By Brooke Skipper, LCSW – February 3, 2021 –

We know our children mess up. They make bad choices, say unkind things, forget to do chores. We know they are not perfect.

However, when we hear about new trends in adolescent behavior, we foolishly think to ourselves, “Well, thankfully my kid would never do THAT.”

Adolescence is a time of exploration. Our children are trying to discover who they are, what group they belong to, what they like and don’t like. As they explore they are inundated with messages from their peers and social media about so many different types of experiences, many of them risky.

The areas of the brain that handle planning and impulse control don’t completely mature until about age 25. So while adults may see a behavior that is unsafe and say “no thanks”, teens cannot always recognize the risk.

Without that impulse control, teenagers are more likely to make quick decisions without thinking through the consequences. This is especially true when they see the behavior as something “everyone else is doing.”

How can we become more observant parents and keep our heads out of the sand? Staying connected with your child, knowing what they are involved in and who they are involved with, and keeping yourself up-to-date about new adolescent behavior trends will help you recognize signs that your child may be engaging in unsafe activities.

  1. Talk openly, talk often, and start now. Start having conversations with your child about topics like sex, substances, and personal safety at a young age. Your child will be more likely to know you are open to hearing what they have to say. Be careful that your words don’t come across as a lecture. Instead, use open ended questions to allow your child to talk freely. Remind your child it is safe for them to come to you about any topic.
  2. Have clear family values. What is important to you as a family? Does your child know what these values are? Make sure you are modeling family values and not just preaching them. Don’t drink and drive, practice a positive online presence, and treat others with kindness.
  3. Have clear rules and consequences. If you wait for a situation to arise to put rules and consequences in place, you are waiting too long. Clearly define rules and consequences for breaking them.  Take time to redefine these with your child as she matures and is ready for more responsibility.
  4. Monitor your child’s social interactions. This applies to interactions both in person and online. Know who your child is spending physical time with and who the parents are. Take time to monitor your child’s social media and texting interactions, as this is where some of the most risky behaviors can take place. There are so many apps available to help in both of these areas.
  5. Be a safety net when it comes to peer pressure. If your child feels peer pressure to do risky things or is placed in a risky situation, you could help him think of ways to opt out. Develop a code word your child can text you that lets you know he needs to be picked up immediately. Let her blame you for not being able to go somewhere she does not feel comfortable. Help her come up with creative ways to respond when pressured. “My mom drug tests me” can always work!
  6. Be a constant presence through the years. We are sometimes fooled into thinking our teenagers no longer need us, a message that can be reinforced by their behavior. However, teens often need us even more as they navigate the world and are faced with difficult choices. Continue to check in, stay involved, and stay available.

Following these tips can help you be more aware of your child’s behavior and increase your success as a parent. Turning a blind eye or refusing to reevaluate our parenting techniques doesn’t do any good. Remember, most parents probably thought their child would never eat a TIDE Pod.