Friday, July 9, 2010

The 5 W's of Raising Teens

A wise person (my sister, to be exact!) once told me that raising teenagers is a lot like flying a kite. Each year as they grow, you release more string until the kite is able to fly confidently, attached to a distant tether. But how do you do this and still ensure that your child is safe but not smothered, free but not uncontrolled, having fun but not taking dangerous risks? There are several schools of thought on this.
One view point on letting go belongs to parents who set very loose boundaries and give their teen free reign over their world. They are allowed to make choices, and they will continue to have privileges as long as they do not mess up, at which point they will lose privileges previously granted. The problem with this is that the teen brain is not yet totally capable of making sound, rational decisions all the time. Without guidance and monitoring from adults, young people will inevitably “mess up” or find themselves in precarious situations.

At the other end of the spectrum are parents who grant very few privileges. Youth in such environments often take to sneaking around, doing things behind the parents’ backs in order to keep up with peers.

A more democratic and preferable way for parents to gradually give their teen more freedom and still monitor their blossoming young adult is to ask questions and follow up. The “5 W’s” are excellent tools for parents of teens to use in their efforts at allowing their child’s world to open wider while still providing structure and oversight.

Who will you be with?

What will you be doing?

Where will you be?

When will you be home?

Will there be adults present?

Engaging your teen in a discussion around these issues helps them see that you value their need for increasing freedom while you care about their safety. Tell your child that you expect honest answers to the questions. Let him know that at times you might follow up by checking in make sure he is where he said he would be, or call to see if parents are really monitoring the party. Of course, any response to a “W” question that is not OK with the parent can be used as an opportunity to talk about alternatives that you feel safe with. For example, if your daughter tells you that you that she and her friends will be cliff diving a local lake, you could veto the request to go diving and name safer activities for which you would grant permission.

These five simple questions give teenagers the chance to plan activities with friends, think through possible outcomes, and be accountable to parents. And isn’t this what we ultimately want for our children?

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