Parenting Adolescents — 13 February 2008
Monitoring your adolescent’s behavior

Raising children is a wonderful and challenging task, raising adolescents can be especially daunting. These ‘adult-like’ young people are not adults yet and do require monitoring, which they often resist, claiming the right to privacy and autonomy.

Harvard School of Public Health’s Project on the Parenting of Adolescents reported that parents of adolescents were baffled by the challenges their teen’s behavior posed and were stymied as to the best ways of responding to their adolescents. Parents felt stressed by their teenagers’ “physical and sexual maturity, seeking independence, de-idealizing of their parents and their values and distancing themselves emotionally, as well as pressing for greater share of family resources such as: cars, phones, money and freedoms, while increasing their level of disagreement and conflict at home”.

Adolescents can be intimidating to parents, because they are no longer the little, compliant and dependent children who are eager to please their parents. Teens are often as large or larger than their parents, articulate, often defiant, and more resistant to parental influences. Teenagers are also frequently more skilled in modern technologies than many adults. Parents find themselves in a battle of minds and wills with very impressive opponents.

Many parents become confused as to their role with their teens as the youngsters claim their rights to be independent, unquestioned and free to engage in unsupervised conduct normalized by their peers. Parents often get persuaded, prefer to trust their teens, or get exhausted by the ongoing hassles and cave in to permitting behaviors they do not condone.

The need for monitoring teenagers is imperative. Let’s examine one example of computer use. A recent surveys by the U.S. Department of Justice and Cox Broadcasting and the New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center provided this data: Of the 74% of high school age children in the U.S. who use the Internet regularly: “71% of teens received messages from someone they didn’t know, 61% have posted a personal profile on sites and half posted pictures of themselves, 30% have considered meeting someone they have met online and 33% of teens said that their parents know little or nothing about what they do online. When you add to this the statistic that “95% of parents don’t understand the shorthand lingo kids use in chatrooms, i.e., “A/S/L (age/sex/location), or “P911” (parent over shoulder)”, you can see how vulnerable and unprotected these brazen teenagers are.

As normal as it is for teens to fight for these privileges, The Harvard Project found that: “Teens need parents to continue to be parents. Pushing away teens nonetheless challenge parents to stay the course, nurturing, supervising, guiding, and advocating for their children, as well as providing a safe environment and secure boundaries”. They recommend Five Basics of Parenting Adolescents: (1) love and connect, (2) monitor and observe, (3) guide and limit, (4) model and consult, and (5) provide and advocate. Both (2) and (3) implore parents to monitor, observe and limit their adolescents’ behavior.

Parents, please monitor your teenagers:

• Accept that well monitored adolescents feel safer and turn out to be healthier adults, regardless of their grumblings.
• Maintain your composure in face of your teenagers’ anger, hostility and threats, by reminding yourself that a good parent enforces firm boundaries regardless of the teenagers’ reactions and temporary dislike of you.
• Adolescents are not entitled to full privacy. Since their ‘privacy’ may involve sinister aspects, they need to be informed that as long as they live under your roof, their space is open for inspection. Do so guilt-free.
• Listen respectfully to your teenagers’ rationale of why they need not be supervised and then restate your rules for their safety and wellbeing.
• View the Internet as a great resource and a potential enemy to your adolescents. Enforce rules about a central location of computers in the home, uses of the Internet, and limit time spent in chats with friends via electronic devices.
• Ask your high school children to enlighten you about their communication shortcuts in their Instant Messaging and their fascinating lingo.
• Be present and open to your teenagers’ friends. Support the friendships with those you trust and guide your teens about those you question.
• Keep in touch with other parents, share information, observations, appreciations and concerns about your children.
• Create a positive connection with your adolescents; participate in their activities, spend good times together and be positive and affirming. The closer you are, the better your teenagers will transition to healthy adulthood.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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