Adolescence is a stage of life characterized by marked cognitive, social, and emotional change. Normally, as youngsters enter adolescence, they seek greater independence. This is indeed a time of change that can be difficult for family and church relationships. There are certainly ample reasons for pastoral and parental concerns. Not only do many pastors struggle with their own teens, but parents with teens from the congregation also seek pastoral advice.
The environment that surrounds our youth has many dangers. These include the easy availability of alcohol and other drugs, the eroticization of the everyday environment, and the opportunity for sexual encounters.
Research has given some insights into strategies that parents and responsible adults can use to reduce the risk of these behaviors. The key to success is parental monitoring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “When parents make a habit of knowing about their adolescents’ activities and behaviors, they are engaged in parental monitoring.”1
Parental monitoring includes communicating a clear message regarding the expected behavior and the actions that the parents will take to track their children’s activities. This may include calling their cell phones as well as agreeing on the location where they expect their children to be. Parents also need to carefully monitor their children’s use of electronic media and discuss the consequences of any breach of behavioral expectation.
Parents need to know with whom their children will be and when they will be home, and need to set a time when they expect them to be home. Parents should get to know their children’s friends and their friends’ parents. Discussions are needed about what choices they made while out and about any challenges they faced in making their decisions. Parents will find it critically important to set and enforce rules for teens’ behavior by clearly explaining the rules and consequences and following through with appropriate consequences when the rules are broken. Consistency is important; do not make rules that you are not willing to enforce.2
The CDC states that “monitoring should start in early childhood and continue throughout the teen years, evolving as children grow and mature. As children develop into teenagers, adults might view them as more independent and less in need of monitoring. But, consistent monitoring throughout the teen years is critical— teens’ desire for independence can bring opportunities for unhealthy or unsafe behaviors.”3
The CDC summarizes what parents and families can do to effectively monitor their teens:
- Talk with your teens about your rules and expectations, and explain the consequences for breaking the rules.
- Talk and listen to your teen about how he or she feels and what he or she is thinking.
- Know who your teen’s friends are, particularly girlfriend/boyfriend.
- Talk with your teen about the plans he or she has with friends, what he or she is doing after school, and where he or she will be going.
- Set expectations for when your teen will come home, and expect a call if he or she is going to be late.
- Ask whether an adult will be present when your teen is visiting a friend’s home.
- Get to know the parents of your teen’s friends.
- Talk with your relatives, your neighbors, your teen’s teachers, and other adults who know your teen. Ask them to share what they observe about your teen’s behaviors, moods, or friends.
- Watch how your teen spends money.
- Keep track of how your teen spends time online, and talk about using the Internet safely.
- Pay attention to your teen’s mood and behavior at home, and discuss any concerns you might have.
- If your teen does break a rule, enforce the consequences fairly and consistently.
- Make sure your teen knows how to contact you at all times.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Parental Monitoring.” Accessed on November 3, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/adolescenthealth/monitoring.htm.
2 J. M. Sales and C. E. Irwin Jr., “Theories of Adolescent Risk Taking: The Biophysical Model,” in R.J. DiClemente, J. S. Santelli, and R. A. Crosby, Eds., Adolescent Health: Understanding and Preventing Risk Behaviors (San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2009).
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Parental Monitoring.”