How to keep tabs on your teenager
Hanging out with friends is an important and enjoyable part of a teen’s development and it’s good for children of all ages to have some unstructured time, but only at a level of responsibility they can handle.
A good starting point is to negotiate with your daughter a list of places and houses she can go to without asking your permission, curfew times, and arrangements about contacting you during the day. This gives her some responsibility, but keeps you in the picture. Agree on sanctions if the rules are broken, and enforce them; if she has come up with them, she is more likely to abide by them.
Take the time each evening to go over her plans for the following day so that you and your husband, and whoever is minding her, all know what has been agreed.
You should know where your 13-year-old is at all times and, while there are many downsides to the ‘constant-on’ of phones, they also play a useful role as teen tracking devices.
The greatest worry for parents is usually safety, and a big problem with 13-year-olds is that they tend to see the fun and excitement of situations, but don’t weigh up the risks. Part of this is lack of experience, but it’s also down to brain development. The ‘thrill seeking’ centre of their brain is firing on all cylinders, but the area which helps them think through consequences and put the ‘brakes’ on behaviour is still under construction.
There’s also a strong drive for teens to fit in with their friends, and group mentality can sometimes lead them to do something completely out of character. While you can’t be there all the time, if you know their plans in advance, at least you can talk through the dangers.
At the core of all this is that you want your child to eventually develop a sense of internalised responsibility and rules that they can apply whatever situation they find themselves in.
At 13, they’re only at the start of the process of gaining independence and finding out who they are. They need you there at a physical, emotional and practical level to oversee their routine and safety as you gradually hand them over more and more responsibility for managing their own lives.
Dr Sarah O’Doherty is a clinical psychologist. John Sharry will return on August 13th