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Closed-Door Policy

What to do when your teen starts locking the bedroom door

It happens. Somewhere between the ages of 12 and 13 your kid starts locking his door. I remember approaching my son's room a few years back, laundry piled past my nose, when I couldn't turn the door knob and burst in like I always had in the past. I stared at the knob for a minute, and then looked back down the hall to make sure I was in the right place.

"Hello?" I called.

"Whaaaat?"

"Why is your door locked?" I asked in disbelief.

"What do you want?" he called back, seemingly exasperated.

I was in shock. What do I want? I'm the mother. I have 15 pounds of laundry that I’m about to drop, and I can't open one of the doors in my house! My son, of course, opened the door with the standard I-can't-believe-you’re-bothering-me look on his face.

We have since compromised. He no longer locks the door, but I knock first and introduce myself, "This is your mother. Remember me? I need to speak with you for a minute."

At some point, your teen will want more privacy and he or she – just like my son – might start locking the door. Wanting more privacy at this stage is perfectly natural. Maybe your kid wants to dance to her favorite Lady Gaga song. Perhaps she's got some private text messages or phone calls she wants to make. Or, she could just plain want to be alone. Whatever the reason, it'll happen. And when it does, you need to decide where you'll draw the line when it comes to privacy.

Relax and let go

"Parents sometimes get very freaked out when their children start locking their bedroom doors, but they really need to relax and not assume the worst," says Dr. Natasha Mueller, an Oak Park psychologist.

In its guide to surviving the teen years, KidsHealth.org, which is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation, advises waiting until you see warning signs of a problem before invading your child's privacy.

"It's important for parents to know what their children are doing and implement online restrictions and parental control," says Dr. Mueller. "But the most important thing to do is to talk to your children about the perils out there and then give them the freedom to make the right choices."

You can't expect your teen to share all thoughts or activities with you at all times. But hopefully all that good training will kick in as they're learning to be independent people. They need to know that you respect them and their need for a degree of privacy. This will help them build self-confidence and independence. However, they need to earn your trust first.

Balancing privacy and protection

"Privacy should be understood to be a privilege," says Dr. Mueller. "If you think your teen is involved in risky behavior – get to the bottom of things."

Parents of teens are constantly teetering on that tight rope, trying to find a healthy balance between knowing what their teens are doing, and trusting them enough to allow them some privacy. Even though we often want to save them from themselves, learning from one's mistakes is also part of growing up and becoming a better person.

Finding the balance means getting in touch with your valuable intuition. Parents should give some slack when their teen is exhibiting responsibility and maturity and pull in the reigns when their teen's behavior ignites concern for their health and safety.

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