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.

One Teens Attempted Suicide

Today I got one of those out of the blue phone calls that I dread. I was out of the office preparing files for an upcoming audit when I got an email from one of the teachers at the school I work at asking me to call her as soon as possible.

There’s always a lot going on at the school, but I assumed she wanted to ask me for advice with dealing with one of her students or to refer a student to me for counseling. I called her and she informed me that one of my students was in the hospital in critical condition after attempting suicide the night before.

I almost cried. I know that’s not the professional way I was supposed to feel, but I am human and have passion for my clients. Sometimes too much, but that feeling felt appropriate. I have never (fingers crossed) had a client actually commit suicide, but I know it’s always a possiblity. I’ve done crisis counseling at enough schools after a teen has committed suicide to know that it happens all too often. As a matter of fact, 3 weeks ago a student at a high school not too far from the one I work at killed herself.

It’s not that this is the first client of mine to attempt suicide, but this is probably the first client of mine to make a serious suicide attempt. I don’t want to underplay any suicide attempt, but I have had many clients who have made superficial lacerations to their wrists or took three ibuprofens in a “suicide attempt”. Most never needed to go to a medical hospital for medical attention.

Sure, I had to have them sent to the psychiatric hospital because they were having suicidal thoughts and any attempt has to be taken seriously, but it never shocked me because I knew that while they were hurting emotionally and psychologically, they didn’t want to die. They wanted help, they wanted people to see and know that they were hurting, but they didn’t really want to die. The fear in that though is that they could accidentally kill themselves.

This situation was different for a number of reasons.

1) I was very close to this client. I had been working with this particular client for almost two years helping him get through depression, grief and anxiety. I actually tried to become more of his mentor than his counselor because that’s what I felt like he needed most as a young man approaching adult hood.
2) A few months ago this particular client came to me and told me that they were seriously thinking about ending their life. I had him admitted to the psychiatric hospital where he was prescribed medication for anxiety and depression. I was surprised and scared that he didn’t come to me this time before he tried to take his life.
3) He had a lot to look forward to. He was graduating after almost not qualifying to graduate. I had just giving him a graduation card saying that I was excited for him about his future.
4) And lastly, I had just saw this client the day before and he was his normal, apathetic self. I saw no warning signs that less than 24 hours later he would take 3 months worth of medication all at once.
5) While all suicidal talk, gestures and attempts have to be taken seriously, from personal experience, the teens that actually kill themselves do so with little real warning. Some may tell all their friends that they love them, or apologize for past wrongs, but from the crisis counseling I’ve done at different schools after a student has committed suicide, there is rarely any apparent warning signs yet in hindsight, grieving students, faculty and parents usually see subtle signs that they missed.

His mother found him in his room, unresponsive and called 911. He was rushed to the hospital where a host of procedures were done to save his life. When I went to the hospital to see him he was still unresponsive, a result of all the medication he had taken, but the doctor was pretty sure he would make a full recovery… physically.

The fear is, when he finally comes to, is he going to be happy that he’s still alive, or disappointed that he failed to end his life?

That’s why I want to be there for him. I stayed with him in the hospital today for as long as I could, but the hospital staff that was in charge of sitting with him around the clock because he is on suicide watch, told me that it would be at least another day or two before they expected him to start coming around.

I don’t feel like I failed as a counselor. That’s one of the first questions I asked myself. I think that the reason it bothers me so much is because he is my client and I feel a sense of responsibility for him, although I know I can’t be responsible for the decisions he makes.

Looking at him laying in the hospital today was depressing. At times he looked dead except for the frequent rapid eye movement visible through his closed lids. I just hope that when he comes to that he realizes that he is alive for a purpose and rejoices in attempting to discover what that purpose is. I’ll definitely be here to help him anyway I can.

Keeping Teens Safe During Prom Night

bc-web-liquor0107It’s Prom season again and teenagers across the country are getting ready for the big night, spending lots of money on dresses, hair, make up and alcohol.

Yes, alcohol.

The other day I happened to glimpse at one of my 17 year old client’s cell phone screen and saw that she was in the middle of texting someone about Prom. The last message read, “Are you sure your cousin is going to be able to get us the alcohol?”

I wasn’t shocked, but disappointed. After all, this client is one of my “good” kids who generally doesn’t give me any trouble at all, but I was disappointed that she was planning on drinking on Prom night, just as thousands of other students will be doing.

Teens and alcohol simply don’t mix, they never have, and Prom and alcohol definitely don’t mix.

Teens want to party and celebrate, to be “grown” for a night which includes partying and celebrating the way they see or think grown people do, with alcohol which is why Prom and Graduation season are so deadly for teens when it comes to alcohol related accidents and deaths.

For example, in 2005 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 676 high school students were killed in alcohol related traffic accidents.  One third of all alcohol related traffic accidents involving students happen between the months of April, May and June.

Drinking alcohol can cause adults to make poor decisions, imagine the poor decisions involved with underage drinking.

Young drivers are less likely to wear their seat belts when they have been drinking.  In 2005, 64% of young drivers involved in fatal crashes who had been drinking were not wearing a seat belt (NHTSA).

Teens who have been drinking or aren’t thinking about possible consequences, are also more likely to get into a car with someone who has been drinking, which of course puts their lives at risk even if they avoided alcohol themselves.

According to a 2005 report by the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, in the last 30 days, nearly 30 percent of high school students reported getting in a car driven by someone they knew had been drinking alcohol.

Other than drinking and driving, there are the other issues that come along with being intoxicated, such as leaving oneself vulnerable to sexual assaults, theft, violence and a host of other reckless, stupid behaviors and decisions.

One statistic I saw estimated that 90 percent of all crimes on college campuses including rape and murder involved alcohol.

Ask your teen how much would it suck on Prom night to end up:

  • on their knees somewhere throwing up or passed out
  • embarrassing themselves, their friends or their date
  • on a Youtube video doing something they wish they could take back
  • not remembering much of this supposedly unforgettable night
  • suspended from school or worse, arrested

Some people will say that teens will be teens, they will party and drink, but so what? Well if the statistics about alcohol related traffic accidents above doesn’t cause you to pause, think about these numbers from about.com:

  • 3 million children ages 14 through 17 are regular drinkers who already have a confirmed alcohol problem
  • Ninth graders who drink are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who don’t
  • 40 percent of children who begin drinking before the age of 15 will become alcoholics at some point in their lives

We can’t ignore the problem of teenage drinking. I am almost positive that the client I spoke about above, parents have not talked to her at all about drinking on Prom night, because she is an excellent student who never has behavioral problems. They would be shocked to know about her intentions, which is why I let her know I saw her text and spoke at length with her about underage drinking.

Parents, talk to your teens about staying safe and away from alcohol and drugs during Prom. Not only should you talk to your teen, you should also speak with their dates and even friends to try to make sure everyone is on the same page. You can even have your teen, their date and friends sign a sobriety or Prom promise, that says something as simple as:

I,__(name)_________ hereby commit to having a safe Prom by not using alcohol, tobacco, or any other drugs. I will also encourage those with me to remain alcohol and drug free and I will not get into a vehicle driven by someone who is not sober.

Have your teen sign and date it. Sounds simple, but this little method has proven to be powerful on high school campuses across the country each Prom and graduation season.

Lastly, parents:

  • Let your teen know that they can call you or someone else you both trust and agree upon, to come and get them anytime from anywhere
  • Know your teen’s plans for before, during and after Prom
  • Know who they are with
  • Come to a fair and agreed upon curfew
  • Let them know your expectations for an alcohol and drug free night
  • Check in with them during and after the Prom, or have to check in. A simple text, “I’m okay” may suffice

Prom is an exciting, memorable time that unfortunately ends in tragedy for far too many young people. Let’s try to keep them safe while allowing them to prove that they are ready for the responsibilities that come along with being young adults.

Why Are Teens Inhaling Condoms and Cinnamon?

istock_000014270011xsmallTeens are great with coming up with pointless and sometimes dangerous fads that prove to us adults that their brains still aren’t fully developed.

Thanks to the internet, those fads spread like wild fire, putting more and more teens in danger.

Remember The Cinnamon Challenge? If you have no idea what I am talking about, it’s a “game” where you are supposed to put a spoon full of ground cinnamon in your mouth and attempt to swallow it without anything else to help wash it down.

The challenge is pretty much impossible.

There are plenty of YouTube videos demonstrating the challenge with the results usually ending with someone gagging, vomiting, coughing and/or choking.

Why this may sound stupid to us with fully developed brains, thousands of teens have taken this challenge with some ending up in the hospital.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 222 cases of abuse or misuse of cinnamon last year with the numbers steadily increasing.

Trying the cinnamon challenge can be damaging to the lungs with at least one teen being hospitalized with a collapsed lung when she attempted the challenge.

A newer, potentially even more dangerous fad is the The Condom Challenge. 

In The Condom Challenge teens open up a condom, snort it through their nostrils, and then attempt to pull it out of their mouths.

You can see the health hazards in this.

Condoms can easily get lodged in the windpipe, causing a person to have trouble breathing or not be able to get any oxygen at all. I haven’t heard of any deaths yet, but as this fad spreads, it’s most likely only a matter of time.

Teens do a lot of stupid things when they get bored and are around or influenced by other teens, including doing drugs,  drinking alcohol, and now apparently trying to swallow ground cinnamon and inhaling condoms.

Teens who have better things to do, like go to parks, participate in recreational activities, school sports and/or clubs are less likely to find themselves bored enough or interested enough to try the new fads.

Teens think that they are invincible and nothing will go wrong, but they do go wrong, often very quickly and un-expectantly.

It’s important that teens realize that they are their own person and they don’t have to follow other people in their real lives or in their online lives to be popular or cool.

As parents, caregivers and adults, we have to be aware of the fads our teens are facing and the hazards that go along with them.  What may sound stupid, idiotic and dangerous to us most likely sounds harmless, challenging and fun to them.

Teens will be teens and they will be reckless and risk takers. It’s all a part of their developmental stage. Still, our jobs are to educate them and keep them safe the best we can so they can live long enough to become adults and reflect back on how stupid they were when they were teens, just as most of us do.

Parents: Have The “Sex Talk” With Your Teens Or I Will

istock_000016267513small-dad-and-daughter-talking-400wI don’t really like talking to other peoples kids about sex although as a counselor in a high school it’s something that inevitably happens.

I wrote earlier about talking to preteens about sex, but I’m finding that many teens have never  had the “sex talk” with their parents beyond their parents threatening to kick them out or disown them if they ever got pregnant (although I’ve never known a parent to actually follow through with either  threat).

However, because many teens don’t feel like they can talk to their parents about sex, they are getting their information from some very unreliable sources which usually leaves them unprepared mentally and emotionally for the complexities of sexual activity and vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and even abuse.

Last Monday I was counseling a young teenage girl who had just turned 15. She admitted to me nearly a year ago that she not only was having sex, but had been with several partners, most of them not even her boyfriends but guys she was friends with or guys she just liked.

Well now she has a new boyfriend who is a virgin, and although they have been together for a several weeks (which is forever for teenagers), they are thinking about having sex.

Let’s call her Trisha and her boyfriend Zac.

Because Zac is a virgin and apparently has a better relationship with his parents, he told them about him and Trisha’s plans to have sex. Zac’s mom was a little upset, but realistic and instead of scorning her son, she talked to him about sex and protection, a very good call. What she did next however, I’m not so sure how I feel about, but I understand it.

After talking with her son about sex, she then talked to Trisha about sex, assuming that she too was a virgin. She even went as far as to say she would get Trisha birth control, which made Trisha very uncomfortable.

Parents, do you really want someone else talking to your teen about sex and birth control, especially a parent that you do not know?

Well if you don’t talk to your teen about sex, someone else will and they may not have the best information and probably won’t have the same opinions, views or values as you do.

I was concerned because I felt like this was something Trisha should be talking about with her parents, not Zac’s, yet Trisha feels like she can’t talk to her parents about sex because they hold both her and her older sisters to such high standards and even threatened to kick them out if they ever found out they were having sex. By the way, according to Trisha, they are all already having sex.

Because of this fear of not only disappointing her parents, but also of getting kicked out, Trisha doesn’t feel safe talking to her parents about sex at all and has just been getting her information about sex from her friends and sisters, who are all also high school teenagers.

I encouraged Trisha to sit down and talk to her parents, at least her mom about sex.

She wants to get on birth control, but doesn’t think she can talk to her parents about that and definitely doesn’t want to get birth control from Zac’s mom. I even offered to have a family session with her and her mom and/or dad to help facilitate “the talk”, but she’s too scared to even discuss sex with her parents and let them know that she is thinking about sex, let alone already having it.

I know from past experience, because of this fear of talking to her parents about sex, she leaves herself vulnerable.

She’s more likely not to use any protection consistently or properly and to hide everything from her parents, including if she ever feels violated, if she ever thinks she may have a sexually transmitted disease, if she ever gets raped or if she even gets pregnant.

One girl I knew hid her pregnancy from her parents all the way up until she went into labor and had a child at 15. Her parents had never had the “sex talk” with her and it was only then did her parents find out that their daughter was no longer a virgin.

I definitely don’t want that to happen to Trisha and so if she is afraid to have the sex talk with her parents, I feel like it is my responsibility to at least give her valid information about sex, protection and to point her in the right direction for other information and questions she may have.

We talked about condoms, the importance of putting them on correctly and using them each and every time from the beginning to the end. We also talked about birth control for her, but I strongly encouraged her to have the conversation with her parents. I also had the school nurse talk to her and gave her several pamphlets for her and her boyfriend about sex.

She had lots of questions and lots of the information she had was so invalid that she was sure to end up pregnant before graduating from high school, such as standing up right after having sex is a foolproof way to avoid getting pregnant because gravity will prevent the sperm from swimming up.

Another thing I did was encourage her to wait. I talked to her about how sex can change relationships, sometimes for the worst and how there are other things they can do besides having sex, such as holding hands, kissing, hugging,  talking, going for walks, out on dates, etc.

All the while I also kept encouraging her, trying to give her the strength to have this conversation with at least one of her parents. I don’t think a 15 year old should be engaging in intercourse, but she’s already been doing it since she was 14 so we have to be realistic.

Many parents feel like having the “sex talk” will encourage their teens to have sex, but teens are going to be curious about sex and may engage in sex regardless. It’s just a matter of how informed or ill-informed they will be.

Lot’s of parents feel betrayed and hurt when they find out their teenager is having sex, almost as if they just found out their teen was using drugs.

Remember that consensual sex between teenagers is not a crime and your teen is more likely to get pregnant or worse if they feel like they can’t talk to you because you will get mad or upset. It’s important that parents put their emotions aside and consider their teens’ choices and emotions.

I encourage parents to talk to their teens about sex, about being safe and healthy. They can also allow their teen to talk to their doctor about being sexually active and the physical responsibilities that come along with that, if they don’t feel comfortable or knowledgable enough to do it.

It’s important that your teen feels like they can trust you and that you guys have an open relationship where they can talk to you about everything, just remember that even with that, your teen probably won’t tell you every single thing.

The teen years are about trying to discover their own independence and breaking away from their parents some, so accept that there may still be things your teen won’t tell you, but make sure that they know that you will be there for them if they need you.

While I definitely prefer not to be the one having the sex talk with your teen, I’d much rather do that now than to be talking to them about how to get a pregnancy test, being good parents while trying to stay in school or about visiting a free clinic to get tested for a STD,  three conversations I actually have way more often.

Disordered Eating And Body Image Issues In Teenage Girls: Part 1

6a00d8341bf67c53ef014e8c0ffaab970d-800wi (1)Working in a high school with teenage girls, I come across teenage girls with body image issues regularly.

Take for instance, one of my 15 year old clients who is so convinced that she is fat that when I first met her she was only drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar for breakfast and lunch.

For dinner she would have a very small meal. She was not overweight, but due to teasing about her “putting on some weight” by both her mom and peers, she see’s herself as fat and ugly.

Because of all this, her self-esteem is shot and it’s taken weekly individual therapy sessions and weekly support group sessions to get her to at least start eating a light breakfast and lunch, although she is still struggling with body image and self-esteem issues.

Society Creates Body Image Issues In Girls

Unlike boys, teenage girls are put under immense pressure to be beautiful, thin and feminine in most Western industrialized countries. However, biological changes and weight gain are natural parts of pubertal development.

Like the client I was talking about above, her weight gain seems to be more of a womanly weight gain. She seems to be filling out and taken on the body of a woman, compared to that of a prepubescent child. This natural weight gain that most girls experience during puberty, goes against our cultural’s  view of what being beautiful is, which for women includes extreme thinness.

These are conflicting messages for preteen and teenage girls.

On one hand, they are naturally developing and putting on weight, while on the other hand, they are getting messages from society that says their weight gain is unattractive.

Female identity in one part is defined in relational terms, society says they are supposed to be interpersonal and care about other peoples needs, feelings and interests which makes them more vulnerable than males to other people’s behaviors towards and opinions of them.

Another major part of female identity is beauty. In our culture, physical attractiveness contributes a lot to interpersonal success, which is one of the main reasons females strive to be beautiful, to assure popularity and respect.

Also, physically attractive girls are typically seen as more feminine compared to less attractive girls or girls who challenge our cultures traditional views on femininity through their political views such as feminist, or through their sexual orientation, such as lesbians.

Girls tell our society that they are feminine by being concerned with her looks and trying to achieve our culture’s ideal of beauty.

Because our culture demands that girls care about other people’s opinions and that they are defined by their physical appearance,  which society says includes being very thin, there’s no wonder girls are motivated to pursue thinness, at times by any means necessary including starving themselves to death.

Combine these issues with the natural weight gain of puberty and there’s no wonder many teenage girls develop body image issues.

Many teenage girls I’ve worked with who are physically perfect, not even slightly overweight, some were even underweight,  suffer from intense body image dissatisfaction.

A girl I’ve been working with since last year was naturally thin, yet wanted to be thinner so bad that she starved herself to the point of needing to be hospitalized. Like many of the girls I work with who have body image issues, her pursuit for thinness and beauty was so consuming that almost every other aspect of her life, including her education, goals and future took a back seat.

Eating Disorders

Not all girls with body image issues go on to develop an eating disorder like the young girl I just mentioned above, but many of them will.

Eating disorders are a major concern when it comes to the health of teenage girls with an estimated 1% to 3% likely to meet diagnostic criteria for either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is when someone refuses to maintain a minimal average body weight and has body image disturbances such as feeling fat even when they are very thin, and in females who are menstruating, they may experience amenorrhea if their body weight is low enough.

Bulimia nervosa typically includes periods of binge eating, followed by drastic methods to compensate for the binge eating including excessive exercising, fasting, vomiting, using laxatives, etc., accompanied with body image disturbance such as thinking one is much more overweight or unattractive than they really are.

Besides these two eating disorders, there are some girls who have other patterns of eating that fall under disordered eating, such as laxative abuse, vomiting after eating some meals, extreme calorie restriction, and binge eating.

Eating disorders typically begin in early adolescence with much of it’s symptoms typically evident by the late teen years.

While not all girls with body image issues develop full blown eating disorders, there is little research into why some girls do and others don’t develop an eating disorder.

During part 2 we will look at some of the risk and protective factors for young girls to develop an eating disorder.

Setting Expectations And Rules For Your Teen

istock_000011365905xsmall

As I thought about this post, I watched as four young teens, approximately 13 years of age, two boys and two girls, stood on the corner flirting for a second night past 10pm on a school night.

I started thinking that sooner or later, one or both of those young girls is bound to end up pregnant, and then I started thinking, where are there parents and why are they allowing their young teens to be out so late on a school night unsupervised.

Then I started thinking that there are probably no set rules or expectations in these teens households.

They are probably being raised with inconsistent and even contradictory messages. Yet, when one of these young girls ends up pregnant, their parents will be shocked and angry that these young teens “disappointed them”.

Rules and Expectations

Rules and expectations are two different things that together help guide your teen as they navigate through the murky waters of adolescence.

Expectations help you define the standards of behavior you expect from your teen such as being responsible and making responsible decisions.

Rules on the other hand help to bring your expectations to reality such as requiring your teen to finish their chores before going out with friends. Rules and the consequences of those rules help your child with both understanding your expectations and learning self-control.

As always with teens, communication is key. I am always amazed at parents who come to me disappointed in their teens behavior when they never actually sat down with their teen and discussed their expectations in the first place.

The teenager may have had some idea about how their parents felt about certain issues, but without a clear understanding of what the parents expect, they leave a gray area and teenagers typically don’t do well with gray areas. They like to know exactly where you stand.

Sitting down and speaking with your teenager about your expectations also opens up the door to talk about risky behaviors.

Clearly defined expectations about limits for risk-taking behavior helps your teen be prepared for temptations and challenges that will face them when confronted with risky decisions towards things such as alcohol, drugs and sex.

When you lay down clear expectations, you are letting your teenager know that they are responsible for their behavior.

This discussion also allows for you to hear what and how your teen thinks about certain issues and also gives you the opportunity to help them think more realistically.

A lot of teens think “this can’t happen to me” or that they are immune to many of the perils we as adults know are out there.   Talking to your teen will give you the opportunity to educate them on the possible consequences of their decisions and behaviors.

No matter how clear you think you have made your expectations, your teen may still feel unclear about them. Rules help to enforce your expectations.

Many parents are unsure about how to set rules and what rules are needed. Here is a good starting point.

Besides rules regarding substance use and other risky behaviors, you also want rules regarding:

  • curfew
  • unsupervised time
  • homework
  • chores
  • driving
  • cell phones
  • internet use
  • use of other media such as movies, television and video games

Naturally, most teens are going to try to push back against rules, but teens do want and expect limitations and boundaries.

Be respectful, listen to your teen and explain your reasons for having the rules you do. Some parents feel like they don’t have to explain any rules they set to their children, but children tend to follow rules better when they at least understand, even if they don’t agree with them.

Other tips include:

  • Focus on setting rules for safety based more on guidance than power, control or punishment.
  • Don’t be overly intrusive or restrictive, but still be firm.
  • Give your teen an opportunity to negotiate some of the rules, but remember that you have the final say
  • Be very specific when it comes to substance use. Such as letting your teen know that they are not allowed to use alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication or any other illicit drug at all.
  • You should set very fixed rules regarding health and safety, and then negotiate with your teen about other rules.
  • Be flexible with those other rules (outside of health and safety) and willing to renegotiate as your teen shows maturity and responsibility.

Along with clear rules and expectations, there should also be clear consequences for breaking the rules.

Consequences help teens slow down and think before they make a risky decision and also provides them with the perfect excuse to tell their friends if peer pressure is an issue.

Tips for setting consequences:

  • Consequences should be something the parent can follow through with consistently in order to be effective. Many parents are very inconsistent with following through with consequences which teens pick up on and it makes it more likely that they will disobey your rules. 
  • Consequences should be logical, and more about teaching than about punishing or retaliation.
  • Remember that consequences can be positive. Praise your teen when they are doing something right, when they are following the rules and they are more likely to continue.
  • Award your teen with special privileges or  some other type of award for following the rules.

Without rules and expectations, many teens are lost and parents feel as if they have out of control or disrespectful kids when in reality, the child never learned the rules, expectations or the consequences of breaking those rules and expectations.