Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, March 19, 2012

How Parental Monitoring Can Help Your Teen

by Jason Caillier


PARENTING A TEENAGER 007


I always wanted to be a spy. The idea of going undercover on a covert, cloak-and-dagger operation to surreptitiously acquire secret information absolutely fascinates me. In fact, after leaving a movie with such a plot, I typically put my headphones in my ears and play the James Bond theme song while I sneak around corners and light poles in the parking lot in order to get to my get away car. So, imagine my delight when I read that parental monitoring of your adolescent’s friends could lessen the risk of your child becoming involved in situations that are not in their best interest, such as underage drinking.

A research article indicates that there is a “strong and consistent link” (p. 815) between an adolescent’s use of alcohol and their friends’ use of the same.  The Center for Disease Control published an article indicating similar outcomes for teens with parents who effectively monitor. Those teens are “less likely to make poor decisions, such as having sex at an early age, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, being physically aggressive, or skipping school.”

Teens are not typically forthcoming with their parents about their own involvement in such ills, so perhaps knowing who your teenage child hangs out with will give you a better clue about the activities of your own teen. Well, before we start becoming a master of disguises, we should look at the techniques other parents employ to effectively engage in parental monitoring.

1. Communication. It is an obvious component of all healthy relationships. In the study, most parents learn about the substance use of a teen’s friend from having conversations with their own child. Good communication is key to knowing what is going on. Parents need to maintain healthy lines of communication. A parent has a responsibility to know the practical details of  “who, what, where, when, and how” a teen spends their free time, but more information will come when a parent seeks ways to create positive dialogue. Showing respect and interest in your teen will open their hearts to share. When you work on having a good relationship with your teen, they will volunteer more of their life without what they often perceive as prying.

2.  Get to know their friends. One avenue by which parents in the study identified knowing more about their teen’s friends was by spending time with the friend! (Duh!) While some parents indicated this was as simple as meeting the friends as they came over to the house before leaving with their child, others indicating spending larger amounts of time by either hosting a get together or by taking those friends on family trips.

3.  Get to know their friends’ parents. It should be assumed that a parent may not see “the real person” in a short encounter with a teen. In order to get a better picture, it is best to get to know the context of a person. One mother suggests having desert with the parents of her child’s friends when those parents came over to pick their child up.

An interesting aspect of the study was the discovery of the discrepancy between a parent’s knowledge of a child’s friend in general and the parent’s knowledge of that friend’s substance use. While parents may know the friend, they know less about the friend's specific behavior. With so much at stake, the authors warn against a passive approach and encourage parents to actively engage in communication and relationship building in order to help teens deal with serious issues such as underage drinking.

So, while it may not be time to break out the rearview mirror spy sunglasses you had as a kid, it probably is a good idea to brush up on your relationship building and communication skills with your adolescent child and their friends.

What are you doing to connect with your teen and enhance communication?

Bourdeau, B., Miller, B. A., Duke, M. R., & Ames, G. M. (2011). Parental strategies for knowledge of adolescents' friends: Distinct from monitoring? Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20(6), 814-821.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011, March 1). CDC - Parental Monitoring - Adolescent and School Health. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/adolescenthealth/monitoring.htm

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