Young People Ask . . .
Why Can’t I Have More Privacy?
Dear Watchtower Society:
I am 12 years of age. Why can’t I have my own privacy? My parents don’t trust me enough to allow me to have my own TV in my room. I know that they are concerned, but this is out of the question!
PRIVACY—teenagers often feel they are not getting their fair share of it. When 15-year-old Heather receives personal mail or phone calls from her friends, her mother has an irritating way of quizzing her about their contents. Even if Heather simply wants to spend some time alone in her room, her mother may be curious as to why she wants to do so.
Twelve-year-old Alison has a different problem. “My parents give me enough privacy, but my sister doesn’t. We have the same room. I sometimes come home early and start my homework, and as soon as she comes in, she starts telling me what happened at school . . . Then at night, when I’m still doing my homework, my sister and brother . . . just start barging into the room. They start wrecking it, and it’s me who has to clean it up.”—Listen to Us!, edited by Dorriet Kavanaugh.
Privacy means different things to different people, and individual needs vary. Some crave having a little bit of relaxing time alone. Others simply want some control over their time and personal possessions. Yet others want to be shielded from nosy siblings, schoolmates, and what they consider to be overly inquisitive parents.
What about you? Do you at times feel the need for some “space,” or privacy, in your life? If so, you are not unusual. Say the authors of The Healthy Adolescent: A Parents’ Manual: “Teen-agers want and need privacy.” Why, though, is privacy so important to youths? And why is it so often hard to get?
Privacy—The Need for It
The need for privacy is particularly acute when you’re a teenager. You are growing to adulthood, and so it’s only natural for you to want some measure of independence from your parents. According to researchers Jane Norman and Myron W. Harris, demanding privacy is one way teenagers ‘put emotional distance between themselves and other family members.’
Privacy also serves a number of basic human needs. According to social scientist Albert Mehrabian, a little bit of time to oneself can serve as a safeguard against the pressures of everyday life. Mehrabian claims that “too little privacy is basically a stressful thing. You get sick more often, you’re accident prone, you’re irritable—you don’t get along with people—and if the situation persists, you get depressed.”
Why, even the Son of God once said to his disciples: “‘Come, you yourselves, privately into a lonely place and rest up a bit.’ For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure time even to eat a meal.” (Mark 6:31) On that occasion, privacy was just what they needed! Of course, they were adults. However, many youths might feel a similar need. Consider young Erika. When she is upset, she finds it best to avoid being around people. “They frustrate me,” she explains. “It’s natural to want to be alone a certain amount of time. You have to have some privacy or you become uptight or depressed.”
Research indicates that in moderate amounts solitude is beneficial. Says the book Being Adolescent: “People need to be alone to develop their individuality.” It adds that “provided loneliness is kept within bounds—the absence of others makes it possible to order our thoughts, to concentrate better.” The authors’ study of 75 teenage youths revealed that after a bit of solitude, the ‘psychological states’ of the youths improved. “In addition to being more alert, teenagers report being significantly more cheerful and strong right after solitude.”
Interestingly, we read in the Bible that the patriarch Isaac was “out walking in order to meditate in the field at about the falling of evening.” (Genesis 24:63) Weighty responsibilities were soon to be placed upon him. Such private moments doubtless helped Isaac to organize his thoughts and relax.
Privacy—Why It Is So Hard to Get
The magazine American Health: Fitness of Body and Mind reported on the findings of Dr. Lawrence Fisher, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, saying: “Teenagers are healthier, emotionally and physically, if they have adequate privacy.” Why, then, is it so often difficult to get it when you are young?
You may readily agree with the authors of The Healthy Adolescent: A Parents’ Manual, who say: “It’s important for [teenagers] to have their own . . . private thoughts, their mail, phone calls and diaries untouched by others.” Your parents, though, may beg to differ, feeling they should be privy to all the goings-on in your life.
Concerned, or suspicious if they notice you spending a lot of time in your room with the door closed, your parents may even intrude upon the time you spend alone. Or like Keith’s parents, mentioned at the outset, they may want to monitor closely what you watch on television or what movies you see. At times, parental intrusions appear to some youths to be excessive. “When I have a boy over,” complained one 16-year-old girl to a newspaper columnist, “my mother thinks it’s horrible if we shut the door while we’re in my room. She always yells loudly, ‘Leave that door open!’ It embarrasses me . . . We aren’t doing anything.” Yet, Mother is right, leaving the door open is proper and a good protection against temptation to wrongdoing.
Privacy may also be limited by your circumstances. In many countries, living space is at a premium, and families live crowded together in a single room. Even in affluent lands, many families cannot afford to provide each child his own room. This may lay the groundwork for countless battles over living space. “Now I don’t even have my own room anymore,” says a young girl who suddenly found herself in a family of four children after her mother remarried. “I have to share everything.”
Rights Versus Duties
Inquisitive parents, nosy siblings, intrusive stepsiblings, limited living space—these can be real sources of irritation for a teenager who simply wants a little privacy. However, more important than personal “rights” are God-given duties and responsibilities.
For example, parents are commanded to “train up” their offspring. (Proverbs 22:6) At times this includes their limiting your privacy. They know from experience that too much isolation can be unhealthy, resulting in a youth’s becoming lethargic, depressed, or self-centered. As Proverbs 18:1 says: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing.” They also know that “foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy”—or a girl. A young person “let on the loose” without guidelines or restraints may thus easily harm himself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. (Proverbs 22:15; 29:15) Little wonder, then, that parents view it as a duty to monitor your privacy.
You too have a solemn duty. “Honor your father and your mother.” (Ephesians 6:2) That means not rebelling or going against your parents’ wishes but cooperating with them to the best of your ability. But what if they place what you feel are unreasonable restrictions upon you? Your being open, honest, and completely trustworthy will likely result in a lessening of very close scrutiny. Likewise with the problems that result from sharing with siblings—sensible steps can often be taken to improve the situation. A future article will discuss some of these things.
In the meantime, make the most of your situation. Limited privacy is the lot of millions of youths. Try to handle your situation with a sense of humor, and avoid getting frustrated or irritable. That would only make a difficult situation worse. And keep in mind that proper supervision of your freedom by loving parents who care is a protection and blessing. Be grateful for it.
[Picture on page 26]
Privacy is often hard to find when you are sharing a room with a sibling