My soon-to-be eighth-grade daughter has suddenly started closing her bedroom door almost all the time and locking it sometimes. Should I ask why? Tell her to stop?
Thanks for this question. I think it is something that many parents of teenagers ask themselves: What is going on with my daughter (or son)? The next few years will be filled with tremendous growth for your daughter. Let’s discuss some strategies to make this period more comfortable for everyone.
Developmentally, young teenagers exist in a state of constant change. They are changing physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Being behind a locked door may be very comforting to her; it may be the break and calm she needs. The teenaged experience of puberty means mood swings, changing bodies, and new feelings. Make sure your daughter is aware of what is going on with her body and reassure her that everything will even out within the next few years.
Cognitively, she is learning how to reason and understand more complex issues, especially social issues. She may be developing her own opinion about some hot topics.
Emotionally, she may feel like her feelings are all over the place with little ability for her to control them. This is the perfect time to instill some healthy self-care habits such as getting enough sleep, spending some time outside and moving her body every day, helping her recognize how food nourishes her body, and learning some stress-relieving techniques.
Socially, your daughter may be having some of the biggest changes. Friends become more important than ever, and sexual attraction to certain friends may be developing for the first time.
Teenagers vacillate between independence and dependence and sometimes, not very smoothly. Listen to your daughter’s stories and check in about friends. Ask about old friendships that don’t seem as important anymore. This can be an exciting time for teenagers to develop friendships that represent who they see themselves as – members of the school’s spirit squad or drama club or the volleyball team. Listen to any concerns she may have about where she fits in socially and get to know her new friends. Continue to talk with parents and families of new friends and make sure there is supervision at parties and sleepovers, just like when she was younger.
This summer, limit the potential for exposure to risky situations, such as being unsupervised for long periods of time at friends’ homes. And in today’s world, social media and access to 24-hour news on their electronic devices presents challenges none of us encountered as eighth graders. I always recommend a phone-docking station located outside of bedrooms and monitoring social media presence. As a parent, you have to determine if you want to read through their texts and social media accounts. At a minimum, I would recommend limiting social media sites, knowing passwords to all accounts, and monitoring content and contacts on a consistent basis. Definitely, check in to make sure your daughter feels positive about the way she represents herself in the digital age.
You asked if you should ask your daughter why she locks the door and I say, yes, you should. Have this conversation lightheartedly – in the car, while doing chores or cooking together – where she doesn’t have to feel she is being accused of something. Teenagers have long days. Being in her locked room may give her an opportunity to relax. If you have younger children, it may ensure that no one comes in without knocking. This is a great time to review the family rules about personal privacy and how everyone should knock on closed doors.
If you continue to be nervous about her spending so much time on her own behind a locked door, ask her what she would like to do with the family. Is there a show the two of you could watch together on a large screen? Is there an activity she would be interested in doing? What about a book you both could read?
Most teenagers want to stay connected to their parents, albeit in a different way than when they were younger. It is important to respect their feelings as well as yours. There is no need to completely change the rules to accommodate her. If family dinner has always been a priority or attending worship service together is important, you can still have that expectation for her. In fact, keeping some expectations in place will help her remember who she is. Flexibility with some rules though, may show her you recognize her growing independence. Perhaps tell her she can lock the door during the day, but before bed, all doors must be unlocked for safety reasons.
When you were a teen, you may not have needed as much alone time as your daughter does, or maybe you wanted your family to be more connected with you. As you reflect back on your teenage years, share some of those stories with her. Let her know that your door is always open and then show her you mean it. Unfortunately, teenagers can have bad timing, often wanting to discuss their days at the end of the day, later at night. Try and be open to her when she comes to you and hear her out. Listen to her respectfully, but of course, request that she reciprocates that respect.
For your daughter, privacy and time alone may be important now. Work with her to find a middle ground that everyone can accept. And hang in there – she needs you now as much as she ever has. That need just has a different look to it, now that she is mature enough to make more independent choices.