This post written by Torie Henderson was originally featured on YourTango.
How much of your teen's need for privacy should you respect?
When it comes to parenting teenagers, you love your (sometimes difficult) teen and appreciate his growing need for privacy, but when your kid starts spending a lot of time alone in his bedroom with the door shut, it's only natural to worry something deeper might be wrong.
While you're aware it's totally normal for teens to want privacy, a million questions to ask start racing through your anxious brain: What is he doing in there? Is he meeting strangers on the internet? Sending naked photos? Watching pornography?
You want to make sure you're doing everything you can to raise a happy, healthy, and emotionally intelligent teen. But knowing how to be a good and attentive parent can be a difficult task ... especially when he spends most his time in his bedroom, out of your sight.
You want to trust him, but it's hard not to worry when your teen's bedroom door is always closed and he spends all his time alone.
Social isolation and withdrawal are warning signs for many teenage problems, so how can parents know when to respect their teen's privacy and when they should worry?
First, it's important to realise that a teenager's number one job is to figure out who they are and separate their identity from their parents. Shutting the bedroom door and spending more time alone are normal and vital parts of accomplishing this task.
You'll know your child has entered this stage if they enjoy pointing out your flaws, frequently say you're wrong, or critique the way you dress, speak or behave.
Although it can be annoying to live with such negative scrutiny, it's a normal and important part of how teenagers define themselves as they separate from you, develop their own opinions and grow into mature adults.
If your teen is keeping up with school work, friendships, chores, and personal hygiene, then he has earned his privacy — and it's your job to trust that everything is OK.
Granted, that's no easy task given what you watch the news and hear from other parents, but try and avoid jumping to conclusions and taking action until you see actual problematic behaviours from your teen.
Here are 5 parenting questions to ask yourself that will help determine if your teen's need for privacy is normal, or if the amount of time he spends alone is a red flag:
1. Does your teen leave his bedroom without you asking him to?
The amount of private time your teen needs can vary based on where he falls on the introversion/extroversion scale. For example, introverted kids may need days of solitude before they feel like socialising again.
Take note of when your teen leaves his room to understand how much alone time he needs to feel like himself again. Trust that he's taking care of himself, but keep an eye out to make sure his other behaviours are healthy, too.
2. Does your teen seem happy, sad, or irritated after leaving his room?
Is your teen moody and morose? Then whatever he was doing in his room behind closed doors wasn't helpful. Feel free to point it out to him.
Is he glassy-eyed and zombie-like? This can be a result of too much screen time, too much sugar, or other brain-numbing activities. If the time he spends alone in his room is good for him, it will show in a positive way.
Help your teen by verbalizing what you observe in his mood: "I notice that when you come out of your room, you seem cranky and irritable, but when you come home from volleyball you seem happy and relaxed."
This can teach your teen to reflect and make better choices without telling them what to do.
3. Are your teen's friends worried about him?
If you aren't sure if your teen's isolation is healthy or problematic, ask his friends if they have any concerns about him. Teens open up to their friends more easily than their parents, so if something's really wrong, they might know about it.
Many teenagers don't know how to handle it when a friend posts photos of themselves cutting, doing drugs, or talking about suicide — so they may not speak up if they see it. Give your teen's friends permission to inform you if they have any concerns, and tell them you will protect their anonymity.
4. Have you noticed a sudden drop or change in his friends, appetite, or sleep habits?
It might seem like your teen's door is always closed, and that may worry you, but it isn't necessarily a warning sign that something is wrong. Seeing a sudden drop in grades, appetite, sleep, or friendships is a stronger indicator of a problem that needs addressing.
Although teens may want to blame school, teachers, peers or even you for their problems, these sudden changes are often a result of how they're thinking or feeling about things.
Start by helping your teen get back to basics with healthy sleep and eating habits. Then, provide opportunities for your teen to lean how to manage his mind and emotions with stress reduction and life coaching skills.
5. Is your teen socialising online?
Your worries about social isolation may be put to rest if your teenager is doing homework with his friends over Facetime or playing online games against live opponents.
Instead of violating his trust by snooping, try simply asking your teen, "What do you do up there in your room?" You might be surprised by what he shares.Or, try being open about the top five things you do on your cell phone, and ask him to share the same.
If you want a strong relationship with your teen, leave your worries behind and keep the conversation friendly, not accusatory.
As you learn how to place even more trust in your teen and let go of your worry, make sure to carve out fun, relaxing time with them, too.
Keep up with family dinners and make time for game nights, shopping, or camping trips. Finding things teens enjoy doing with their parents can be challenging, but it helps you stay close during this natural separation process.
Worrying feels like good parenting, but it's annoying to teens and makes them want to keep things from you. Instead, listen to your teen and trust that your instinctual parenting intelligence will help you rise to any occasion that comes your way.
Torie Henderson is a life coach, teacher, and the owner of Life Coaching for Parents. She is also co-owner of Time for The Talk, a sex education class for parents and kids to take together. If you'd like to contact her about dealing with your own teen, you can reach her here.
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