Whose Room Is It, Anyway?

Amid all the news hysteria yesterday about the runaway balloon over Denver and the possible 6-year-old pilot on board, another news story about another Colorado family quietly got my attention: the mother of one of the Columbine High School shooters has broken her 10-year silence.  In an essay for O magazine (naturally), Susan Klebold reveals the constant guilt she’s felt over the years, the many letters she’s written to victims’ families, the shock over finding out her son had been suicidal and wasn’t necessarily looking forward to prom like she’d thought.  “We didn’t know that he and Eric had assembled an arsenal of explosives and guns,” Susan Klebold wrote.  My heart goes out to her and any parent who has lost a child.  Her experience and those of others whose children have led a secret life are a wakeup call to parents on many issues, one being “privacy and kids”. The idea that a kid’s room is his “private sanctity” is heinous. 

I agree with what a local radio talk show host said this week about the subject: “When you start paying for the space, it’s yours.  Until you do, it’s mine.”  And that means I have the right to walk in my kids’ rooms at any time (well, I do knock first to make sure they’re dressed).  My teenager huffs and puffs about this rule, especially since I’ve started throwing anything left on her floor down the laundry chute each day while she’s at school.  But when I explain that not only do I own her room but have paid for just about everything I’m throwing down that chute, she (amazingly) is at a loss for words.  Some parents whine about how giving kids privacy is so important, that they have to call something their own– who the heck taught them that? These are the same parents who usually let their kids have a TV and/or computer while ensconced in their bedrooms, another parenting move which I think is wrong and another way to further remove parents from having insight into their kids’ life (and which I blogged about at

Not sure who started it, but this notion of “kids’ almighty privacy” is no doubt exacerbated when parents never have to clean their kids’ rooms, but rather employ hired cleaning help.  Or those who always let their kids do (or not do) the cleaning.  While anyone who has read this blog for long knows I’m all about kids and chores and cleaning their rooms, parents need to be the ones to clean their kids’ rooms at least once or twice a month, preferably when their kids aren’t home.  It’s an easy way to see into their lives without being overly intrusive. Are they sneaking food into their rooms? I know one binge eater’s mother who might have been tipped off to this problem if she’d been the one to empty her daughter’s trash or flip her mattress.   Susan Klebold might have found the guns and ammo.  While I haven’t made earth shattering discoveries, I have found, while cleaning, overdue library books, notes from school that should have been given to me, outfits I’d purchased still in the bag and past the return date…

Modern homebuilders have also encouraged the “separation of parents and children”.  My husband and I spent an entire year looking at prospective homes from 2005-2006, and I’d say 99.9% were designed with a “split master”– i.e., master bedroom downstairs, kids up.  Or master bedroom in one wing of the house, kids far away in another, “because parents want to be away from their kids,” explained the realtor, laughing.  Huh? I have to wonder if the houses in Littleton, Colorado were similar.  The house we finally decided on, with the master and kids (shock!) on the same floor, had been on the market, sitting empty, for a year.  “It was not having that split master that made it hard to sell,” a neighbor once said to me.  Sad.   As much as my kids can drive me crazy, I would not want to marginalize them like that.  If they’ve got a fever in the night, I don’t want them to have to walk  to Egypt to find me.  If they’re sneaking in past curfew, I want to know.  I’ve had parents tell me, who live in houses with the “split”, that their kids’ rooms are a disaster because they rarely go upstairs.  “What happens up there, stays up there,” one mom told me.  “I get lazy.” 

Well, it’s too scary of a world out there today to “get lazy”.  Not only should parents peruse their kids’ rooms whenever they want, they should have access to their kids’ computer, Facebook page (either as a “Friend” or simply whenever they ask), etc. and not be averse to looking in a kid’s journal if other signs point to trouble (and keeping quiet about it unless there’s a life or death situation).  Susan Klebold admits she might have been able to intervene in her son’s life had she seen his suicidal writings.  Knowing what kind of music and movies your teen likes, and I mean really knowing, doesn’t hurt, either, although I’m averse to punishment for what you might discover. (You cannot legislate taste!)

Teens need more choices and freedoms, not more privacy, to give them a sense of “ownership” and independence.  Like the choice to wear what they want (within school dresscode limits), the freedom to babysit or mow lawns or do other jobs to earn their own money, the choice to make good grades or not, the freedom to be at the mall with friends without a parent in tow.  And they need to be talked with, often, about anything and everything, at the dinner table, in the car, wherever, instead of treated like they’re some alien being whose silence shouldn’t be pierced and who need to be “left alone”.  Teens may say “Get away from me!” but they’re all crying out on the inside for their parents to keep paying attention to them, just like when they were toddlers.  And though they may not be putting marbles in their mouth anymore or skinning their knees, we have an even bigger job of “watching out” for them as they get older. 
We just sometimes have to do it in private.

2 thoughts on “Whose Room Is It, Anyway?”

  1. I do not recall having too much privacy growing up….my mother even read my diary, which horrified me at the time, but I understand now. If parents do not know what is going on in their children’s lives, how can they parent?

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