Straight Talk Advice

Mom worried about her teens’ secretive behavior

Mar 03, 2015

Locked bedroom and hushed tones have Mom worried about drugs

Dear Straight Talk: There is something going on that my daughters don’t want me to know about. They've started locking their room and I hear them talking in hushed tones I can't understand. When I asked why they're locking their door, they said they need “privacy.” They aren’t shy about my seeing them nude, so what are they hiding? I worry it could be drugs, though I haven't  observed any symptoms. I haven't forced the issue, but I’m not sure how to best handle it. —Mom, 41, Toledo, Ohio

Taylor 17, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

My parents always knew when I was lying. I planned a secret Halloween outing freshmen year but my mom suspected and went through my texts. Snooping has its place, especially with younger teens, and I see why she did it. She goes through my 13-year-old brother's texts, Facebook, etc., because he's younger and has a bad track record. I'm almost 18, own my car and phone, and have earned her trust. If you're really worried, ask about it! My brother and his friend started closing the door to talk and Mom was all worried, until she overheard them, and I kid you not, they were talking about a girl he liked.

Justin 17, Brentwood, Calif. Ask me a question

Casually check their room while they're away. If you find signs of drugs or alcohol, knee-jerk anger can push them toward the problem versus a calm, firm resolve. Most likely it's a relationship issue, possibly even a friend's. If they're upperclassmen, let them figure it out. If they're younger, emphasize your desire to help, not hurt or embarrass them.

Elle 19, Mifflintown, Penn. Ask me a question

Some girls don't feel safe sharing guy issues, friend issues, or what really happens at school. I've kept many things from my parents due to lack of trust and disrespect for certain decisions they made which indirectly hurt me. Because parents erroneously chalk up everything up to “hormones”, I just yelled, “I'm PMS-ing, okay?!” when they showed concern. Beware this diversion tactic! Do your daughters have a clean track record? Maybe they're planning a surprise. Ask, conversationally, what kind of privacy they're referring to. Share from your own past the relief of ending a secret. It's up you to discern if they need help. Teens often don't ask for help even when they know they need it. Be the parent.

Stephanie 23, Calistoga, Calif. Ask me a question

Teens naturally want privacy and take some risks. Parents take risks when they snoop. Many friends with snoop-happy parents were resentful and rebelled outside the home. Plus, snooping can be addictive. That said, your teens' safety comes first. My mother told me, “If you make the biggest mistake in the world, tell me. I'll still love and help you.” Say something similar, plan some special outings and share your concerns. If you get nowhere and alarm bells keep ringing, it's time to snoop.

Kira 22, Moraga, Calif. Ask me a question

This could be something serious. But probably not drugs. Your daughters sound close. One could be protecting a secret for other, something they're afraid you'll react to. Note behavior changes and see what happens. Ultimately, trust your gut.

Dear Mom: I hope the panel was helpful. If there's legitimate cause, even teens want you to snoop. We've done columns on it. Conspiratorial whispers behind locked doors is hardly cause in itself but prolonged, or combined with a bad track record or other “off” behavior, including avoidance and/or isolation (generally timed so you won't see drug symptoms), it is. And I would never  ignore a gut feeling. It's your job to constantly delve. Their casualness around nudity rules out abuse (bruises), anorexia, and cutting/burning. FYI, it's not snooping to check social-media pages regularly and I recommend it. Use urbandictionary.com for translation.

  1. By A.C., age 15, from Carmichael, CA on 03/03/2015

    My sister and I also lock our door and talk in hushed tones, and it has nothing to do with drug use or anything else wrongful.  We talk in hushed tones because we like to talk about things we’re comfortable talking to each other about as sisters, but not comfortable with our mom hearing such as sexual feelings, female issues, and the body changes that come with puberty which my 13 year old sister is undergoing.  We lock the door, because my sister has become very shy and sensitive about her body and doesn’t like our mom coming in when she’s undressed or nude, but is completely comfortable with me.  It doesn’t really bother me for her to see me nude, but it does bother my sister, and from what I’ve read in Straight Talk it is not uncommon for girls this age to be more comfortable in this way with their sisters than with their moms.  We have also started locking the bathroom door.  Since we only have one bathroom, so we don’t have much choice but to share it in the morning, and our mom would sometimes walk in on us when one of us was on the toilet which bothered us.  We’ve been sharing the bathroom our whole lives, ever since we’ve been old enough to use the bathroom and it has never bothered us even if we’re having a b.m.  We have a good fan and air freshener so there’s no bad odor, so we don’t see anything to be embarrassed about since we’re sisters.  It surprised me when I read in Straight Talk a while back that many sisters are not comfortable sharing the bathroom this way, but in any event, it doesn’t bother us.  However, again, my sister is no longer comfortable with our mom coming in when she’s on the toilet and I’m not totally comfortable either, so we lock the door which irritates her, but she hasn’t ordered us not to lock it.

    If the issue were drug use, they couldn’t hide it for very long and you will see the signs.  It sounds to me like they are typical teenage sisters who are more comfortable with each other about certain things than with their mom like it is with my sister and me.

    A.C.

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  2. By J.S., age 16, from Anaheim, CA on 03/04/2015

    My sister has been locking me out of the room we share and I’m sure that something is going on with her that isn’t right, but I don’t know what, but half the time when I try to come in our room when she’s in there alone I find the door locked and I have to wait for her to let me in.  This is very irritating to be locked out of my own room, but it also concerns me about what must be going on but I don’t have a clue what it is.  It’s clearly not an issue of modesty as we’ve always been totally casual about undressing in front of each other and seeing each other nude and nothing has changed in that respect.  I see no sign of drug use and she has always been totally opposed to drugs, but something is going on with her.  We each have our own private spaces in our room and trust each other not to snoop, but this makes me want to snoop to see if I can find out what’s going on.  We used to be very close and confide in each other about our innermost secrets, but lately she’s been kind of standoffish toward me and something just seems off about her.  I’ve asked her if anything is wrong and she just shrugs and says “no.”  I really don’t know what to do, but I fear that something that could mean trouble is going on with her.

    J.S.

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  3. By M.L., age 39, from Lodi, California on 03/04/2015

    This really hits home with me.  I read Straight Talk to keep up on what is going on with teenagers since I’m the single parent of 16 year old twins (girl and a boy), but have never written before.  My twins are still sharing a room and I have read the columns that discuss the potential issues that can arise from such an arrangement and which give me the concerns that have been written about.  However, they prefer things this way.  After reading about the concerns in Straight Talk, I suggested to my daughter that she could start sharing my room since I am unable to afford another bedroom.  She was very much opposed and would prefer the current arrangement, so I did not force the issue.  It is much nicer for me to have my own room, and was only making the offer for her privacy, but she does not feel the need for this type of privacy from her brother, nor he from her.

    I have no evidence that anything incestuous is going on and do not want to accuse them of such a horrible thing with no proof.  However, they have started locking their door recently, claiming a need for privacy.  I do not understand this, since I have alwa;ys respected their privacy by knocking before entering their room.  Since even before puberty, my son has not permitted me to see him undressed and I have always respected this which I certainly understand, even though he is still comfortable with his sister.  My daughter has no problem with me coming in the room when she is undressed or even nude. 

    It may be for reasons totally innocent as A.C. describes.  However, it still concerns me that they are suddenly locking their door, especially with what I have read concerning opposite sexes sharing a room and seeing each other nude.  I shared a room with my sister, not a brother, which obviously is totally different.  We did not have a lock on our door and never felt the need for one.

    M.L.

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    1. By L.H., age 39, from Santa Ana, CA on 03/06/2015

      Don’t be so certain that nothing sexual is going on between your twins.  When my twin son and daughter were 12, I noticed that my daughter had started puberty when I had seen her nude.  My son did not permit me to see him nude and I respected this, but I figured that he was also either starting puberty or would be soon.  They were still sharing a room, and I suggested to my daughter that maybe she should start sharing a room with her 15 year old older sister.  However, she was very much opposed as she got along much better with her brother than with her sister.  She assured me that continuing to share a room and undressing in front of each other was not a problem for them.  I also knew that my older daughter liked having her own room and would be upset if her little sister moved in with her, so I decided to leave well enough alone at least for the time being.  Big mistake.

      Their room didn’t have a lock, but I always knocked before entering to respect my son’s privacy.  However, I started hearing them talking in quiet whispers and heard other sounds that somehow did not sound right.  My instincts told somehow told me that something wasn’t right, so I decided to enter the room without knocking one night when I heard things that sounded unusual.  I found them both nude and engaging in touching each other’s private parts and my son had a very stiff erection.  They were furious with me for invading their privacy, but I’m glad I did so.  They said they were just “fooling around” to see what it felt like to be touched like this.  However, I felt it would likely lead to something worse, so I put my daughter in her sister’s room that very night!

      Both girls were upset about it and mad at me.  However, I am convinced that I did the right thing.  My younger daughter wasn’t even comfortable undressing in front of her own older sister at first even though she had been comfortable with her brother.  However, it was just because it was something new, and after a short time it was no problem as it should be with sisters.  They had lots of conflicts about sharing a room in the beginning, but have adjusted to the arrangement and have learned to get along sharing a room.  They even now share the bathroom in the morning if necessary even when using the toilet which they had never been willing to do before, which makes things much easier for us since we only have one bathroom.

      Based on my experience, I now think that it is putting opposite sex teenagers with raging hormones in an unfair position to have them in the same bedroom and it should be avoided if at all possible.

      L.H.

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      1. By J.L., age 14, from Northwood, Ohio on 03/07/2015

        I totally agree that it puts a guy in a very unfair position to have to share a room with his sister when their teenagers.  I have to share a room with my 16 year old sister.  It doesn’t bother her for me to see her naked, but it does bother me and about a year it sometimes started making me get boners.  I try not to look but its hard to avoid when she’d very casual about her nudity in front of me.  I always turn my back to her when I undress so that she doesn’t see me naked from the front so she doesn’t see my penis or my boners, but she doesn’t worry about me seeing her from the front. We have a 17 year old stepsister who lives with us and has her own room and I think my sister should share a room with her but when I’ve tried to say this everybody thinks I’m just being selfish and want my own room.  Our stepdad favors his daughter and thinks she should have her own room since she’s the oldest and my sister doesn’t want to share a room with her because our stepsister’s really mean to her and always puts her down. 

        Our room doesn’t have a lock either and our mom just walks in on us.  It doesn’t really bother my sister even if she’s naked.  But it really bugs me if I’m naked or in my underwear.  If I protest, she uses the “I changed your diapers” excuse that I’ve read about that other moms use.  However, having your diapers changed by your mom when your a baby is TOTALLY different than your mom seeing you naked when your a teenager!

        J.L.

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    2. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 03/06/2015

      M.L.—I’m grateful L.H. wrote in to share her story with you and hope this convinces you. I am totally with her that putting opposite sex teens together puts them in an unfair position and invites trouble, even if no trouble is present at the moment. I’m also very aware that if asked, many teens will insist that they don’t want to be separated. This shouldn’t be something they are asked. It should be a fact of life announcement. An example for your case, “Your brother’s at the age where he needs in own room. This weekend, we’re moving you into my room.” Then make that happen, even if it means you do most or even all of the work. I really hope you do this, for the kids’ sake. It’s not like they aren’t still living together in the same house. Don’t worry about being unpopular or unreasonable. It’s your role to be the wise, strong one. If they get super upset about it, don’t give in, just say, “When you grow up and have your own place you can set the rules, but for now, you got me as a mom, and these are the rules.”  Let us know how it goes. —Love, Lauren

      For other readers: If there isn’t room in the master bedroom or it is occupied with two parents or a parent and s.o., the kids’ room should be divided with a real divider, a small corner of a main room or other space can be partitioned off with a screen behind which is a sleeping pad and other personals, or one child can sleep on the couch. It’s not that bad. I slept on the couch myself for almost 3 years in one house I grew up in. In other words there are MULTIPLE options to having a teenage girl and boy in the same bedroom.

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  4. By Sarah , age 41, from Westminster, CA on 03/04/2015

    My teenage daughters wanted a lock for their door, and I refused to allow it.  The only reason they could give me was a vague need for “privacy” which they could not really explain.  As with you, I don’t know what kind of privacy they are talking about since they make no attempt to hide their bodies from me if I come in their room when they are undressed or even completly nude, and that is the way it should be since they are girls and I am their mother.  Also, I do not barge in on them and always knock first. I therefore see no need for a lock and feel that if they want one, they must have something to hide. 

    I do hear them talking in quiet voices in their room, but I do not worry about that.  I just figure that they are having sisterly girl talk about things they would rather not have their mother hear.  My sister and I did the same in our room when we were teenagers and it was totally innocent, so I really do not think that this is something to worry about unless you see other signs that something is wrong.

    Sarah

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  5. By R.M., age 15, from Redding, CA on 03/07/2015

    Our room has a lock, and I actually wish that it didn’t.  My sister has become what I think is anorexic as her body is totally wasting away.  However, like others I’ve read about, you can only really tell when she’s naked.  She locks the door to our room and makes sure to cover herself up whenever our mom wants to come in and our mom doesn’t seem to have a clue, but I can’t help but see since I see her naked every day when she undresses.  She says it’s “her business” and that I’d better not tell our mom and I don’t want to make things difficult on myself when I have to live in the same room with her, and we don’t get along that great as it is.  If there was no lock on the door, then I could do what I’ve read about in Straight Talk and tell our mom in confidence and arrange to have a word or phrase to signal her to come in when my sister was naked and see for herself.  However, with a locked door, that isn’t possible.  Personally, I feel no need for a lock.  I couldn’t care less if our mom comes in when I’m naked whether she knocks or not.  I’m a girl and she’s my mom, so what is there is to worry about?  I have a hard time understanding the girls I read about in Straight Talk who aren’t comfortable with their moms in this way.  It’s totally different with a guy like J.L. writes about and I can understand why this really bothers him.  Our dad doesn’t live with us, but if he did I certainly wouldn’t want him walking in on me naked and if he tried to do so, I would also want a lock (although I don’t think he’s the kind of person who would do such a thing).  However, I don’t see why girls living with a single parent mom like us should need a lock on their door and in our case we would be better off without one.

    R.M.

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  6. By Margo, age 16, from Auburn, California on 03/08/2015

    The room I share with my stepsisters during visitations doesn’t have a lock, and I really wish it did.  Their mom (my stepmom) just walks in without knocking and it really bugs me, especially when I’m undressed and it’s even happened when I was completely naked!  She says that if we’re not doing anything wrong we should not have anything to hide and that a mother of teenagers needs to check on what they are doing and knocking first would defeat the purpose.  My stepsisters don’t like this either, but are used to it and seem resigned to it, and since she’s their mom it bothers them less when they’re undressed.  I’m not overly modest about nudity in front of other females and have no problem undressing in front of my stepsisters and wouldn’t even care that much if my stepmom came in when I’m undressed if she would knock first.  I just don’t like being barged in on at a time like that.

    My room at home does have a lock, but I never bother to lock it because my mom respects my privacy by knocking first.  I’m totally comfortable with her coming in even if I’m naked or in my thong, but I still appreciate the fact that she has the courtesy to knock first. 

    A lock should not be necessary if parents respect their kids’ privacy, but unless they have given reason that they cannot be trusted, their privacy should be respected in my opinion.

    Margo

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