Guest blogger Steven L. Pastyrnak, Ph.D., is a Spectrum Health Medical Group psychologist who practices at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.
How much privacy does a child need? The answer isn't always simple and straightforward. The amount of privacy needed usually depends on a number of things, such as your child's age, his or her awareness and desire for privacy and your family's own values. Although there are no absolute rules, I personally believe that when a child is old enough to be aware of his or her need for privacy, then it is a parent's responsibility to honor that need.
For Young Children
The younger your child is, the less likely that he or she will express a need for privacy. For instance, your toddler may like to run around the house without clothing and to prefer company when they are taking a bath or learning to use the "potty."
At some point during the toddler years though, your child may begin to express a need for privacy. This is an important part of growing up, and it is okay for you to allow your child safe privacy when they ask for it. What do I mean by "safe"? Here are a few examples:
- Allowing a two-year-old to take a bath without supervision may not be safe.
- Letting a three-year-old keep the bathroom door closed when using the toilet, however, should be reasonably safe.
- Letting your three- or four-year old change his or her clothes alone should be safe.
School age kids may ask to surf the Internet alone. While it is certainly okay (and typically preferable) to respect your child's boundaries, maintain a balance with regard to safety. Establish ground rules about what you will or will not allow versus monitoring your child without his or her knowledge. In this way, you can also build trust while keeping your child safe.
For Older Children
As kids reach school age, most have a healthy awareness of their bodies and want more privacy. However, if kids are not showing enough modesty or are not respecting the privacy of others, then it is good to start providing direction. Also, be aware that while you may be more or less open in your own household with regards to things like keeping doors open or displaying nudity, other families may have different approaches. Teach your child different expectations apply to different households. Also teach your child to discuss with you if they witness something that makes them feel uncomfortable in someone else's house.
Teens are very aware of their need for privacy and will sometimes go to great lengths to maintain it. Kids at this age may be secretive and unwilling to share their thoughts, even when asked. While it is important for parents to be aware of what their kids are involved in and with whom they are involved, it is still okay to allow them some privacy in order to help them establish trust and build independence.
"Sexting" has become as popular as cyber-bullying, and social media and online access mean a teen can instantly make his or her private life public, on a whim. And once they do, often they regret it or there are other ramifications. Emphasize to your teen that online postings can never be private, even if they feel private, and it will never go away.
Be very clear in your expectations of when and how your kids will interact with peers. Coach them to use social media to send positive messages, and always to be positive in their communications, and they likely will never go wrong or regret it later.Set limits on when your teen can use social media, his or her phone or the Internet.Allow them more privacy if they demonstrate that they can handle it.
- Dr. Pastyrnak