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Feature Article


Respecting privacy and maintaining trust
when monitoring teens

Kelly Warzinik, MS, Extension Associate, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri Extension


As children become teenagers, parents may wonder what happened to the children who once shared information freely. Some parents may also be concerned when teens want to spend more time away from family. Teens’ increased need for privacy and time alone does not necessarily mean they have something to hide, it just means they are passing into a new phase.


Identity development is one of the most important developmental tasks for adolescents. During this time, teens need a little more personal space and time to explore who they are and who they want to be. They also need to be allowed to make choices and learn from their mistakes. What they do not need, however, is complete freedom and privacy. Teens still need to be monitored to ensure they are safe and are not participating in dangerous or illegal activities. This applies to their day-to-day activities both inside and outside the home, as well as their use of technology.


Sometimes there is a fine line between monitoring teens and respecting privacy. Teens often complain that their parents interfere with their independence, but they also appreciate their parents’ concern.


The following is a list of things that will help you foster a parent-child relationship that is based on trust:


  • Maintain communication
    Show genuine interest in things like school, friends, and likes and dislikes, but respect your teen’s need for privacy if he or she does not want to share everything. If you have a warm relationship, then your teen is less likely to think you are prying when you ask questions. If you have young children, explain your expectations at an early age. This will help your child feel more comfortable being open with you as he or she gets older.
  • Be direct
    Set clear rules and consequences for behaviors, and let your teen know that some things are unacceptable — like using alcohol and drugs or other illegal activities.
  • Respect boundaries
    If you are nosy or angry, it is not appropriate to snoop in your teen’s room or belongings. If your teen catches you, this could harm your relationship. It is much better to ask and check in with them to keep tabs on what your teen is up to.
  • Be aware
    Be able to recognize changes in behavior that may signal problems. Some signs include dropping grades, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, mood changes and hanging out with a different group of friends. These changes may be a sign that your teen needs help. If you are concerned about your teen’s safety or suspect illegal activities, you should talk with him or her. Have your teen in the room with you if you need to go through his or her things and explain why you decided it was necessary.
  • Listen
    Perhaps most importantly, listen more than talk. Assure your teen that you are available to answer questions and that you are interested in his or her thoughts, feelings and experiences. If you take time to listen you will learn more than you would by looking through book bags, bedrooms, e-mails and text messages.




Kerpelman, J., & Thorsen, P. 2005. Communicating with your teen: Trust. Principles of Parenting series: Guide HE-785. Alabama Cooperative Extension, Alabama A & M and Auburn Universities.


The Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Your child needs you! A guide to help your child lead a healthy, drug-free life. MetLife Foundation.


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Last Updated 11/04/2013