Monitoring Your Teen: Your Perspective VS Their Reality

istock_000015515974small_2_2I recently watched an episode of Dr. Phil where a mother thought her 15 year old daughter was a popular teen and earning good grades. This mom thought she had the perfect teen, until one day her daughter disappeared and was found days later by the police.

Only then did her mother find out that this teen had not only recently witnessed a murder, but that the life she actually lived was is stark contrast to the life her parents believed she was living.

In reality, their daughter was not this popular teenager with good grades, but she was a drug using, bullied teen who was meeting and sleeping with older men she would meet online on a regular basis. Some were more than twice her age and married. One even committed suicide and she was the one who found his body.

This reality, was nothing that her mother could  ever imagine her daughter going through.

This got me to thinking about a lot of the teens I work with and how their reality often totally differs from the their parents perspectives.

Many teens I work with have parents who believe that they are doing good in school and are really active in after school activities like band and drama, while often these kids are failing school, skipping classes and using after school activities as covers to do other things such as having sex and using drugs.

As a matter of fact, I was so alarmed at the amount of teenage girls who told me that they were having sex after school (while they were supposed to be in drama or band) in an unsupervised location on campus, that I went to multiple school administrators and school resource officers to crack down on the number of teens on campus unsupervised after school.

Here you have parents thinking their child is staying after school to rehearse for a play, yet they are having sex in a storage closet, or leaving campus altogether to have sex or use drugs, but returning to campus later to be picked up by their parents who have the slightest idea of what is really going on in their teens lives.

I’ve sat down with numerous parents who were stunned to find out that their kid was failing multiple classes, missing dozens of unexcused days from school or wasn’t actually in the school play she had been supposedly staying after school for everyday for the past two months.

Teens will be teens, and most of these parents I spoke with took it for granted that they had “good kids” so they rarely checked on them or monitored their activities. They just assumed that they were always doing the right things.

On the Dr. Phil show, he drew the contrast between this young girls realty and her parents’ perspective:

Her Parents’ Perspective                                                                                    Daughters’ Reality

Spent time playing computer games                                                         Spent time meeting men online

Spent the night at friends’ houses and didn’t leave                          Snuck out of friends’ houses to meet men

Popular at school                                                                                                 Bullied at school

Relationship was wonderful                                                                         Parents were distant

I don’t mean for this to scare any parents, but I want you to understand the importance of monitoring your child, even when they are teens… especially when they are teens. It’s important that you trust your teens, but it also important that you verify what ithey tell you is going on.

Monitoring Your Teen

Monitoring your teen means asking questions. It means knowing where they are, who they are with, what they are doing and what time they will be back home. It also means having them check in regularly. Your teen may not like this, but over time they will grow accustomed to it if it is consistent and they know what to expect.

This is especially important when your teen starts getting involved with more activities outside of the home including school activities. Many parents think that as long as their child is at school they are safe and being monitored, but that often is not the case. After school activities can create time and opportunity for teens to get themselves into trouble.

If your teen stays after school for an activity, drop in every now and then to make sure they are where they said they will be.

You don’t have to make it obvious. Maybe bring them a snack or genuinely be interested in whatever the activity they are involved in. The same goes for school. If you can’t drop in every now and then to make sure they are at school, most schools  have websites just for parents where you can monitor your child’s attendance, grades and assignments.

Monitoring your teen is about communication and respect on both ends. Here are a few tips:

  • Let your teen know that you will be monitoring them so that they won’t be surprised. Like I said, they may not like it but they will grow used to it if they know what to expect and it is consistent.
  • If you sense trouble, make those surprise visits to the school, the park, the football field, or call their friends’ parents to make sure your teen is where they said they would be. Let your teen know this is something you may do sporadically.
  • Get involved in the activities your teen is doing at school. If your teen is in band, try to become a band parent, or a drama parent, or just show up to support your teen and the school. The more likely the chance that you will be around, the less likely your teen will do things you disapprove of.
  • Have a rule: “No parents, no party”.  The amount of unsupervised parties the teens I work with go to that are filled with sex, drugs and alcohol is astonishing. Make sure that if your teen is going to a party there will be adequate adult supervision.
  • Get to know the other adults in your teens’ life such at teachers, mentors, coaches, employers, etc. This is important for a number of reasons, but this can also be a network where you can compare notes. If you think your teen is doing great in school, a teacher could tell you that they are missing class a lot or getting bullied for example.
  • Monitor how your teen is spending their money. You wouldn’t believe how many parents I work with who would give their kids money and have no idea what they are doing with it.
  • Monitor your teens online and electronic devices such as phones and ipads. Teens get in all sorts of trouble online and they generally don’t want you in their online lives, but when their safety is your priority then compromises have to be made.
  • Monitor their physical and mental health and look for signs of changes so that you can address them early or seek professional help if needed.

There is much more that could be added to this list, but this is a good start. Most parents will add their own tailored made to their child.

How much monitoring is enough depends on your teen. If they show you that they can be trusted, are accountable and reliable, then you may back off some and only monitor them every now and then, but if they have shown you that they can’t be trusted, you may have to monitor them more.

Look for changes in your teen such as new friends, different behaviors or activities. These are signs that you may want to monitor your teen a little more; also when things are changing such as moving to a new neighborhood, school or when things at home are changing such as divorce or a death in the family.

We all did things as teenagers that make us uncomfortable to think about today, but we are glad that we came out relatively un-scathed. Monitoring your teen so that your perspective matches closely with their reality will hopefully help your teen avoid some of those unnecessary situations, some of which can be life altering and deadly.

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