By Bev and Phil Haas
Like most parents we want to protect our kids from the dangers in the world. Now that we have one entering the teen years and venturing farther from home, we’re trying to figure out how far we should go in keeping tabs on him.
One of our most basic parental goals from the time our children are born is to protect them. It’s true that at some point our kids must learn to take over this responsibility. But until then, be the parent who supervises your teen.
Our gut knows and research confirms that young people benefit greatly from having caring adults close by—parents or otherwise—who take an interest in them becoming responsible adults. So we encourage you to continue being a parent with a watchful eye and an influential presence.
Oversight Rather than Direct Sight
As you know, the supervision of younger children centers mostly around the home. However, as children get older and venture farther out into the world, the challenges multiply. During this transition parents often feel overwhelmed because they can’t keep up the same level of watchfulness. The reality is, teenagers cannot be in your sight at all times.
Keep in mind that with teens, a shift in our approach is necessary. Stephen Duncan, a family life professor, points out, “The older the child, the more your monitoring will become oversight rather than direct sight.” Overseeing your teenager still means knowing his whereabouts at all times, who he spends time with, and all his social plans. It also includes being aware of your teenager’s behavior when he is not in your sight, such as during school hours and on church trips. All of that happens more at a distance. Even so, don’t think it requires less effort.
Successful Oversight Suggestions
Monitoring teens is perhaps more difficult than supervising children, even though the oversight of teens doesn’t require a parent to be present at every moment. You don’t have to become overly intrusive, but you do need to show consistent and active interest in your teen’s life. And you do need to be willing to enforce family rules and deal openly with issues that concern you.
Remind yourself that being assertive rather than passive is a positive trait in a parent of an adolescent. Mark Twain once said, “When a boy turns 13, his parents should seal him in a barrel and feed him through a knot hole. When he turns 16, plug up the hole.” We can assure you there will be moments when you might be tempted to follow Twain’s advice. But instead of sticking your teen in a barrel, we encourage you to take a deep breath and continue watching and intervening when needed.
Here is a list of suggestions from the research of Stephen Duncan to jump-start your thinking in how far to go in keeping tabs on your teen:
• Don’t be naïve and make the mistake too many parents make (including us) of thinking, My child would never do that!
• Use generously what a friend of ours called “the big four”: where are you going, who will you be with, what will you be doing, and when will you be back?
• Pay close attention to your teen’s circle of friends because birds of a feather tend to flock together.
• If you drop your child off at the movies or mall, check to see if he is there to watch a movie or shop. There are much safer places to hang out!
• Better to give small snippets of freedom rather than making the mistake of giving too much too soon. It’s easier to give more freedom later than to take away what you’ve given.
• Remind your child about your family rules that apply even when he is out of your sight. Discuss what happens if he decides to ignore the rules.
• Teach your child to trust his gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t and he should leave the scene immediately. Talk with your child about how to get out of a not-so-good situation.
Despite the increasing challenges, monitoring is one of the most important things a parent can do to prevent adolescent problem behavior. When you monitor your teen, expect resistance. Your teen might accuse you of distrusting him. Pay no attention, stay positive, smile, and continue keeping tabs on him. After all, our God watches over us day and night (Psalm 121:3).
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.