Earlier this week, I released an article on the importance of allowing your teen to grow up, supporting your teen’s independence and emerging adult self, and acknowledging how this process may bring up your own anxiety, loss, or difficult experiences as a teen. I ended by proposing a balance of setting boundaries and controls where necessary that gradually decrease in intensity as the teen gets older, while also helping your teen develop and strengthen their problem-solving and discernment skills. Of course, this will vary for each family based on family values/comfort, the teen’s tendencies and behaviors, the trust established in the parent-teen relationship, and specific factors and risks for the family and community.
Now, I present you with five specific tips for both keeping your teen safe and promoting your teen’s independence. My hope for you is that this article will highlight helpful shifts you can implement in your parenting that will prioritize your teen’s safety while also giving them opportunities to build their trustworthiness and a healthy level of independence that will help your teen prepare for adulthood. Remember to seek connection with your teen in each and every conversation you have — yes, even limit-setting conversations.
1. Monitor Social Media and Technology
The specifics will vary based on family preference and teen tendencies, but in some way DO be involved in your teen’s social media and technology use. The worst mistake is to assume that your teen is okay and to not explore this issue further. If your teen is not as interested in social media or is a fairly trustworthy, compliant person, you might be able to simply have conversations and to expect that your teen asks for your permission before downloading a new app or creating an account with a new social media platform. Of course, follow up by checking their electronic devices and search history periodically to ensure that they are not hiding anything or secretly struggling with a growing pornography addiction. With a teen in this mild category, you can have conversations about potential risks online, cyberbullying, compulsive technology use, and depression or body image issues that often result from comparing yourself to what you see online. Ask your teen about any experiences they or their friends have had with cyberbullying. Ask them about sexting and if they have ever been asked for nudes by a peer. Ask them about how they feel after seeing their friends’ posts or if they ever feel pressured to look a certain way after viewing images. By doing this, you not only engage your teen in thinking critically about particular issues, which hopefully leads to them having better decision-making skills, but you also get more of an idea for any area in which your teen might be at risk.
If your teen struggles more with their peer relationships or self control or if you have already encountered other serious issues with their technology or social media use, you might need to have a more intense approach. This could involve using a teen cell phone monitoring app (if you search for “cell phone monitoring app,” you will find a plethora of options for different types of devices and the type of information you would receive) or not allowing your teen to have a smart phone for the time being. Continue to have the discussions described above, but also prioritize keeping your teen safe as well as allowing healthy brain development to occur without interruption.
Especially for younger teens, there are few reasons they should need their cell phone in their room at night. So many teens struggle with going to bed at a reasonable time due to compulsive use that keeps them awake at night (which might speak to underlying anxiety or depression). Furthermore, more studies are appearing that state that even having a cell phone near you in your room can cause disruptions in your sleep patterns. Good sleep is essential for daily functioning and management of emotions for any person, but this is even more necessary for teens and their growing brains. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries here.
2. Get To Know Your Teen’s Friends
Most of us can remember that one friend’s home that we all loved to hang out in, which often included at least one very warm, loving parent. Be that parent for your teen and their friends. Encourage your child to invite friends over, offer food and other fun activities, and manage the balance of talking to your teen’s friends and showing interest in their lives while also giving your son or daughter and their friends space to just talk and hang out (even though there is a good chance you will overhear some of their conversations anyways). It’s important to not be too overbearing because then your teen will be less inclined to invite friends over.
First of all, there should be no safer location for your teen to hang out than in your own home. Secondly, by getting to know your teen’s friends, you will be able to make important discernments about which friends are more likely to be positive influences and which friends’ families are more likely to provide a safe setting for your teen — those two items are not always correlated and are important to differentiate. Lastly, do not underestimate your ability to make a difference in another teen’s life. You will never fully know what your teen’s friends are going through and what their home life is like. By being a loving, safe, caring adult, you could actually make a significant impact on another family.
3. Know Your Community
There are no set rules or boundaries to provide with this topic because every community is so different as far as general safety goes (Is there gang activity or risk of community violence? Is it unsafe to be out after dark?) as well as specific safety (Which areas have more public substance use? Are there other risks in particular areas or hang out spots within the community?). This is where you want to pay attention to what happens in your community. Spend some time by yourself walking around that mall, park, shopping center, or skate park your teen wants to hang out at and just observe who is around and what the interactions look like. If your teen wants to spend time with friends in an area you’re uncomfortable with, suggest a different location, offer to be present as well, or with a teen you really trust, and have them check in with you periodically while there. Listen to your gut and continue to have conversations with your teen about their thoughts on the different settings as well.
4. Support Your Teen in Getting a Job
There are so many benefits to your teen having a job during high school. A job can teach various aspects of responsibility, show how to equate actual values with money, is a productive way to spend time outside of school, and can also make it possible for your teen to contribute toward something practical (paying for a car or part of a car, saving money to use for living expenses while in college.) Jobs also tend to promote safety and problem-solving skills in a very different way than school does. It is a great way to support more adult-like thinking and experiences for your teen.
5. Talk With Your Teen About Future Careers
I work with many families who genuinely want the best for their teens and often avidly discuss career options with their children in an attempt to set them up with the best college and career path. But the most important element is HOW you have these conversations with your teen. I recommend being aware of your own desires, wishes, and biases so that you can then fully listen to and hear your teen’s interests. It is imperative to show that you value their independence when it comes to them choosing a career. Explore with them what they enjoy and are interested in. Since no job is perfect, ask them what they think they would love about a particular job and what would likely be challenging/frustrating/boring? If there are any opportunities for your teen to shadow a professional in the field they are interested in, support them in doing so so that they can have practical experience and get information from someone directly in the field about the current opportunities and pros/cons of the job.
Researching the opportunities available and education/training/certifications needed for a particular career can be beneficial to do with your teen, but again, I caution sharing too much of your own opinions in this area; rather, let the research speak for itself and ask your teen questions about their thoughts on the information before them. By taking this approach, you can know that your teen has important facts, you can help them continue to develop problem-solving skills, and you can also show that you respect them and support them with what they ultimately decide.
Learn More About Helping Your Teen Prepare For College And Adulthood.
These tips should provide some direction in balancing the importance of your teen's safety while also supporting them in building their independence in preparation for the young adult years and college. Counseling can be a helpful resource for both teens and their parents in navigating particular safety or relational issues, as well as in preparing for new life transitions such as moving away to college. Please contact me to learn more about how I can support you and your teen at this time.