It’s natural to want to trust your teen and give them a healthy sense of independence. But the truth is that while our teens deserve our trust, they also deserve our commitment to helping them stay on track and out of trouble. After all, parents are their children’s #1 influence.
During the teen years, the part of the brain responsible for making complex judgments is not as mature as the parts dedicated to emotion and motivation. So it’s only natural for emotions and impulses to win out over good judgment. At the same time, the incredible changes that take place in the brain during these years leave it very vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and drugs—meaning that the decisions your teen makes now could impact them for life.
That’s why it’s so important to set clear boundaries and closely monitor teens—where they go, what they do, how they act, and more. Use the checklist below to get started. And remember, this kind of monitoring is not a violation of trust. It should be a regular and expected part of parenting throughout the preteen and teen years.1
Tips From Parents Like You: Drive the Friends
Get tips from Vermont parents on how to keep their teens on the right track when it comes to drug and alcohol use. Staying connected to the friends of your kids is one easy way to stay close to your own kid.
Checklist for Parents
Constant monitoring of your teen can seem overwhelming. Instead, identify a few areas of concern listed below and download or print out a checklist of practical and useful tips you can use to help your teen.
- Communicate with your teen and stay involved in his life.2
- Keep your ears open for signs your teen wants or needs to talk—and be ready to put aside your work or put down your phone to be an active listener.
- Ask questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer to encourage your teen to open up more.
- Schedule regular dates for fun outings or everyday needs like haircuts, shopping, or yardwork.
- Be willing to spend time doing things your teen wants to do—like playing video games or watching a horror movie together—even if it’s not your favorite pastime. Or just spend time in the same room doing different things.
- Schedule a weekly family meeting to talk about what’s going on in the family and any issues you need to address together.
- Respect your teen’s privacy and give him space when he needs it.
- Eat dinner as a family as often as possible—this is a good time to talk in a nonthreatening way about the issues your teen may be facing.3
- Check your planners together and find the best nights and times each week to schedule family dinners that fit into everyone’s busy schedules.
- Keep the preparation simple. Stock your fridge with healthy, easy-to-prepare foods or pre-make and freeze meals ahead of time for busy nights.
- Get everyone involved in the planning, shopping, and preparing of meals to share the work and the togetherness.
- Make it a family rule to turn off the technology when you’re around the table.
- Get to know your teen’s friends—and his or her boyfriend or girlfriend.4
- Encourage your teen to invite friends over often when you’re at home.
- Offer your teen’s friends a friendly welcome and ask them questions about their interests and family to help them open up.
- Invite your teen’s friends back for snacks after a sports, music, or theater practice, school club meeting, or other activity—and invite friends to stay often for dinner with the family.
- Go to your teen’s school sporting or other extracurricular events and get involved in volunteering for the school—and ask your teen to introduce you to her friends and their parents.
- Bring your child’s peers to you by planning activities in your home that are alcohol-free.
- Offer your teen the family room for a movie night with friends—and stock the pantry with plenty of popcorn and other theater-style goodies.
- Host an end-of-season barbecue for your teen’s sports team, dance recital troupe, or the cast of your teen’s school play.
- Encourage your teen to organize his own casual activities—like soccer in the backyard, basketball in the driveway, band practice in the basement, or game nights in the living room—and offer to provide refreshments.
- Know the places where your teen—and his friends—hang out.5
- Volunteer to drive your teen and her friends to the movies, sports games, or other destinations—and sit back to listen as they chat about their plans on the way.
- Talk to your teen about her plans, what she’ll be doing, and where she’ll be going after school or on the weekends.
- Volunteer at school or sports activities so you can observe your teen amongst her peers.6
- If you’re not sure how to get started, attend a parent-teacher conference, school open house, or parent association meeting and ask what’s needed.
- Ask the teacher or coach in charge of your teen’s activity how you can help. This could be helping to sew costumes or build sets for the school play, offering extra mentoring for the chess club, or working the concession stand at a sports game.
- Help organize or staff fundraising activities like car washes or rummage sales.
- Get a read on your teen’s normal moods, behaviors, and activities—and watch for any changes that could be warning signs that something’s not right.7
- Spend time with your teen and create plenty of opportunities to talk and listen to what she’s doing and feeling
- Ask relatives, neighbors, teachers, and coaches to share any observations about your teen’s moods, behaviors, and activities.
- Keep an eye on how your teen spends money.
- Set clear expectations for behavior.8
- Write down a formal list of house rules—and keep it in a visible place for frequent reminders.
- Talk to your teen about why the behaviors are important and the consequences of decisions such as using alcohol or drugs.
- Be reasonable with your expectations—and model the expected behaviors yourself to regularly reinforce them.
- Practice good supervision and consistent discipline.9
- For times when you’re working or can’t be with your teen, use technology to check in with your teen by text, email, or a quick phone call.
- Ask for your teen’s input into appropriate consequences for breaking the rules.
- Stay focused on correcting the behavior and, if your teen gets dramatic, calmly explain the consequences and then walk away and tell her you’ll talk about it later.
- Set a firm curfew—and make sure to enforce it.10
- Work with your teen to set a reasonable curfew for his age. Together, talk about what makes sense to allow him to get enough sleep, have time for homework, and keep him safe.
- Make it a rule that your child must check in and say good night—even if it means waking you up—so you know she’s home. At check-in, look your child in the eye, smell her breath discreetly while giving her a hug, and watch the way she walks to check for signs of alcohol or drug use.
- Spell out the consequences of breaking curfew up front and always enforce them.
- Refuse to give or sell alcohol to your child—and do not allow others to either.
- Keep your alcohol under lock and key and monitor the quantity.
- Talk to other parents about not having alcohol at parties with your child.
- Keep all prescription medications in a secure place, monitor any medications your teen may be taking, and be sure to properly dispose of any leftover medicine as soon as possible.11
- Keep an eye on the levels of cleaning supplies and other products that could be used as inhalants.
- If you keep a gun in your home, make sure that it is kept completely secured where your teen cannot get unsupervised access to it.12
- Ask your teen to friend you on her social-media networks.13
- Know your teen’s online friends and activities (including who he e-mails, chats, or messages with and which websites he visits).14
- Keep an eye on your teen’s cell phone record—and know who she’s calling or texting.15
- Know your child’s schedule—and have her check in from each destination and when she reaches home.16
- Call your child—and even stop by the house—at random times.17
- Keep in touch with other adults who are around your child when you’re at work.18
- Set strict rules for when you’re gone, including a no-party rule.
- Ask responsible relatives or neighbors to stay at your home, or ask them to stop by every day.
- Ask the police to drive by your house, and let your child know that you’ve done so.19
- Before your teen goes out, make sure you talk with her about the following:
- Do you know your curfew?
- Do you know the consequences of breaking curfew?
- Where are you going?
- What are you doing?
- Who will you be with?
- Will alcohol or drugs be present? What will you do if they are?
- Will there be adult supervision?
- When your teen returns, check for the following:
- Is your teen easily able to talk with you? Is he coherent?
- Is there a smell of alcohol, smoke, or other strange odors on her clothing or breath?
Know the other warning signs of a possible problem. And be prepared in advance for what you will do the FIRST time you discover that your teen has been drinking or using drugs. Think ahead about how you want to react, who you will talk to, and how you will enforce the consequences.
- Talk about what happened while your teen was out:
- Were there any problems or peer pressures? If so, how did she handle it? How did she feel about it?
- Were drugs or alcohol present? If so, was he concerned about putting himself or others at risk? What was or could have been done to prevent problems?
- Was there adult supervision? Was it adequate to keep people safe?
If you’re in the midst of a divorce, move, serious illness in the family, or even the transition from grade school to middle school or middle school to high school:20
- Keep a focus on your child’s needs.
- Monitor behaviors and activities even more than usual.
- Encourage your child to talk with you about her feelings.
- Schedule regular time for one-on-one activities with your child.
Prescription drugs can be used or misused as well. Take the following steps to make sure your family stays safe.
- Limit Use: Hold on to your child’s prescriptions, and simply give them only as much as they need on a daily basis. This helps ensure they take the correct amount, don’t misuse them, and don’t share with friends.
- Store Safely: Keep prescription medications in a safe, out-of-the way place. For dangerous or addictive medications, like opioids, keep them locked up.
- Dispose Immediately: Don’t save leftover medications. Find out how to safely dispose of prescription medications.
- Don’t Share: Each prescription is personalized from your doctor. Sharing prescription medication is risky.
- Avoid Mixing: Make sure your child knows the risks that come from mixing prescription medications with other substances, such as alcohol.
Monitoring is best when done together. Learn next how to build connections with other parents so you can all work together to help keep your children safe.