What parents can do to keep teens safe

Long days, staying up late, sleeping in, lots of free time…  For many teens summer is a welcome break from the busy schedule of the school year.  For their parents, however, it can be a stressful time of trying to figure out how to ensure that kids get the relaxation that they deserve while still staying safe.

There are the physical safety concerns – bike helmets, sunscreen, and water safety.  Additionally, with all that free time comes worry about what kids are doing.  Unsupervised teens are more likely to drink or get high, engage in sexual activity or engage in violence.  And yet it’s neither realistic nor desirable for teens to be monitored every minute of the day.

So what’s a parent to do?  Research shows that something called “Parent-child connectedness” is an important protective factor in keeping teens out of trouble.

In simple terms, when parents and teens feel close to each other, they have connectedness. When you are connected to your teen, you might experience the following things:

  • You and your teen spend time together doing things you each enjoy
  • You can talk freely and openly
  • You are affectionate and warm, laugh together and enjoy each other
  • You trust each other
  • You respect and support one another
  • You share similar values and respect your differences
  • You feel positive about the family relationship
  • Family arguments and conflicts are at a low level
  • Both you and your teen feel satisfied with your relationship

OK, great.  But how does a parent create this, especially during the rocky teenage years?  While you can’t control how your teen acts, you do have control over how you respond to and act towards your teen.  Here are some tips for helping you stay connected:

1)      Remember that teens need to have some independence. It’s their job in this stage of life to seek it out.  Keep this in mind when their behavior is driving you crazy.  Encourage independence when it’s reasonable and safe to do so.

2)      Admit to yourself when you have overreacted.  Admit it to your teen too.  This will help build trust with your teen – a key component to parent-child connectedness.  Often, if a parent apologizes or admits a mistake, it opens up a real conversation with their teen.  Don’t forget to forgive yourself too – raising teens is hard work!

3)      Build a support network.  It is easier to deal with frustrating behavior from your teen if you have support from friends, family, clergy or other professionals.

4)      Find out why your teen is acting in a certain way.  Teens want parents to understand their point of view.  Listen more than you talk.

5)      Pick your battles.  Let your teenagers make some of their own choices, and allow them some privacy.  Sometimes people learn best when they make mistakes and experience the consequences first hand.

6)      Help your teen to gain the skills they will need to live independently.  This can be challenging, but is important.  Teens feel better when they are contributing to the household in a meaningful way too!

7)      Make sure your teen knows you’re on their side.  Think about how your responses to your teen’s behavior will affect the closeness that you share.  When teens feel connected to their parents, the messages and modeling that parents offer are more likely to “stick.”  Staying connected to your teen is more important than being right.

Parenting teens can be hard work.  But parents who are strongly connected to their teens get more satisfaction out of these years, and their teens do better both during the unstructured days of summer and throughout the year.

What do you do to stay connected to your teens?  Share your own tips in the comments below.

Emily Scribner-O’Pray is the Community Services Supervisor at Teenage Medical Service. Read more about Emily.

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