Why does my child care so much about privacy?

“Leave me alone!”

“I want to be by myself.”

As kids get older, their desire for privacy increases. Ten- and eleven-year-olds like occasional time alone, but many twelve- and thirteen-year-olds spend considerable time by themselves. This is a natural consequence of their growing independence; however, some parents find it troubling: “It doesn’t seem right when my daughter goes off to her room. It feels like she’s rejecting the whole family.” Parents remember how their young child used to follow them and how he felt most comfortable and secure when they were close by. They may wonder why he now wants to spend so much time on his own.

Kids often go into their bedrooms and shut the door because they want to relax in a quiet atmosphere. Some read, listen to music, draw, or organize baseball cards. Some enjoy private time in a room playing a video game, watching TV, using a computer, or talking on the telephone. Going off by themselves, kids are able to get away from the stresses and noise of younger siblings and household activities.

Kids also seek privacy to get away from adult demands. After a day spent with teachers and coaches, parents’ questions and expectations can seem overwhelming. And in some families, when a child is in sight, he’s given spontaneous chores: “As long as you’re in the kitchen, please set the table.” “Take Katie out to play.” “Help me straighten the family room.” A child learns that if he goes right to his room he’s less likely to receive added responsibilities.

In some cases, he may isolate himself in an attempt to escape from problems. He may be having trouble making friends or keeping up with schoolwork. He also may be retreating from family conflicts. Time alone can offer a short reprieve from difficulties, but parents should be concerned if he shows signs of depression, such as eating less, sleeping more, losing interest in friends and activities, moping, or appearing sad or angry.

If you’re worried about your child’s excessive desire for privacy, talk to him about your concerns. You may discover that he goes to his room out of habit, and your reminders may be enough to change his behavior. You may learn that he’s upset about school and homework or that he feels pressured by responsibilities or arguments at home. Try to decrease his stress – offer help with assignments, time with a tutor, fewer demands. Provide encouragement and positive attention.

As long as his time alone is not excessive, respect his wish for privacy and, if necessary, help him out. Ask younger siblings to keep their distance for short while. Allow him free time during the day. If your children share a bedroom, have them work out a schedule for time alone, or let each spend periods by himself in another room. If you allow your child adequate privacy, he’ll probably balance that by spending time with family and friends.

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