Are you having a hard time with your teen’s behavior? Are you worried that your teen is getting into trouble when you’re not around? Or are you feeling that your teen is becoming someone you’ve lost touch with? If you’re having these feelings, there are steps parents and caregivers can take to keep their teen out of trouble and to prevent any harm that may result from a rebellious teen.
Some parents may believe that their teen is intelligent enough to know what to do in certain situations. However, adolescence can be a difficult time, and although a teen may be smart, it doesn’t mean they will make the best choices for themselves. For this reason, parents need to build a relationship with their teen and get to know them, especially if their adolescent is already showing signs of trouble. Here are five suggestions for staying on top of your teen and keeping your teen out of trouble:
1. Get to know your teen
When a child enters adolescence, the parent-child relationship might begin to change. If you were once close with your child, you might see more of a distance between the two of you. If your child was talkative and shared a lot about his or her life, now you might notice that your teen is quiet and keeps to themselves. This may be the case because teens are in a stage in life where they may be searching for their own identity. To do this, they may need to pull away from their parents and move toward friends, an occupation, and self-discovery. However, you can spend enough time with your teen to really get to know them. What do they like to do? What are their interests, likes, and dislikes? By getting to know your teen, you build a relationship with them and that helps them feel seen, understood, and accepted by you.
2. Create an environment in which your teen feels safe enough to talk to you
Your teen likely needs someone to talk to. Although they may not admit it to themselves, they will usually run into an area of their life that feels uncomfortable or uneasy. If you can create a safe environment for them, they may feel comfortable talking to you about what they’re going through. And if they feel really safe with you, a teen may feel open enough to tell you the truth, even if may feel embarrassed about it. When your teen feels open to talking to you about what’s going on in their lives, you will be able to guide them and help keep your teen out of trouble. However, building a safe environment takes time and conscious effort. Here are a few ways to build a safe environment for your teen:
- Use natural, everyday language. When talking to your teen, create a non-threatening conversation to help your teen open up. The trick is to make the conversation sound natural. Use every day, normal language versus any premeditated scripts that make you sound inauthentic.
- Show respect. Treat your teen with respect and maturity. This can facilitate their rising to the occasion, so to speak. In other words, treat your teen as though they are already behaving the way you want them to behave. If your teen is already getting into trouble frequently, then this may be difficult. However, you can stay respectful in your tone versus punitive. The point is that you want your teen to know that you still love, care, and accept them for who they are. It’s their behavior that needs addressing.
- Develop trust by protecting your teen’s dignity. Rather than pointing out any inconsistencies you hear in what your teen has to say, protect a teen’s developing sense of self by focusing on what a teen is trying to communicate. Remember that teens are still finding themselves and they may sound unsure of themselves. You can maintain trust and respect by focusing on the subject matter and not so much the self-doubt or inconsistencies your teen may exhibit.
- Clearly let your teen know what you expect of them. How can your teen know what to do or how to behave unless you tell them? Make sure you are clear about what you want your teen to do and when.
- Let your teen know that you care. This can ease the feeling of loneliness that your child might be experiencing especially if he or she is facing a problem. Communicate that you will accompany your child each step of the way. Let them know you love them.
3. Make sure your teen is being supervised
Your adolescent is likely to not going to get into trouble that easily, if they are being supervised. For instance, if your teen wants to spend time with friends, then you have their friends come to your house and spend time in the living room (versus your teen’s room). If your teen wants to stay after school to study, make sure he brings home a note from a teacher or school librarian indicating that he was studying. The point is that you want to keep tabs on what your teen is doing and when in order to keep your teen out of trouble. If you’re worried about undermining the trust that you and your teen have together, you can communicate to your teen that once they demonstrate the ability to avoid trouble on their own, you’d be willing to give them more independence. Remember that your supervision and slowly allowing your teen more independence should come in the context of building a loving, warm, and safe relationship with your teen, as discussed above.
4. Use effective monitoring practices
Even if you are not with your teen there are many ways that you can stay in touch with them so that you can help keep your teen out of trouble. Research indicates that when parents use effective monitoring strategies, teens are less likely to make poor decisions. Research also shows that teens who know their parents will disapprove of risky behaviors (drug use, alcohol use, having sex, etc.) are more likely not to choose those behaviors. This means that communicating rules and expectations with your teen is necessary! Here are a few ways to stay connected to your teen and what they are doing:
- Have them call you every hour on the hour.
- Make sure you have the phone numbers of your teen’s friends as well as the phone numbers of their parents.
- Drop off and pick up your teen versus letting them take the car.
- Keep track of how your teen is spending time online.
- Monitor how your teen is spending money. Get to know how they are earning money and limit the amount you give them.
- Stay in close communication with your teen’s teachers, relatives, neighbors, and other adults in your teen’s life.
- Discuss clearly with your teen the expectations you have, the rules, and the consequences for breaking those rules.
5. Get professional support
If you’re still seeing your teen get into trouble despite your best efforts to build a relationship, supervise them, and clearly state your expectations, then you may need to get professional support. Here are signs that indicate your teen may need to see a mental health provider:
- sudden change in eating habits
- sudden change in sleeping habits
- sudden drop in grades
- making threats of suicide
- explosive outbursts
- frequent irritability
- dramatic change in personality or appearance
- experiencing a recent loss
- having hallucinations or bizarre thoughts
- a decline in your teen’s hygiene or general appearance
- controlling, aggressive, or manipulative behavior
- talking about experiences of shame or rejection
These are suggestions to best help your teen when they are frequently getting into trouble or experiencing conflict. Remember that the best tools parents have are communication, supervision, and love. If you’re still having a hard time keeping your teen out of trouble, don’t hesitate to seek a mental health professional for support.