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Is Privacy for Teens a Right or a Privilege?

By Kimberly Seals Allers

Every now and then I hear a teenager whining about privacy. Give me a break! Kids today don’t know how good they have it. When I was growing up, privacy was a fanciful notion. Something my parents made clear that I needed to pay my own rent to experience. And if I ever got crazy enough to keep my bedroom door closed longer than it takes to get dressed, my mom would promptly open it and let me know she wasn’t above taking it off the hinges if I didn’t understand the house rules for closing doors.

These days, everyone lives behind closed doors. I visit my friends, nieces and nephews and the home is like a ghostown. Everyone is holed up in their room, on their own computer, and watching their own TV, friends in the bedroom, all in the name of needing “privacy.” Is that really what kids need? And then parents wonder why their kids don’t want to be involved in family activities or how the kid ended up involved with something they had no idea they were doing.  

Oh and by the way, we had one television in our house growing up, so when we watched TV it was all together and out in the open. Sure, my parents could afford to buy another television set for our room, but, yeah, they weren’t going to let that happen. When my sister started working after school and saved up enough money to buy a TV for our bedroom, it still took 3 family meetings and a lot of negotiation for that to happen.

These days, kids think being bunkered in your room with a TV, computer, telephone, and your BFFs is a God-given right, not a privilege to be earned. And although my parents may have been somewhat extreme, we did things together. We took family walks after dinner. We played softball, planted gardens, took trips and played board games together. Our friends visited us in the living room. And if you had a phone conversation that couldn’t be had in the open, you just weren’t going to have that phone conversation. The idea of family was about openness not being off doing your own thing. And to my parents’ credit, as far as they were concerned, everything we did was their business.

Today we’ve lost some of that and it saddens me. Recently, one of my girlfriends with a teenage daughter had an incident and the 13 year old told her something was “none of her business.”  To my shock, my friend seemed to be debating where it was indeed her business and concerned that she may have crossed a privacy line. What the?? (insert expletive here) This is the kind of thinking among parents that really concerns me. Everything that happens with our children, especially while living under our roof, is our business. We can be involved now or pay the consequences later.  

In this gotta-have-it society, giving in to all of our children’s demands doesn’t make us look cool or make them more empowered. It just gives them a false sense of how to make it in the world. Privacy is earned by being responsible and by consistent and respectful behavior. And just like a license, it can be revoked and rendered null and void at my whim, for irresponsible behavior. I tell my kids: My house. My rules. When you have your own kids you can screw them up with your own rules.
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