Flip through any home design magazine, scroll through your social media feed, or watch your favorite family sitcom, and you’ll probably get the idea that everyone lives in a perfect home — complete with a separate bedroom for every child. In reality, that curated picture doesn’t reflect how most of us live. We don’t all have three-, four-, or five+-bedroom homes where no one ever lacks personal space. In other words, if you’ve got kids sharing a room, you’re far from alone. Still, as they hit those teen years, room sharing can get a bit tricky, leaving a lot of parents wondering just how long opposite-sex siblings can share a bedroom.
The simple answer is: as long as it works for your family — whether by choice or out of need. After all, when kids are little, bunking together can be a fun adventure. From staying up past bedtime, giggling under a blanket fort, to playing shadow puppets, the memories can’t get much sweeter. But if you feel like your kids may be approaching an age when they’re more into privacy than shadow puppets, keep reading for expert advice.
How can you tell kids might be ready to separate?
Family members having their own bedrooms is a fairly new and Western practice. In fact, multiple siblings, even entire families, share rooms worldwide every day. Google “children’s bedrooms around the world,” and you’ll see that children’s sleep spaces range from mattresses outside to pretty, private bedrooms and everything in between.
If you’ve got kids squabbling over room sharing, a dose of reality can go a long way. But if guilt trips aren’t in your parenting arsenal (OK, so they’re not always the best choice), being transparent with your kids about what your family can provide while letting them be part of the solution is a good plan.
“Follow your child’s lead. Talk to them and ask them how they feel about the situation. What’s their opinion? Let them express whatever it is they are thinking and feeling while just listening. If separate rooms aren’t feasible, help them problem-solve areas of concern,” suggests life and mom coach Stephanie Rosenfield.
How old is too old to share a room?
It goes without saying, but opposite-sex room sharing under the age of about 10 isn’t usually a big deal. It’s when they reach those pre-teen and teen years that boys and girls need and seek privacy. You know, the whole puberty and the birds-and-the-bees spiel. If you have an LGBTQ+ child, the timeline could even move up a little as your child explores their gender identity.
Fortunately, there are few rules — and a little shared room creativity — that can go a long way (when private bedrooms aren’t an option) in avoiding “inappropriate” or awkward situations that can potentially lead to things like body image concerns or the overstepping of boundaries. And it might not look like what your kids see on TV or what their friends are doing.
“The bottom line is that there isn’t a ‘right’ answer, and it will look different for each family,” said Rosenfield, adding that simple solutions to everyday privacy issues that come along with siblings sharing a bedroom can be as simple as setting up a room divider or having a rule that changing clothes, and other private actions, should be done in the bathroom.
Because family dynamics vary and can include circumstances where there are step-siblings or children with physical, mental, or behavioral challenges, simple solutions like room dividers may not be the answer for every family. In these situations, regular, open communication, flexibility, supervision, and help from community resources like a licensed therapist can help ease even the most challenging situation, making same-sex room sharing manageable, at the very least.