You’ll meet a lot of parents in PTA meetings: helicopter parents, free-range parents, Republican parents who insist on equipping security guards with guns, Liberal parents who want stricter vaccination policies, soccer moms, parents who don’t get this is voluntary but act like they have better places to be, and parents of all races and backgrounds. I try not to judge parenting styles since we all have our own thing going, but what really grinds my gears is when a parent tries to insist that their parenting style is better than everyone else’s and tries to judge, criticize, or forces their practices down other parents’ throats.
The other day, I was talking to some of my PTA friends about something so trivial that I can’t even remember what it was about. But it was related to time management, so I told them about the time my husband, my son and I overslept and were running late for my cousin’s wedding and all of a sudden, Ms. Perfect Mom joins the conversation, appalled at something I said. Apparently, based on what I said, she inferred that my son’s door was locked. She then proceeded to tell us how she practiced a no-locked-door policy in her home and how her kids could keep the door closed, but never locked.
Like many of my friends, I was a bit annoyed that she proceeded to make a big deal out of it. Back then, I didn’t even think that a “no-locked-door” policy was real apart from her home, but one search on the internet showed that there were other parents who practiced this and thought it was necessary. I have a good relationship with my son, and while I don’t practice a no-locked-door policy at home, there are times when he leaves his room wide open (mostly in the summers, when he wants to keep the air flowing), when he keeps the door closed, and when he keeps the door locked.
I’ve never been one to demand he keep his door open because I’ve taught him from an early age that that is his space. He keeps it clean, he brings out his dirty laundry, and in return, that becomes his personal space in the house. And I don’t know about you, but enforcing a policy just ruins the semblance of privacy he has.
The Value of Privacy
At one point in their pubescent and teenage years, your child will eventually want more privacy. If you haven’t enforced a locked door policy at an early age, they may start closing and locking their bedroom doors. As a parent, you might be worried that they’re doing something bad: you assume they’re doing drugs in your home, are on the phone with shady people, committing self-harm, or visiting adult websites on their computer.
But chances are, they’re more likely to close and lock their door simply because they want more privacy. Whether your child likes to dance in private or just be alone after a day surrounded by other people, they just need their privacy the same way other adults do, even if they’re still young.
Your kids will inevitably become adults one day, and while you can rub it in their faces that you’ve already seen them naked as babies, they’re not babies anymore. It’s not just about walking in on them while they change, it’s also the fact that you are intruding in their sense of privacy. I don’t get parents who pull the “my house, my rules” card when they get angry because their door is locked. They have a right to their privacy and teaching them that you’re in a higher position than them and are entitled to barge in their personal space gives them the toxic message that other people can do the same – and that they can do the same when they get older.
Knock – and Then Wait
I’ve learned to respect my son’s space. If the door is locked, knock and wait. If the door is closed but unlocked, knock and wait until you get the signal that it’s okay to enter. Barging in unannounced violates their privacy and shows that you don’t respect them enough to give them their space. The purpose of knocking isn’t just to announce you’re there and then give them a split second to react. You have to wait.
If you think that leaving all doors unlocked will prevent children from doing bad things in your home, you are certainly mistaken. Children are curious, and if you keep acting like they’re doing bad things behind closed doors, they’re going to be sneaky about it. That means they’re more likely to lie to you, less likely to trust you, and will be more effective in hiding what it is they’re doing because they’re afraid of you finding out.
Wait for the Warning Signs
The only time you should be worried about your child’s locking their door is when you see warning signs. If you have atrusting relationship with your child, they will tell you when they need help, or at least they’ll show visible signs you can catch. Otherwise, don’t think that you’re entitled to break into their space.
Respect Personal Space (and the Science Behind It)
Children asking for their personal space isn’t just a phase, there’s actually a science behind why they need it. According to neuroscientist Michael Graziano, humans have a general personal space between each other, which is why we generally try to avoid making skin contact with each other even on a busy street. But we also have a second skin, which is something the brain creates as a buffer zone around the body, which becomes the actual “personal space.”
Peripersonal space is the space the brain needs, depending on context such as the people you’re with. When you’re in a busy street and a stranger is walking beside you a foot away, you wouldn’t think too much about it because you have limited space on the street. But if it’s an empty street and the stranger matches your footing and walks a foot away from you, the social circumstances dictate that they’re invading your personal space because they can walk elsewhere.
This is your second skin at work, which has provided humans with protection against predators by triggering your instinct. If you have a personal relationship with a person, you’re less likely going to mind if their skin touches yours, but if a stranger tries to touch you, your instinct is to protect yourself or you just generally feel a sense of discomfort.
And according to Graziano, part of that personal space are our belongings and the tools we use. So, you have a room with your clothes, your bed, your books, and your other belongings – that makes your child’s room their personal space. The moment you barge in uninvited, you are invading your child’s second skin.
For these reasons, I’m never going to ask my son to always keep his door open and enter when I please. I know a lot of parents won’t agree with me, but I believe in respecting his boundaries and giving him the privacy and space he deserves.
What about you? Do you think parents should give their children personal space, or would you rather practice a “my house, my rules” type of parenting? Leave your answers in the comments!