Monitoring Your Teenager

Setting Boundaries and Establishing Rules

Adolescence is a time of change and upheaval.

The monitoring process is crucial to successful parenting. Teenagers who report that their parents take a genuine interest in their activities are more likely to avoid trouble. Teens whose parents know who their friends are and what they do in their free time are less likely to get into trouble than their peers. In the context of a warm, kind relationship, parental monitoring of teen activities comes across as caring rather than intrusive. Teenagers whose parents monitor them are more likely to avoid activities like lying, cheating, stealing, and using alcohol and illegal drugs. Parental monitoring of adolescent behavior inhibits not only the opportunity for delinquent activity, but negative peer pressure to be involved in such activity as well.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about the monitoring process is that it is a delicate balance between too much and too little, and it requires the energy to set firm limits when it would just be easier to let things slide. It requires continued vigilance on the part of parents to ensure that they know where children are and what they are doing. It also requires that parents enforce consequences when family rules are broken. Although discipline is genuinely unpleasant for all involved, attention to monitoring activities and providing consequences for inappropriate behavior on a daily basis will alleviate major heartache later.

Parents should remember that the prime directive of adolescence ("independence or bust") prohibits teenagers from admitting that having parents set firm boundaries is actually reassuring.

Family rules and boundaries can provide a sense of stability to teens who are struggling to decipher relationships, roles, and even their own personalities. Although they may protest loudly against being required to live up to certain standards, when they have a hand in crafting those standards, and when those standards are demanding but fair, teenagers will flourish. Having something steady, firm, and predictable in a head spinning world is like being handed a map, with NORTH plainly marked. Clear boundaries and standards are the gauge by which all other information is measured.

Disciplining teenagers is difficult, but it is critical if teens are to learn that their behavior has consequences.

Some of the odiousness of enforcing rules can be eliminated by engaging children in the process of setting the rules and assigning consequences before the rules are broken.

When parents include teenagers in establishing clear rules about appropriate behavior and consequences, the arguments over rules and punishment end. Children can no longer claim that punishments or expectations are unfair, and parents can take on the role of calmly enforcing the pre-arranged consequences instead of having to impress upon the child the seriousness of the problem and scramble to find an appropriate punishment.

The temptation to react emotionally when children break rules is alleviated because a breach of the rules is no longer perceived as an assault on parental authority, since it is by the authority of the family, not the authority of the parents, that the rules were established. Helping to set the rules may not dissuade teenagers from breaking them sometimes, but it can help parents to avoid a power struggle with their teenagers.