When is it OK to search a teen’s room?

When is it OK to search a teen’s room?
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ASK A QUESTION ANYTIMEmargaret@raisingtroubledkids.com


This is a paraphrase of a question that was posed a few years ago in a support group I facilitated.  It’s a question I had to face more than once.  Now that years have gone by, I still believe this is a good approach, but I’m aware some parents disagree.


Q: My son is always in his room and gets extremely upset if I go in there.  He says he has a right to privacy.  But I suspect something bad is going on, and want to search his room when he’s not there.  Yet it bothers me that I’d be violating his trust.  Is it OK to search his room?


A:  I advocate searching a troubled child’s room or reading “private” information like email if there is any concern whatsoever that something potentially dangerous is being hidden from a parent.  Since he gets very upset, he may not want you to find something because he knows you’ll disapprove.  Practically speaking, is there a way you can search his room or read email without him (or anyone else) ever finding out?  If he finds out you’ve searched his room, yes, you will lose his trust, and he may go to greater lengths to keep secrets.  But as the responsible adult in the household, you must think not only about your son, yourself, and your family, but about others who may be at risk if your son has dangerous plans.  The need for safety overrides.


If you find nothing unusual or dangerous on a search, you’ve at least satisfied your rightful need to know.  Then the issue becomes his need for privacy and his fear of losing it, which must be addressed since he’s clearly upset about it.  Don’t tell, at least not until enough time has passed that your communications with your son are strong and he has begun to reckon with his mental health.


If you find something dangerous, act on it immediately and do not defend your decision or try to talk him into taking responsibility for his actions.  A troubled teen can’t or won’t.  He will either be remorseful and embarrassed, or enraged and threatening.  Regardless, you must take dangerous materials or actions very seriously because someone’s life could be at stake, literally.  Since it’s clear that trust is important to you (as it should be), expect that it may be very long time before your son trusts you.  But also remember that, under these serious circumstances, his trust of you is less important than your trust of him.


Filed under bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, teens

2 Responses to When is it OK to search a teen’s room?

  1. Thanks for your comment.

    Read my article titled “The difference between a normal ‘crazy’ teen and one who’s disturbed” to get a better idea of the kinds of teens I’m referring to in this blog. Some are truly dangerous to themselves or others, who’s stories I know about personally through my work. They hide weapons, alcohol or meth (addictions), or stolen goods… Or they repeatedly take extreme risks, like connecting with others over the internet and becoming victimized (raped), or caught up in destructive acts (racist vandalism, arson), sexual assaults, or dangerous materials for hurting themselves. This blog is about them. If a teen like this lived next door to you, and their parents ignored the evidence in their own home and did nothing, would this be “better parenting?”

    Some teens push parents into making decisions they would never ordinarily make. I believe a room search of a troubled teen can be better parenting. Yes, the risk of losing a teen’s trust is there, but the risk of loss to life, property, health, and a decent future is also there for troubled teens. It’s an extremely tough decision, but some parents are forced to decide which is worse.

  2. Jerome

    That’s messed up.
    What if the child just has simple things that are embarrassing? (i.e. Pornography, condoms, or lubricant)
    Are these things dangerous? I’m sure you would lose your child’s trust with you snooping for these things.
    I honestly believe that children these days are overly prescribed with psychiatric drugs when they simply are different, need better parenting, or for god’s sake need to stop being treated as if they are crazy all the god damn time.

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