Make Free Time Valuable
You are the first line of defense when it comes to your teen's safety. And your relationship with your teen does make a difference. Monitoring means knowing what your teens are up to when you are not with them and they are not in school. You should know the answers to these four questions at all times:
- Who are your teens with?
- Where are they?
- What are they doing?
- When will they be home?
It’s no longer enough to monitor your teen’s activities offline; you must also be aware of what they are doing online. Computers and cell phones provide convenient new ways for teens and parents to keep in touch throughout the day and to touch base as schedules change. However, unsupervised use of these devices can also open a world of temptation and misinformation on topics such as drugs, sex, and other risky behaviors.
And while cell phones and social media sites help teens stay connected, some social networking or video sites also may be used to spread rumors, post embarrassing photos, and unwanted videos that can negatively impact teens’ futures. In fact, more than one in eight (13%) teens say that someone has spread a rumor about them online. Nine percent of teens who use social networking sites say someone has posted an embarrassing picture of them online without their permission.1
Teens need rules when it comes to exploring the Web and using other digital devices. Here are some tips to help keep them on the right track:
- Be clear and consistent about what is off limits — including Web sites, chat rooms, games, blogs, or certain music downloads — and how to handle information promoting drugs or sex. Discuss consequences for breaking the rules.
- Learn about the digital devices your teen uses. Teens’ cell phones are living diaries of their friends, activities, and whereabouts. Ask your teen who is listed in their contact list and ask to see recent calls and text messages. If a strange number appears, ask about it.
- Visit your teen’s Web site or personal profile. Ask your teen to show you his or her profile, pictures, video, and music uploads. Also check out the friends and links that your teen includes on his or her page.
- Remind your teens that the Internet is public space and anyone, including college admissions offices, potential employers, and even predators, can see what they’re posting online. Talk to your teen about not posting personally identifiable information or regrettable pictures, videos, and information.
- Make sure your teen knows that everything online isn’t necessarily a legal activity. Alcohol, tobacco, and certain drugs are all available via the Internet, along with weapons, pornography, and opportunities for real-world sexual liaisons. Talk to them about letting you know if they receive personal messages encouraging them to engage in any illegal behaviors so that you can notify the appropriate authorities.
- Use technology to help monitor your teen. See for yourself what’s posted on social networking sites like Facebook.com. Set up your own profile page. Use text messaging to check in with your teen. If he has a camera phone, have him send a picture of where he is and who he’s with. If your teen is spending an inordinate amount of time online, talk to him about his viewing habits, and check the browser history to see if he’s visiting sites that are off limits.
- Talk to other parents about how they keep tabs on their teens’ use of technology. Ask what has worked for them and what hasn’t. Stay connected and share your stories to aid your monitoring activities and keep your kids safe.
Learn more about teens and technology.
When you’re not at home, do you safeguard all prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications? Would you know if some were missing? Every day, more than 2,000 kids age 12 to 17 try a painkiller nonmedically for the first time.2
The good news is that you can take steps immediately to limit access to these drugs and help keep your teen drug-free:
- Safeguard all drugs at home. Monitor quantities and control access
- Set clear rules for teens about all drug use, including not sharing medicine and always following the medical provider’s advice and dosages.
- Be a good role model by following the same rules with your own medicines.
- Properly dispose of old or unneeded medicines.
- Ask friends and family tosafeguard their prescription drugs as well.
Set Rules for Free Time
Did you know that teens are less likely to use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco if their parents set clear rules about such risky behaviors? According to recent research, when a young person decides whether or not to use drugs, a crucial consideration is: What will my parents think?
If you make your position on drug use clear and set rules and consequences for breaking them in advance, your teen is less likely to step over that line:
- Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. But be careful not to impose harsh or unexpected new punishments either. Stick to your original plan and show your teen there will be fair consequences for their actions. After discussing the rules, you may even want to write them down to avoid discrepancy over what was said.
- Reprimands should involve mild, not severe, negative consequences. Taking away privileges or grounding teens for a weekend typically fit the bill. Overly severe punishments can undermine the parent-child relationship and lead to rebellious behavior.
- Set a curfew and enforce it strictly. Be consistent on this rule, whether it’s to be home in time for dinner on a school night or to be home by midnight on a Saturday night. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions like prom and holidays.
- Have teens check in at regular times. If your teen has a cell phone, establish clear rules for using it (such as, “When I call you, I expect a call or text back within 10 minutes”).
- Check in with the party host. If your teen tells you he or she will be at a party or at a friend’s house, do not be afraid to call those parents to make sure adult supervision is in place.
- Make it easy to leave a party or hangout where drugs are being used. Discuss in advance how to signal you or another adult who will pick your teen up when he or she feels uncomfortable. Be prepared to talk about what happened once you get home.
- Establish house rules. If your teen is at home alone for long periods of time, set clear rules about who else is allowed in the house – and who is not. Also be sure to set clear rules about what is off limits – such as the car, liquor cabinet, or medicine cabinet.
- Recognize good behavior. If your teen is respecting your rules, compliment him or her for behaving admirably instead of focusing on what’s wrong. When you are quicker to praise than to criticize, young people learn to feel good about themselves and develop the self-confidence to trust their own judgment as they grow into adulthood.