For teens, summer is the season to get footloose, fancy-free and into trouble. "They'll pull anything on you," says Kelly Richardson, who...
For teens, summer is the season to get footloose, fancy-free and into trouble.
“They’ll pull anything on you,” says Kelly Richardson, who talks to more teens than most of us as a psychotherapist in Folsom, Calif., who works with adolescents.
As parents, your summer mission impossible — even if you don’t really want to accept it — is to thwart your teens’ risk-taking, even if it makes them angry.
“Would you rather have them be upset or dead?” Richardson says.
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Well, if that’s the choice, it sounds like it’s time to parent up.
The push-pull of adolescence — when kids yearn for independence but still need limits set by parents — can make for nonstop squalls on the domestic front.
But there are ways to keep the season sunny while increasing the odds that your teens will stay out of trouble. One suggestion: Blame this article for any new horrible, unfair, oppressive rules.
For you teens out there: Yes, this is just one more infuriating adult attempt to rain on your nonstop party parade. Deal with it. If you were hoping to hide this from your parents, it’s probably too late since we’re betting you were sleeping in.
We have compiled nagging points and policies for parents to consider from an array of experts. Some of these suggestions could be lifesaving. Others are just good ideas.
This is not a comprehensive list, but a beginning to get you started on keeping your big kids safe.
Here are some things to worry about — and what to do about them — when it comes to raising teens.
Stuff to worry about
“Underage drinking is a real problem,” says Dr. Glennah Trochet, a health officer for Sacramento County, Calif. “Parents have to be very clear with their teens that drinking is not acceptable.”
Nationally, 74.3 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 reported having consumed alcohol; 25.5 percent reported having had five or more drinks of alcohol within a couple of hours, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance 2005, published last summer by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Don’t, but if you do
Trochet says parents need to be just as direct about sex as they are about alcohol.
The CDC surveillance study found 34.3 percent of ninth-graders nationwide have had sexual intercourse; 63.1 percent of 12th-graders have.
“If you don’t think teenagers should have sex, be very clear,” Trochet says. “But tell them, if you’re going to have sex, be sure to protect yourself, and be sure to use a condom.”
Crossing the line online
Virtual fun can become hazardous in real life when teens interact with strangers.
“You can’t take away computers, but you can talk to your teenagers about the real dangers,” says Tamyra Pierce, a professor of mass communications and journalism at California State University, Fresno.
In one study of hundreds of MySpace pages, Pierce found 71 percent of the sites maintained by 14- and 15-year-olds included sexual poses in photos. Some teens put their MySpace site on a private status, restricting access to those listed as friends. But then the same kids will often give friend status to anyone who requests it online.
“It’s like you’re locking the front door but leaving the back door open,” Pierce says.
Parents need to visit their teens’ social-networking pages, Pierce says. And not just once, but regularly. You should also learn to say, “No, you can’t have a Webcam.”
See, it’s not so hard.
Wheels of misfortune
When it comes to teen driving, it’s the more the scarier.
“Every time a teenager adds another passenger in the car, the crash rate increases significantly. It’s a major, major problem,” says Chris Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety.
The vast majority of teens in one recent survey of more than 2,000 high-school seniors reported driving other kids around, even if they hadn’t been licensed long enough for it to be legal, according to Katherine Heck, a survey researcher at the 4-H Center for Youth Development at the University of California, Davis.
“It doesn’t seem like parents [are] too concerned about that, but they should be,” Heck says.
Other findings in the survey: 39 percent of the students reported having ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol; 27 percent said they had ridden in a car with a driver who had been using drugs. Also, 59 percent of the teens reported having been a passenger while another teen was driving dangerously.
Here are some ideas for parents:
• Keep it legal: Enforce graduated licensing and other driving laws that govern underage drivers. These should not be negotiable.
• Escape clause: Teens need to know that they can call a parent or other trusted adult for a ride so they won’t drive after drinking (or becoming otherwise impaired) or get into a car with an unsafe driver.
Tom Marshall, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol, suggests a straightforward, nonpunitive policy: “If you find yourself in a situation, just call us. We’ll come get you, and we won’t ground you.”
• A belting: Remind your teens that using a seat belt can save lives. Because teens model parental behavior (despite all the eye-rolling), that means you have to buckle up, too.
Psychotherapist Kelly Richardson has some suggestions for home life.
The night watchman
“You still need to wait up until your kids get home,” Richardson says. If you do go to sleep, have your teens wake you when they come in so you can enforce curfew and give them the once-over for drug or alcohol use.
“You smell them, you look at them, and you have a one- or two-sentence conversation, and you look at the clock and then you send them to bed.”
She also advises doing an occasional middle-of-the-night bed check.
Keep talking, but listen
“I have trouble in my office sometimes shutting the moms and dads up,” Richardson says. “After 2 ½ minutes, [teenagers] hear Charlie Brown’s teacher: ‘wah-wahwah’ nothing. Say what you need to say … and be done.”
Parents who learn to keep quiet may be well rewarded.
“Invite your kids’ friends over,” Richardson says. “If you want to know what’s going on, just sit down and listen, and you’re going to learn a lot.”
Food can keep conversations going.
“Over the summer, you should still continue to have family dinners,” Richardson says. “I’m not saying every night of the week, but maybe two nights. And dinner does not have to be a home-cooked meal.”
Rise and glower
“Let them sleep in, but not till 2 in the afternoon,” Richardson advises.
Changing sleep patterns drastically from weekend to weekday and from summertime to school time is hard on anyone, teens included.
Tuck in the phone
When kids of any age come home at the end of the day, they should hand over their cellphones to parents for the night.
“If not,” Richardson says, “your kid’s going to be text-messaging all night long.”
The power of chores
“Parents need to realize they are setting their teenager up for the world, and the real world says you have to do something to get something,” Richardson says.
Parents can explain a chore policy like this, Richardson says: “During the school year, school is your job; in the summer, your job should shift to helping out around the house.”
Know where your kids are and whom they hang out with. If something seems odd, start asking questions.
“If you have a gut instinct about something, follow it up,” Richardson says. “I think some parents don’t really want to know what’s going on.”