The teenage years are marked by extraordinarily rapid growth. Boundaries are tested, roles are redefined, self-perception becomes fluid. Unfortunately, with these changes comes a relatively flexible value system. Experimentation is normal and risk taking is routine. For these reasons, the teenage years are also marked by a mortality rate that skyrockets by 200%.
For some families, the teenage years are a time of mutual growth and partnership. For everyone else, they are a sporadically difficult, sometimes frustrating, and always challenging period of (r)evolution. The trick for parents, is finding a way to keep them close, while keeping your distance.
The best and foremost advice in this realm is to proportionate your teen’s family time. If you don’t ask for it, you may not get it. The parent’s job is to actually “schedule” family time with their active teen. And make it count. The rules are different now. Watching from the stands as they play baseball isn’t what we’re looking for here. As critical as “support” is, spectatorship doesn’t take the place of “engagement”. So walk to or from the game together, and take the time to explore your child’s changing world. Eat several family meals together every week. Wash the cars together. Go shopping. Interact.
Outward appearances notwithstanding, teenagers are unsure of themselves. Their lives are in flux. Their expressions are often clumsy. Their decisions are bombarded by social and commercial influences. At this stage of life, it’s your job to ask probing questions. When they were ten, they knew that all forms of drug use were bad. Do they still feel that way? Are they happy with their lives? Secure in their relationships? What pressures are they under and how do the deal with it? Equally important is the question of how their friends deal with it. Are their friends drinking? How do they intend to handle it when a friend asks to get drunk or high with them? Your child’s responses to these questions will often cue you in to key danger signs.
Dads want to know every little detail about the new boy that’s taking their little girl to the movies for a date. But what about the girl whose basement your daughter hangs out in after school? Close friends are more likely to introduce substance abuse than are acquaintances or love interests. For this, and many other good reasons, parents need to involve themselves in the “nonsense” of their children’s social environment.
Social Networking Sites: Make sure you can access their facebook account. See who they’re chatting with and what they’re saying. If you think for a second that this is invading your child’s privacy, it is clear that you are not yet a facebook user. To test this assertion, ask to see how many facebook friends your child has. For many parents, its a very sober moment to realize the volume and incredibility of those who have access to their child’s “private” expressions. You need to be one of them.
Instant Messaging: Even if you don’t have to, it’s a very good idea to have your child’s cell phone account under your name. The major carriers allow you to order a print out of the text messages sent to and received by a child’s cell phone. Again, if you catch yourself thinking that a text message is tantamount to a personal diary entry, test this process out once. See what kind of “personal” messages and photos are being sent to your child’s phone before guilting yourself about monitoring it.
Internet Use: You’re internet monitoring software has no doubt already alerted you to the Wild World that teens are compelled to explore while seated in front of that computer. One mistake often committed by first time teen parents, is forgetting to actually monitor their internet safetyware. We call this the “Set it and Forget it” technique, and it’s a guaranteed failure. Take the name of whatever software you are using now and enter it into google with the word “hacks” after it. You will be rewarded with a list of websites that teach your child how to beat the software. Schedule some time to actually monitor what is being searched for and viewed by your teen.
Important Advice: With all of these digital examples of expression, consider any abbreviation suspicious until proven otherwise. “POS”, for example, is not a pejorative reference to that clunker in your driveway, it means “Parent Over Shoulder”. “420″ is a reference to marijuana and “SPOT” means “Send Pics Of Tits”. There are online dictionaries full of this stuff. If you don’t know what your reading, research it.
Whether we are 15 or 50, our views and values are manifest in our expressions. It is so important for parents to monitor their kid’s expressions. What are you looking for? Any sign that your family values or healthy principles need to be reinforced. Don’t be the parent that leaves it to chance, silently repeating the mantra, “It’ll be fine. I’m sure it’s normal.” Be the parent that says, “This one’s mine. I won’t let them down.” The truth is, they do need you. They’re young, naive and under tremendous pressure. Be the lighthouse.
For more information on responding to danger signs, visit our “Responding to Drug Use” page.