With families, this happens most often between a child in the teenage years and whoever is in charge (parent/guardian/whatever your family calls it). Take the role of a parent who is wondering if her/his child is even still alive in her/his room. For readability's sake, we'll say that it's Mom and her son. You go upstairs, knock on the door, always knock!, and ask something along the lines of, "Honey, you all right in there?" Your kid then responds, if you're given any response at all, "Yes, I'm fine, go away!"
Okay, what did the son really say here?
A) Come on in and ask me what I'm doing.
B) I'm doing drugs/having sex/worshipping Satan.
C) I really wish that you would go away.
The correct answer: None.
If you answered A, then consider a teenager's room like a bathroom: If he's in there, then not only are you going to see something that you don't want to and probably get a whiff of something even worse, but you would be violating his privacy in a severe way. If a door is closed, then let it be closed unless there is a real reason to suspect that your child is in legitimate danger. No, having his clothes all over the ground and the music being too loud are not legitimate hazards.
If you answered B, then you need to think about why that's the first thing that you thought of. There's some work to be done if your initial thinking is that your child is doing something that you're adamantly against. In a later post, I'll talk about how you as a parent can judge whether or not you're getting the message across to your child that you mean to get across. (Here's a preview: You're not.)
If you answered C, then you're right . . . ish. He wants you to go away, and you should respect that. A simple, "Okay, well dinner is in fifteen minutes, so have fun and I'll see you at the table!" will be fine, and then actually go away. A very easy way to break your teenager's trust is to say that you will give him his space and then not actually do it. Yes, his hearing is much better than yours, so no, you didn't fool him by pretending to walk away, and yes, he can see your shadow under the door. You know that he's not as sneaky as he thinks that he is, and you aren't either.
The reason that the correct answer is "None" is because he's actually responding positively by acknowledging that you are checking to see if he is okay. You can do this every single day and always get the "I'm fine, leave me alone!" answer and then convince yourself that you're bothering him, that he takes you for granted, that he hates you, etc. The day that you don't do it, though, he will notice, and he will miss it. While you may take some satisifaction in this, you've actually hurt him, and no parent takes satisifaction in making her child feel bad.
What you've been doing by "bothering him" every day is letting him know that you care, letting him know that you are unconditionally always there, letting him know that he has someone to come to if things aren't as "fine" as he says, and letting him know that he is important. Remember when he was half his age, and he loved when his mom or dad would stop by to say hi or show interest? How it made them feel cared about, important, and worth a grown-up's time? Well, that didn't go away when body hair and the need for deodorant (whether he uses it or not is a different story) came along. He will always be your baby, and you will always be his mommy/daddy.
Keep in mind that he's not telling you to go away; he's telling you to love him the way that he needs you to even if it isn't the way that you want to. Ignore the rude words. Ignore the snappy tone. Focus on why he's saying it: He needs you to be the one person who will always be there. Not the people on magazine covers, on his iPod, on his Facebook, or any other part of his life. New people are on magazine covers every month, a song goes from being "the best song ever" to "so last week" in the time that it takes him to download it after he pays for it by himself (on your credit card, of course), and Facebook friends disappear before you can figure out what meme it is that his friend posted on his wall (or even what a meme is).
Cutting through the choice of words and tone of delivery in order to get to what your child really means isn't easy, but remember:
Nobody said that it would be easy, but nobody said that you had to do it alone.