BY CHRISTIE DEL AMO JOHNSON
Local moms and experts discuss how much space you should give your child.
Terri Campbell says she’s always believed in giving her three daughters their space. “You’ve got to let them come to you instead of trying to be overbearing,” says the Bolingbroke mother. She says her kids had their own cell phones and computers and were allowed to talk and use them whenever they wanted. Campbell says as long as they respected her rules, she respected their privacy.
Conversely, recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) on children’s use of media are that parents remain knowledgeable about the harmful effects of media as well as the positive contributions of media, and that strict limits of telephone, television, and computer usage be given to children. For example, their recommendation for television is a maximum of two hours per day for ages two and above. “Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents,” they say.
Dr. Terry Lynn Manning, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Warner Robins, says children do need their space. “The question of a child’s privacy versus parental responsibility is one of the most often asked in my practice,” she says. “Personally, I believe there should be a direct link between the amount of responsibility, consistency, and honesty that kids show and the amount of privacy they’re allowed to have.” So, how do you decide how much privacy to give your child?
Campbell says she made sure to be involved in her daughters’ day-to-day activities. From dance to sports, she drove them around, talked, and established a bond. She says, because of that, her girls have always been able to be open with her. At the same time, she and her husband were very clear about the rules and boundaries in their household.
“Children crave for us to set up limits and boundaries,” says Alicia Gregory, an LMFT in Gray. “They crave for us to put them in the box and say you can’t get out of here. They push the rules to see if you’ll uphold them. They need to know you’re going to help them stick to what they need to do.”
Decide what “Privacy” Means
Privacy begins to become a real issue during the pre-teen and teenage years. “Your child is separating and individuating from you and finding his/her own personality and making their own choices,” says Dr. Manning.
She adds the way each family defines “privacy” is different. For some, it could mean their own room. For others, it could mean being able to talk on the phone with the door closed. “You can see the importance of knowing what the family’s limits are,” she says. “What’s okay in your family may not be okay in your neighbors.”
When you begin to give your child more freedom, make sure it’s in line with the boundaries you have set for them. Don’t let what other families are doing influence your decisions. If you don’t feel comfortable having a friend of the opposite sex in their bedroom; don’t allow them to do it because their friends can.
Invasions of Privacy
Experts agree, once you give your child some freedom . . . don’t snoop. As long as they have not violated your trust or given you any reason to suspect they are breaking your rules, give them their space. Invasions of privacy include:
• Reading your child’s diary
• Listening to phone conversations
• Prying into details about relationships
• Talking to teen’s pediatrician against request for privacy
On the other hand, children need to understand, they lose privacy as they lose your trust. “Giving a child privacy as to what goes on in their room or what’s in their drawers is a privilege you give them because they are trustworthy and honest,” Dr. Manning says. “Your kids should know that if they violate that trust and honesty, one of the things that’s going to change is that you are going to be watching them more carefully.” That could mean going through drawers, reading e-mails, and opening purses.
Again, experts say if the rules have been laid out, kids should already know the consequences when they are broken. Manning says, be ready for your child to get angry. “You do not have to explain your actions, the boundaries were set earlier. Trying to explain what you have done just puts you in a role of negotiator and takes away your parental authority.”
She adds, “Don’t argue or defend yourself; remain calm, confident and aware that you are doing what is best for you and your child. Your child should be aware that when they break a rule, they too, are held accountable.”
Too Much Privacy
Experts also warn about giving children too much privacy, especially when it comes to things like the Internet. Gregory says you should never allow a computer with web access in a child’s room. The AAP advises parents to keep the computer in a public part of your home, such as the family room or kitchen, so that you can check on what your kids are doing online and how much time they are spending there.
The AAP recommends that you have a policy requiring that you and your child “friend” each other (on social sites such as FaceBook). This is one way of showing your child you are there, too, and will provide a check and balance system by having an adult within arm’s reach of their profile. This is important for kids of all ages, including teens.”
Gregory also says it’s okay to check your teen’s phone. If they have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t mind. Other signs that your child may have too much privacy:
• They stay in their room all the time
• Won’t share Internet sites or searches with you
• You aren’t allowed to see text messages from friends
• You have no idea where your child is going or who they “hang out” with
• They won’t bring friends to the house
• They won’t share any class work or homework assignments with you and becomes angry if you ask
How to Stay Involved
Just because you’re giving your child more freedom doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay involved. In fact, that is the best way to stay connected. Here are some ideas on how to squeeze some “parent-time” into their “private-time”:
• Schedule time for each other: Things can get so hectic, you can forget to sit down and talk to your teen. Make it a priority, even if you can only get ten minutes from them, it will be worth it.
• Ask questions: When you are involved in a conversation with your child, respond to them. Asking questions shows you’re interested.
• Share your day: Sometimes the easiest way to get them to open up, is by doing it first.
• Ask them for advice: It shows you value their opinion.