Straight Talk Advice

Should teens be allowed to lock their bedroom door?

Jan 27, 2015

Sisters with new stepdad want security of a locked bedroom door

Dear Straight Talk: My sister and I want a lock for our bedroom door. We have a new stepfather and we feel uncomfortable not being able lock our door when we’re undressed. He’s good to us, rarely comes inside our room and always knocks beforehand. Even so, we would feel more secure if we could lock our door at certain times. —Jodie, 16, Lodi, Calif.

Brie 23, London, England Ask me a question

Your home sounds “lock free”. Since he’s got a good track record, ask for a partition to change behind so you can feel comfortable.

Justin 17, Brentwood, Calif. Ask me a question

I understand not allowing a lock if there are suspicions around drugs, alcohol or sex. But if a teen demonstrates responsibility, academic stability and self-respect, having the choice to lock one's door is powerful developmentally and should be available.

Brandon 22, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

I wouldn’t press this. Repeatedly asking for a lock can quickly turn into parental allegations of drug/alcohol abuse or sex. In two years you’ll be gone, free to lock whatever doors you want. However, if your stepfather DOES give you reason to worry, speak to your mother, or, if needed, the police.

Icis 16, Detroit, Mich. Ask me a question

When one door closes, another opens. Your harmless intentions to lock out your stepfather can give way to options far beyond that. Plus, a bedroom is a portrait of life. If the room is messy, life is a tornado; if neat, experiences are pure and collected. If the portrait includes a locked door between your stepfather and you, there will be a constant obstacle in your relationship. Instead of locking the door, simply announce your need for privacy. It’s your room and respect should be given. The latch to my life was only sealed when negative emotions became overwhelming. My self-quarantine got me classified as depressed, antisocial and unstable. I was on constant watch by my guardians because I placed myself on the opposite side of a door. If the door clamp never existed, I could’ve received support much sooner. Ask yourself, when turning the lock, are you locking everyone else out, or yourself in?

Stephanie 23, Calistoga, Calif. Ask me a question

While I never had a lock, my mom and I built a trusting relationship and she respected my privacy. Thongs + stepdads = awkward for sure, but put yourself in Mom's shoes. Parents worry teens will isolate or get into trouble behind closed doors. Suggest trading the lock for good grades and a clean room. Or substitute the lock with agreed-upon private hours, a do-not-disturb sign, and strict protocol for knocking.

Maddie 15, Cotati, Calif. Ask me a question

You should always have the right to a locked door! I rarely don't lock mine because my family constantly invades each other’s personal space. With a new male presence in the house you should be able to feel secure.

Ryann 17, Tustin, Calif. Ask me a question

The thought of being walked in on nude is the worst! Yet locked doors scare parents. Communicate the seriousness of feeling insecure in your own home. Promise to lock it only when changing.

Dear Jodie: Lots of ways to look at this! While locks can invite problems, if a teen is doing well and isn't abusing the lock, I see no problem with privacy locks found on most bedrooms and bathrooms, which can be “popped” open easily with a nail — or removed if need be. Any other locks are out of the question. That said, since your mom doesn't want locks, Brie's partition idea and rules for knocking should bring you security while dressing. If you sense potential for sexual abuse, however, I empower you to create a secure door on your own (a rubber door stop costs about $7) and report the situation to a teacher or counselor.

Editor’s Note: My relationship with all four of my teenagers was like Stephanie describes. We built a trusting relationship with each other and they never gave me any reason to violate their privacy — but, believe me, if they had, I would have. It's a parent's job. There were no privacy locks on the bedroom doors in that house and nobody complained. I always knocked before entering if their door was closed, and they always beckoned me to enter. Any other response, unless they were dressing, would have been suspect as Brandon notes. The bathroom doors did have privacy locks, but with that little hole in the center, you could easily "pop" them open by inserting a nail into the hole in the knob in an emergency.

While all locks can be abused and cause serious problems, and Icis describes one such example, it just requires a screw driver for a parent to simply remove the doorknob and/or whatever hardware has been installed inside the room to create a lock. In the case of doorknob removal, the door won't even latch, much less lock, however, the hole left by the removal should be covered with tape to retain visual privacy. I recommend that parents threaten doorknob removal immediately if a lock is abused, and follow through immediately if the threat doesn't change the behavior. I also recommend going lock free with the next doorknob you install.

All this goes out the window in cases of suspected or actual sexual or physical abuse. Here, I empower any teen or child to do whatever it takes to create a secure door, whether that's with hardware on the inside, or better, so you aren't in trouble for "marring" the doorframe, buy a rubber door stop at any hardware or office store. They can be very effective for not allowing a door to open. I urge you, if this is your situation, to also report the problem. I know how scary that can be and hope you click and read the column by Hana, who went through this, for much-needed insight and empowerment. —Lauren

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  1. By Sarah, age 16, from Fair Oaks, CA on 01/27/2015

    I agree that a lock shouldn’t be necessary when the situation is as described by Lauren.  The door to my room when I’m at home with my mom does have a lock, but I don’t bother to lock it because she respects my privacy by knocking first.  Since she’s my mom, I don’t care if she comes in even if I’m nude or in my thong, but I still appreciate the fact that she knocks first instead of barging in.  The same with the bathroom.  I don’t lock the door there either.  I don’t really mind if she needs to come in even if I’m “on the facility,” but again I appreciate the fact that she knocks first and asks if it is OK to come in.

    It’s totally different when I have to go to my dad’s for visitations. I share a room with my stepsisters and their room doesn’t have a lock and my stepmom just walks in any time she feels like it.  My stepsisters seem resigned to it, but it really bothers me.  She’s walked in several times when I’m in my bra and thong underwear and a couple of times when I was completely nude.  She couldn’t understand why it should bother me since “we’re both girls,” and I was already nude in front of my stepsisters.  I’m not overly modest with other females and have become comfortable undressing in front of my stepsisters and having them see me nude.  I wouldn’t even care that much if my stepmom came in when I was undressed if she would knock first, but it really bugs me to be barged in on at a time like that even though “we’re both girls.”  I’m too embarrassed to talk to my dad about something like this, so I just have to live with it, but I really think she should have more respect for my privacy.

    Sarah

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    1. By J.B., age 15, from Santa Ana, CA on 01/27/2015

      I have this same problem with my mom that you have with your stepmom, but it’s worse for me since I’m a guy, and she can’t even use the “we’re both girls” defense.  She just barges in on me and my twin sister without warning.  My sister doesn’t like it but it doesn’t bother her near as much when she’s undressed since she’s a girl, but it REALLY bothers me.  Our mom doesn’t see why I should mind her coming in when I’m undressed when it doesn’t bother me to undress in front of my sister and she’s my mom and “changed your diapers.”  She says she doesn’t really look anyway, but I feel like she does.  It’s hard to explain in words why I’m comfortable with my sister but not her, but that’s how I feel and maybe it’s because were twins and are very close. And unlike some I’ve read about in Straight Talk, this does not create sexual issues for us.  Just last week, there were comments about girls who aren’t comfortable with their moms seeing them naked, so it’s certainly not unreasonable for a guy.  At least our bathroom has a lock and we can lock her out when were sharing it in the morning as even my sister doesn’t want her coming in when she’s “using the facility.”

      Since she won’t let us have a lock, I think she should at least knock first and give me a few seconds to make myself “decent” and not exposed.

      J.B.

      Reply to this comment

  2. By Sharon, age 16, from Carmichael, CA on 01/28/2015

    No offense intended, but sounds to me like you’re being a little too paranoid.  You say that your new stepfather is good to you, rarely comes in your room and always knocks beforehand.  So what exactly are you worried about that you need a lock for?  It would different if he were a pervert or sex abuser, but it sure doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

    My little sister who is 11 has the same kind of paranoia and I don’t understand it.  Our parents are divorced and our mom has a new boyfriend who frequently spends the night.  Our room doesn’t have a lock on the door and my sister really wants our mom to get one so that she can lock the door when he’s here and is really mad that our mom won’t get one.  She’s says she’s worried that he “might walk in on her naked.”  I think this is really stupid, especially when he has never even come in our room, not even once.  I’m not the least bit worried that he might barge in when I’m naked.  My sister never worried about this when our dad lived with us and he always respected our privacy, but so does our mom’s boyfriend who is a very good person and actually treats our mom much better than our dad did the last few years they were together.  Since I’m her big sister, my sister doesn’t have a problem with me coming in the bathroom when she’s on the toilet if I need something or want to get in the shower and doesn’t lock the door when it’s just our mom and me at home.  But when our mom’s boyfriend is here, she’s started locking the door which is very frustrating for me if I need to get in there.  She’s actually worried that he’s going to walk in on her when she’s going to the bathroom if you can believe that.  I am 100% certain that he would never do such a thing.  I don’t lock the door in case my sister or my mom needs to come in, and he’s never tried to walk in on me on the toilet and I’m not the least bit worried that he ever would.

    As Lauren says, locks should not be necessary as long as parents and other adults respect the kids’ privacy.

    Sharon

    Reply to this comment

    1. By Mindy, age 15, from Monterey, CA on 01/29/2015

      Give your sister a break.  Whether or not you agree with her, her feelings are real to her and she’s also younger and less mature which could be why she’s more worried about this than you about having a new male figure in the home.  You’re probably right that your new stepfather in no threat, but her fears are still real to her.  After our parents divorced, our mom went through a series of boyfriends who would spend the night.  None of them ever tried to do anything wrong with me, but for some reason some of them gave me “bad vibes” which is the only way I can describe it and it made me nervous to undress without locking the door to my sister’s and my room.  My sister also thought I was being stupid and none of them ever tried to come in our room, but I still felt more secure locking the door when I was undressed.  The same with the bathroom.  I didn’t worry about locking the door when it was just my mom and my sister and me in the house and I really didn’t care if they came in if I was just taking a pee as long as they knocked first, but there was no way I could feel comfortable in there when her boyfriends were there without locking the door.  I therefore don’t think it’s unreasonable to lock the bedroom door when you’re undressing and there’s a new male in the house.

      Mindy

      Reply to this comment

  3. By Dianna, age 41, from Vacaville, CA on 01/30/2015

    I’m the single mother of daughters who are 17 and 14.  My older daughter wants to get a lock for the room they share for “privacy,” and my younger daughter really doesn’t care one way or the other.  I could understand it in the situation described by Jodi with a new stepfather in the home or by Sarah with a stepmother who will not respect her privacy, but I do not see why my daughter feels the need.  As with Sarah’s mother, I respect my daughters’ privacy by knocking before entering their room and they don’t make a special effort to cover up if they happen to be undressed or even nude, so I do not understand what kind of “privacy” she is talking about, and it makes me wonder if she is hiding something from me.  However, I have no evidence that this is the case.  I see no evidence of drug use and she is an excellent student and very well behaved.  I have seen her nude in just the last few days and she is definitely not anorexic or a cutter as has been written about in Straight Talk as something that teenage girls hide from their mothers.  I have a gentleman friend, but it is a casual relationship and he never spends the night, so that is not the issue as it is for some of the others who have written.  She has also started locking the bathroom door when she and her sister are sharing it in the morning, even though I never tried to walk in on her in the bathroom and never would, and she’s totally comfortable sharing the bathroom with her sister even when having a bowel movement.

    I just don’t understand her need for a lock, so I am not going to allow it unless she can convince me that she has a valid reason.

    Dianna

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  4. By Lisa, age 16, from Anaheim, CA on 01/30/2015

    I say give it a little time, and I’ll bet you’ll feel comfortable with him and won’t feel the need for a lock.  I felt the same way at first when I had a new stepfather and wanted a lock for our room.  My brother wasn’t worried about it and said he didn’t even care if our stepfather came in our room when he was naked since they’re both guys, but it did concern me.  My mom made a deal with me and said that if my stepfather ever said or did anything that made me uncomfortable in a sexual way, she would get a lock for our room.  Nothing ever happened and after about six months, I was totally comfortable with him and no longer felt the need for a lock, and he has never tried to come in to our room without knocking and asking if it is alright to come in. 

    Lisa

    Reply to this comment

  5. By Sue, age 16, from Oregon, Ohio on 01/31/2015

    It’s my stepsister who walks in on me since I can’t lock the door, and it really bugs me.  My stepsisters have their own rooms, but when I go there for visitations, they have to share a room and I stay in one of their rooms.  My stepsister whose room I stay in makes no secret of the fact that she resents having to give up her room for me when I’m there.  I’ve offered to take turns sharing a room with one of them to keep the peace, but they say that if they have to share a room anyway, they would rather share with each other rather than with me, so what am I supposed to do? 

    Her room doesn’t have a lock, and she thinks that since it’s her room, she has the right to walk in on me any time without knocking and she couldn’t care less if I’m undressed.  She says she doesn’t have to knock before coming in to HER OWN ROOM! Sometimes she goes out of her way to make excuses to walk in on me when she knows I’m likely to be undressed or nude like when I’ve just taken a shower or am getting dressed in the morning or getting undressed for bed.  If I complain I get the “don’t you know that girls are all the same?” line.  Of course I know this and I’m not shy about undressing in front of other girls and have no problem when friends see me nude, but I still don’t like being walked in on like this. 

    I don’t know how I can ask for a lock when it isn’t even my room, and I don’t want to get her in trouble by complaining to my dad and stepmom, since she already doesn’t like me and makes things as difficult as possible, but I think this is unfair and it really bothers me.

    Sue

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  6. By Robert, age 43, from Santa Rosa, CA on 02/01/2015

    I am a recently divorced father of 2 teenage daughters.  They are with their mother full-time and I have visitations with them every other weekend.  My ex-wife kept the home in the divorce as I wanted the girls to have a home, and I moved into a 2 bedroom apartment so that there would be a private room for the girls to share during visitations.  The room did not come with a lock and they say they want one for privacy.  I told them that I do not see the need as I will never come in their room without knocking and getting their permission to enter.  This is the way it was in our home when our family was together, and they never expressed a need for a lock on their bedroom door.  However, they are now adamant that they need a lock for “privacy.”  I would not be a big deal to install a lock even though it is unnecessary. However, this really hurts as it makes me feel as if they do not trust me when they are alone with me.  In their entire lives, I have absolutely NEVER given them any reason to think that the cannot trust me or that I would ever do anything improper with them, so I do not understand this.

    Robert

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    1. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 02/03/2015

      Robert—I don’t blame you for feeling confounded, even hurt. I don’t know if the other letters here gave you any help, but I will share my thoughts (not that they are black and white… or even right). My FIRST thought, if they are both responsible and not in any kind of trouble: Get them a lock (the typical privacy lock that can be popped open in an emergency). They are going through an avalanche of insecure feelings due to the divorce. They are also females and many of us females have what most males cannot relate to AT ALL. It is what I consider an archetypal fear of men (not unfounded statistically) and thus a very strong desire for the feeling of extra security, however superfluous, such as a locked door.

      If, like I said, they are responsible and not in any kind of trouble (consult with mom on this to see… sometimes a divorce can bring on trouble very quickly), generously and shrugging off any hurt (it’s not intentional), get them the lock. It’s like giving kids complete access to the Band-Aids when they’re little. Let them feel secure and use all they think they need, even it’s 20 a day. Your gesture will make them feel secure and protected by you, it says to them that you are all about making them feel secure even if it seems dumb to you. Now, since a lock has extra powers that a band-aid doesn’t, such as isolating themselves and/or hiding something, set rules that it can only be used when it makes sense (such as when they’re dressing… ask them what makes sense and come up with rules accordingly), AND since you are their MAIN PROTECTOR, if you feel it is being abused, you will TAKE IT OFF period. I recommend this DUAL approach: “Here, let me make you feel secure with a lock—of course!!” and “Please know that I am the main protection here and I control this lock if you start going down a bad track. I will not let ANYTHING bad happen to you!” You taking this papa bear approach along with the generosity of giving them the lock (and not taking it personally), actually provides them a DOUBLE feeling of security.

      The other approach is to keep “forgetting to get to it”, and maybe in a month or two, they will forget they needed it as they adjust to the new setting. That said, if they keep asking, I would just get one and treat as I mentioned. Please let me know what happens. —Love, Lauren

      Reply to this comment

  7. By Beth, age 40, from Petaluma, CA on 02/01/2015

    I would never allow my daughters to have a lock on their door, and they have never expressed a need for one.  If they wanted to lock the door, I would feel that they had something to hide.  I don’t bother to knock before going into their room, and they have never indicated that they need me to do so.  I feel that they should not be doing anything they would not want me to see, and as their mother there is nothing wrong with my seeing them undressed or nude and they are totally comfortable with this which is they way it should be with any mothers and daughters and with sisters.  In fact, for the reasons that have been written about in Straight Talk, including just last week, it is clear that a mother should be seeing her daughters nude so that she will see any signs of things such as anorexia or cutting, and it should not be considered an invasion of privacy for a mother to see her own daughters this way.  Their father respects their privacy by not going into their room without first knocking and making sure they are properly clothed as any father (or stepfather) should do.  As long as any male in the home respects their privacy, there is no need for teenage girls to have a lock on their door, and in my opinion it should not be allowed.

    Beth

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