Parents of teens struggle with their kids’ secrecy and desire for privacy as they get older. It can be hard for parents to know if their teens are being safe with the choices they’re making. Are they sneaking out at night? Trying drugs and alcohol? Having unsafe sex? Do they feel isolated and alone? Are they experiencing depression or other mental health challenges and are hiding them?
All of these questions are enough to keep parents up at night. And yes, there is good reason for that to be the case. But it’s also true that teenage secrets aren’t always bad. As teens develop, they start to come into their own. They’re figuring out who they are, who they want their friends to be, what activities they enjoy, what they want to do when they grow up, and more.
Setting healthy boundaries and engaging in open communication about teenage privacy and secrets is crucial. If you’re a parent of a teenager, talk to them without judgment about what’s going on in their lives. Listen to what they have to say, and they’ll be much more likely to listen to you.
Why Teens Keep Secrets from Parents
Teenage secrets are normal during adolescence. Teens are developing their own sense of identity, which means they may not want to share everything with others. Secrecy and privacy are part of developing independence. They want to have their own life. Often teens confide in friends or a trusted adult, but it’s not uncommon for teens to keep secrets from their parents.
In fact, keeping secrets from parents is part of teens growing up and becoming who they want to be. If you’re a parent of a teenager, you’re probably very aware that your child isn’t telling you everything. That’s okay as long as your kids are safe. The problem with teen secrets is that sometimes they’re hiding dangerous behaviors.
Many adolescents experiment with things like drugs or alcohol. They might be sneaking out to meet their friends, taking the car when they shouldn’t, driving while under the influence, and lying to you about these activities. If parents don’t trust their teens, the risky behaviors they’re trying to hide from you might worsen or increase.
If you think your teen is hiding dangerous behaviors from you for fear of repercussions and punishment, it might be time to reassess how you’re disciplining them. Research shows that controlling, or authoritarian, parenting is associated with increased teenage secrecy, while authoritative parenting (characterized by responsiveness, autonomy support, and structure) results in fewer teenage secrets.
How Much Privacy Should a Teenager Have?
As your child gets older, it’s essential for both you and your child to set boundaries around privacy. For example, a healthy boundary for an adolescent to have some privacy is to give them space when they have friends over. Teens may want privacy so that they can talk to their friends about things they may not want to share with their parents.
There are some areas, such as social media and the internet, where teenage privacy may not be appropriate or safe. If they’re not sharing their browser history or social posts with you, it might be time to set some boundaries around the internet and social media usage to avoid teenage secrets about their online life. Cyberbullying is very common among teens and can be highly detrimental for their mental health. It’s also important to monitor the amount of time they spend in front of screens.
It’s a difficult balance to find between invading your teen’s privacy on the internet and keeping them safe. One way parents can monitor their teen’s social media usage is through an app called Bark. It allows you to monitor content, manage screen time, filter websites, and set location alerts. Parents who use this app should make sure that they let their teens know they’re using it and talk about the boundaries and rules associated with social media.
Why Parents Should Respect Their Child’s Privacy
Because teens are building their identities and figuring out who they are as individuals, having some independence is an important part of growing up. While it can be frightening for parents to let their teens keep secrets from them, it’s important to respect their privacy as they become young adults.
As kids get older, there are certain things that they just don’t want to share with their parents. If your teen is being secretive, it might be because they’re trying to sort themselves out. For example, you might have a teen who is exploring their sexual orientation or gender expression. They may not be ready to share because they’re still exploring what it feels like and aren’t prepared to talk about it. Or they may not want to tell anyone for fear of being misunderstood, bullied, or disappointing their parents. That’s why it’s so important to parent with compassion and make sure kids know they can be open and honest with you.
When dealing with teenage secrets, remember: We all need our privacy, even in the most intimate relationships. This includes relationships with family. It’s wonderful for parents to be close with their children, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to share everything all the time. Allowing your teen some privacy gives them a sense of autonomy and lets them know that they’ve earned your trust.
Teenage Secrets and Mental Health
Sometimes teens keep secrets because they’re struggling with their mental health. If you notice your teen spending more time in their room and less time with friends and family, this might be an indication that something is going on. Is your teen experiencing bullying or problems with their friend group? Whatever is going on, to keep it a secret from mom or dad isn’t helpful. In fact, keeping secrets from parents is associated with poorer well-being and increased behavioral issues. One study found that keeping teenage secrets leads to psychosomatic symptoms like increased asthma and sleeping issues.
When teens seem secretive, parents should also be on the lookout for signs of depression. Teens who are withdrawn, lethargic, have a change in appetite, stop caring about their appearance, or aren’t sleeping through the night may be experiencing depression. If their motivation is low or they don’t want to do the things they usually enjoy, parents should talk to their teens about what’s going on. Allow them space to sort through their emotions, but make sure you let them know that you’re there to talk and get additional support from a mental health professional.
One of the most common reasons for teen secrets is drug and alcohol use. Substance abuse often goes hand in hand with other mental health challenges, such as depression, low self-esteem, being bullied, and self-loathing. If a parent suspects that their teen is using drugs and/or alcohol, they need to step in and talk with them. Again, professional help may be needed. It’s important for parents to pay attention to potential signs of substance abuse, such as changes in behavior, a new friend group, physical symptoms like red eyes or constant sniffling, and sneaking out at night.
How to Build Open Communication with Your Teen
Open communication is crucial for making sure that your teen is safe. If your teen doesn’t feel heard, listened to, or understood, they’re most likely not going to share with you what’s going on. They’ll keep more secrets and want more privacy. This could lead to mental health issues further down the road if they feel isolated and unsupported. When teens’ needs aren’t being met, they can become angry and manipulative.
Set aside time to talk to your teen about what’s going on in their lives. Ask questions and really listen to what they have to say. If they feel like you understand them, they’ll be less likely to be secretive and private. Don’t be afraid of hard conversations. Talk about drugs, alcohol, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, school, and dating. Discuss what things are appropriate to be private about and what teen secrets are not okay. And work together to establish rules and boundaries to keep your teen safe.
In summary, it’s a fine line to walk for parents to respect privacy for a teenager while also making sure they’re safe and not doing things that will harm them. Parents should talk to their teens about what is and isn’t okay to keep a secret. Listen to teens when they say how much privacy they want and have an open dialogue about privacy, secrets, and boundaries.
How Treatment at Newport Academy Supports Family Connection
Parents of teens don’t have to navigate this challenging stage alone. At Newport Academy, we support young people ages 12–18 to build healthy emotional regulation, form a strong sense of self, and make positive connections with peers and mentors. Compassion and love are two of our core values. We believe that seeking mental health help is a strength, not a weakness. Regardless of what your child is going through, we’ll be there to help them increase their self-awareness, confidence, and self-esteem.
Moreover, we help teens and their parents foster healthy connections with one another to support family harmony and adolescent mental health. Family therapy, using the groundbreaking Attachment-Based Family Therapy modality, is the foundation of our approach to teen treatment. We understand that mental health challenges don’t exist in a vacuum—they affect everyone in the family. Hence, we work closely with families and keep them involved in their teens’ treatment at each step of the way. Along with family therapy, parents participate in peer support groups and Saturday programming, and are kept up to date with their child’s progress while they are with us.
To learn more about our family-focused approach to treatment and our nationwide residential and outpatient locations, contact us today.
- Adolescent counseling is provided by a licensed, professional counselor.
- There are many different types of therapy that include individual, group, family, trauma, and experiential.
- The main difference between counseling and therapy is that counseling typically addresses a specific issue while therapy is a more in-depth approach to heal underlying trauma.
- Newport Academy has a nationwide reach and provides residential and outpatient services to adolescents all over the country.
Frequently Asked Questions About Teenage Secrets
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