Dear Sober Dad,
Under what circumstances should I enter my teenage son’s bedroom?
Jane G., St. George, Utah
Only with a warrant from a grand jury.
Seriously, you raise an important question—the extent to which a teenager’s room is his or her private sanctuary.
Everybody needs privacy, and Sober Dad always asks permission of his children before he enters their rooms. He only enters those rooms when he has a specific need. General curiosity does not qualify.
One of the most important hallmarks of English common law is the idea that one’s home is one’s castle. While technically your teenager’s room is a part of your castle for which you pay mortgage or rent, nonetheless, it’s the only private space your teen possesses. If it’s a slovenly mess, you have every right to ask your child to do the responsible thing and keep it neat. But it’s possible to eyeball the state of messiness without actually stepping into the sacred precinct itself.
It’s a different matter if you suspect that your child is hiding contraband of some sort—their grades have slipped, their mood has suddenly shifted from open to sullen, if their decent friends have changed or disappeared.
In all these circumstances, a conversation with your child about what’s really going on is the first step; shaking down the room, Shawshank Redemption style, is only likely to widen any gap of mistrust or dislike.
One thing Sober Dad doesn’t really advise is kids having screens and unfettered internet access in their rooms, for obvious reasons.
When I was a lad, I had a small black and white TV that got all seven channels, and with the circular antennae on the back, could actually pick up two Spanish stations on VHF (if you’re interested, you can look that up on Wikipedia). The most outrageous thing I could do was to stay up and watch Johnny Carson’s monologue.
Today, of course, the Internet allows a river of filth to enter the home. It’s best to keep an eye on such matters and not wire your kid’s bedroom, even though “all the other kids” have Internet in their bedrooms.
You are not raising the other kids; you are only responsible for your own. Bottom line: keep both yourself and the internet out of your teenager’s bedroom. They’ll be grateful for the former and unhappy about the latter, but that’s their problem, not yours.