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Seven Privacy Reminders for Parents of Teens During COVID-19

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been felt around the entire globe. There are hundreds of thousands of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, and the number is still on the rise. To contain the spread of the virus, most state and local governments in the U.S. have shut down non-essential businesses, banned social gatherings, and closed schools. And in most states, there is no confirmed date when businesses and schools will reopen.

This leaves millions of adolescents and teenagers – as well as children and college students – sitting at home, wondering what comes next. And unless their parents work in an essential industry, they’re parents are right there with them.

This situation may leave parents anxious and baffled.

First, what are teenagers supposed to do at home, all day, every day, for the next few months?

We have good suggestions about how to keep them busy in this article:

Eight Things To Do With Your Teen While They’re Home Due to COVID-19

Another equally important question is this: how can parents and teens get their alone-time when they’re under the same roof almost 24/7?

In other words, how do you find privacy in a time like this?

Privacy Isn’t Always a Good Thing

First, please understand that if your teen struggles with mental health or substance abuse issues, too much privacy can be dangerous and unhealthy. Teenagers who struggle with self-harm or suicidal ideation should not be left alone. They need monitoring, support, and treatment, preferably in the form of a high-quality residential treatment center that specializes in adolescent self-injury or suicidal ideation. Teens who struggle with depression should also remain in the company of others, since isolation can exacerbate their symptoms. Likewise, teens known to experiment with drugs or alcohol should not be afforded the privilege of privacy in their rooms during this pandemic.

In general, if teens engage in behaviors that are dangerous to themselves or others, mental health professionals recommend removing privacy privileges until the unwanted behavior stops. To seek help eliminating negative behaviors, contact a Residential Treatment Center (RTC), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), or Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) for adolescents.

When Privacy is Necessary

If your teenager does not struggle with life-threatening mental health or substance abuse issues, then alone time is not a problem. In fact, they need their privacy and alone time.

And you do too.

That’s why now, more than ever, it’s important to keep some basic tips in mind. Here are some ways everyone in your family can give each other space and privacy, even when you’re all copped up in the same house 24/7:

Family Reminders During COVID-19

  1. Knock first. This is common courtesy. Wait until you hear “Come in!” before entering. Many parents rap on the door once while entering their teen’s room, just to signal that they’re coming in. While this is better than not knocking at all, it’s not ideal. Instead, wait a few seconds until you’re invited in. It’s what you would expect from your teen, so give the same respect to them. As a side note, we never recommend installing locks on teenagers’ doors: that can cause a safety problem.
  2. Resist eavesdropping. Everyone should always refrain from listening in on private conversations. We’re mentioning this now because, in the current situation, family members are home more than usual – and eavesdropping is easy and tempting – but don’t do it. Not only does eavesdropping violate boundaries, it erodes trust in the parent-child relationship. Your teen doesn’t have to share everything in their life with you, just like you don’t have to share everything in your life with them. Keep this in mind when your teen invites a friend to come over and hang out: don’t hover in the hallway, hoping to pick up secrets.
  3. Maintain pre-COVID routines. Yes, everyone is home now. But no, that doesn’t mean you should ask your teen to help you with something when they’re in the middle of a virtual class, even if they could technically pause the class to do so. When your family members are involved in schoolwork or work-work, pretend they’re not in the house. Meaning, don’t interrupt them at home if you wouldn’t call them and interrupt them at work for the same thing. Try to maintain boundaries and ensure productivity by giving everyone the space and time they need to complete their online or telephone commitments.
  4. Make teletherapy private. The same goes for teletherapy sessions. Many therapists now offer telehealth instead of face-to-face sessions. Likewise, many Intensive Outpatient (IOP) or Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP) have shifted to virtual platforms. Make it a priority to give your teen the total privacy and space they need to conduct their remote sessions. If you have an office in your house, let them use it for teletherapy. If you don’t have a white noise machine already, purchase one. This will ensure your teen is 100% comfortable talking to their therapist, counselors, and peers without being overheard.
  5. Ask first. If your teen is engaged in an activity – whether it’s working out, baking a cake, going for a run (if local rules allow), or anything else – ask “May I join you?” before considering yourself invited. While under normal circumstances you may not have hesitated to join them, coronavirus has impacted many usual routines. So even if you and your teen normally play basketball in the driveway on Sunday morning, they may now want to play alone, since they’ve been in the house with you all week. In the same vein, don’t push them to include siblings in every single activity they do – everyone needs their space.
  6. Respect belongings. Staying home all day may mean some bedrooms (and living rooms and kitchens!) will become messier than usual. But now more than ever, it’s essential to respect everyone’s belongings. You’re all in the same house together. Space may already feel tight. Your family members may get triggered if their belongings are moved or rooms are cleaned or rearranged without their knowledge.
  7. Give space. When tensions flare, give everyone emotional and physical space. Go to a different room. Better yet, go outside. Even if it’s just your yard, porch, balcony, or driveway, it will help. If local rules allow, take a walk around the block. Encourage your children and teens to go outside for a while every day: the fresh air will do wonders for everyone’s sanity.

The main thing to remember here is that everyone is in the same boat. That’s not as simple as it sounds, though. You all want privacy, but you may all want it at different times. For instance, the moment you decide you’re at your wit’s end and need to let loose and be goofy with someone might be the precise moment someone else in your house –  like your teen your spouse – decides they need a quiet, personal moment. There’s nothing you can do but be patient, kind, and empathetic with one another – and remember that as the parent, you set the tone in your home.

If you or a parent you know is struggling, Evolve offers free virtual support groups for parents of teens seeking practical guidance and emotional support. Choose from our parent support groups on Tuesdays at 7pm PST or Thursdays at 10am PST.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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