give them a call later to let them know that you have been in their space.

  • Ask before taking anything out of their cupboards or drawers or borrowing items from their rooms.

  • Do not invade their privacy by reading their diaries, cards or letters even if they are left lying on the desk, bed, or floor - it's called self-control, exercise it.

  • It is also important to ask permission to ‘chill’ with them in their rooms. Don't barge in and just 'plonk' yourself on their beds.

  • If you want to chat to them about something, ask if it is a convenient time.

  • If they are on a call - video or other, ask them if they would like you to come back later.

These may seem obvious but in my experience we don't often afford our children these basic manners yet, we expect them to exercise these very same manners when dealing with us, their parents and their family. The reason I know these things is again, from experience. I have made the mistakes. I know how detrimental it can be to your child if you are unwilling to think differently, learn something new or shift your thinking.

Whether you agree or not, these are some basic rights that we need as human beings. You are completely entitled to do whatever works for you and for your family. I salute you and stand with you. Keep growing, keep learning, keep thriving!

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