A mom recently shared her concern about the walls her daughter is putting up in 7th grade. She won’t answer simple questions about her day. She blocked her mom on Instagram. (Only temporarily until mom found out). She wants to spend all of her free time texting with her boyfriend. “How do I know how much privacy to give her?” her mom wondered.
What Makes Parents Worry?
I suspect there are two primary issues at the heart of this mom’s concern.
Watching our kids walk straight into the temptations and distractions of the middle school scene feels like taking a four-your-old to the beach and silently standing back as he runs into the crashing waves. Terrifying. Middle school is fraught with opportunities for kids to experiment with alcohol, drugs, sex, dares, and other bad decisions.
When our kids distance themselves from us, it can make our hearts feel so empty they ache. I find myself imagining a scene just six short years from now when both of my kids have left for college and my husband and I are eating our dinner silently in a dark house, a bare bulb hanging above our dismal meal. I know that’s crazy, but when kids begin the process of separating from us, it’s painful and easy to imagine how lost we’ll feel without them in our daily lives. We’d do anything to keep them close.
How Much Space Should Parents Give Teens?
Thankfully, there are two things you can do to support their need for privacy and retain a supportive role in your middle-schooler’s life. They’re not so easy, but they’re worth it.
1. If you are willing to do anything, DO LESS.
Peppering your kids with questions, monitoring their accounts too closely, even seeming overly interested in their lives (however genuine that interest may be) will repel a middle schooler. They crave privacy because it’s what they require to develop a unique identity apart from you. It’s normal. It’s natural. And it’s right that they have space and time to think independently.
As a mom of two middle schoolers, I know how rotten it feels to read that.
2. Avoid judging them.
Here’s the part to make you feel better. Your middle schooler will share more with you the less they feel judged. Your child is under a social microscope every second of every day at school. They not only feel judged; they actually are being judged all day long.
One thing you can do to bring your child’s guard down is to give them privacy so they don’t feel judged by you, too. It also helps to phrase any inquiries you have in the most neutral way possible.
Imagine your daughter says, “Why do you always need to know every little thing?” or, “Why do you stalk my Instagram?” and you reply with, “I just want to make sure you’re making the right decisions.” You’ve just told your daughter that you’re monitoring her so you can judge her.
Imagine instead you say, “I don’t need to look all the time. I like to look from time to time because you’re interesting and important to me.” Your daughter hears “you’re interesting and important,” not, “I’m watching to see when you make a mistake.”
Pairing teenage privacy with neutral and supportive inquiries is a great way to stay connected through the teen years and beyond.