It’s almost two o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and I’ve hardly seen my 13-year-old son. He slept in later than me, then I headed out for a run. When I returned home he let me know he had taken out the dogs and the trash, then he headed back up to his room. About fifteen minutes later I heard the shower running. And about an hour after that, he came down to make himself lunch. I can hear him walking around in his room, I hear his music, I hear drawers slamming, but I have no idea what he is doing up there.
All I know is I don’t see my son very much anymore and while I miss him terribly, I have realized he needs his privacy. I clearly remember needing mine as a teenager and I know I spent just as much time up in my own space as he does now.
It took me some time to get used to this. He went from hanging around the family, needing to be the center of attention, to retreating in his room every moment he could. I used to pester him about it and make him come and connect with us. I would pepper him with questions about what he was doing and what he was thinking about and why he needed so much time alone. I told him I missed him and wanted him to spend less time alone in his room.
And it was damaging our relationship. Deep down I knew he was pulling away just like all teenagers do and it is natural, but I was taking it too personally. Him needing to spend time alone is not something I need to take personally because it’s not about me. It’s about him. And it needs to be respected.
Dr. Peter Marshall is a child psychologist and author of “Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young” and has talked about this in great detail:
Privacy’s important for teens partly because they need to separate. It’s tempting to think that they’re just goofing off, but they spend a large part of their time just thinking about things, trying to figure out who they are, who they want to become. There’s a lot of work for them to do, and they need some space to do it.
We spend an awful lot of time and energy keeping a close watch on our kids when they are young. We tell them how to brush their teeth, we make sure they have their winter coat, we watch how other children interact with them at the park and make sure they use their manners.
And so when they start to pull off on their own it can leave a void for the parents and it’s natural to want to fill it.
I had to remind myself (and I still do), if I want my son to thrive and be independent and feel empowered as he grows up, I need to let him figure things out on his own; not just in the real life when he is interacting with others, but in his own space, too.
He is growing and changing so much I am sure it is hard for him to keep up with it all, too. He needs to be in a safe place where he can think about things. And right now, as hard as it is some days, and as much as I miss him, it is my job to make sure he has that safe space. After all he is only up in his room, he is still here, he is still around, and I am thankful for that since I know the time will come all too soon where that won’t be the case.
So I leave him alone, I make sure his brother and sister leave him alone, and I let him do his thing.
Of course if you feel your child has withdrawn too much or you are worried about strange behavior, then it’s our job as parents to get involved and get children what they need, but most teenagers are just trying to figure things out in a place that is quiet so they can daydream and get to know themselves. They’ve had constant attention for so long, they are ready to break free a bit and who can blame them?
Besides, they know we will be waiting for them to rejoin the family again when they are ready. They need to know it’s okay for them to spend time alone and will not be judged, punished, or made to feel like an outcast. We all want to be loved regardless of our choices and our teens are no different.
And believe it or not, they want us to know they love and care about us just as much as they always have, they are just asking for space.