Open-Door Policy for Dating Teens

Jan Faull, MEd, helps a mom strike a balance between enforcing house rules and giving her teen the privacy he needs.
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Q. My 13 year-old son has a new girlfriend. She seems very nice and we have an open and trusting relationship with him. However, when she comes over my husband and I do not think that they should be in his bedroom with the door closed, no matter how innocent the situation (i.e., listening to music, chatting, studying, etc.). He disagrees. Are we wrong to be insistent about this?

A. First, several questions. Why do you want the door open? Why does your teenager want the door shut? What do you fear your son and his girlfriend will do in his bedroom with the door closed? I suspect you most likely fear (and justifiably so) that your son and his girlfriend will end up having sex if the door is closed; and this is the activity that you want to prevent by insisting that it remain open.

There are situations where compromise and negotiation are reasonable when establishing policies and regulations for the house, but boys and girls behind closed doors spell sexual trouble. As a parent, it is your responsibility -- not your children's -- to set rules and protocols with respect to how you manage your home. Your son will probably disagree with your decision; let him. Then tell him, "You can be angry about the open-door-bedroom rule. You can think it's unfair and unreasonable. You can pout and complain; but the policy stands." This is not an issue of trust, but an issue of biological certainty. Teenage hormones rage out of control; and it's not unrealistic for you to presume that sex is on their minds.

Make the open-door policy a standing rule by insisting that the policy applies at all times, even when boys come over. You're more likely to get compliance if you consistently expect the bedroom door to be open when visitors are in your home. Privacy is very important during a teen's development; and as a parent, it can be tricky to balance your need for vigilance against your son's need for time with his friends. With that in mind, take these steps when his girlfriend is visiting:

  • Don't sneak around spying on them

  • Do make noise when you're near your son's room

  • Allow a certain degree of privacy for handing holding, silly behavior, conversation and, yes, kissing

  • Make intermittent visits to the vicinity around his bedroom while tending to household chores

There are few protections you can provide your teenager as he starts venturing out into the world, but you can discourage him and his girlfriend from having sex in your house, especially while you are there. By making your presence known and felt, you provide controls for them that they may not have if left to their own devices.

Finally, now is the time for an open dialogue between you and your young adolescent regarding your fears around his budding sexual behavior. You can explain your concerns to him about his sexual health and development. It's important that he understand the consequences of his behavior and the risks involved, such as the possibility of a pregnancy, the burdens of being a teenage parent, the responsibility you would have to bear if they had been having sex in your house, STDs, etc. It won't be a comfortable conversation, but it is necessary.

In the meantime, stick to your parenting guns on this one; you'll breathe more freely when you all are under your roof!


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