Written by: Cally Worden
Part of growing up is about learning to set your own personal limits and boundaries. The relative independence of the teenage years earmarks this period in your child’s life, as the one when it’s time to push and test those limits to find a comfortable new norm. Unfortunately this generally involves your teen exposing themselves to a degree of risk. Some risk is necessary and delivers important learning experiences, but finding that balance between acceptable and stupid risk can be tricky. And that’s where Mum and Dad may need to step in and help out.
Why is Risky Behaviour so Tempting for Teens?
Teenagerhood is a time of transition. The body is flooded with hormones, the security of childhood becomes a distant memory and peer pressure suddenly dominates your teen’s life. It’s as if someone changed the rules overnight. And that can be scary and exhilarating all at once. As your teen struggles to find their place in the world, they are drawn (and sometimes pressured) into behaviours that they think may help them conform, fit in and discover more about the world; and such actions often involve risk.
How to Help your Teen Protect Themselves
Open dialogue and communication is generally the best way to find out what’s going on in your teen’s world. If you understand how they are spending their time, what they are doing and who with, you are in a far better position to instigate conversations about sex, drugs, alcohol and any of the other transition activities that your teen may be exposed to. Get to know their friends, you will be able to spot any potential troublemakers and subtly make your teen aware of the possible danger.
It’s important to encourage your teen to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. And it can also help to ensure they understand the implications of their behaviours too. This may demand the odd excruciating conversation led by you, but persevere – this is your teen’s welfare we are talking about. Make sure they know how to find out the information they need to know, or give it to them yourself.
Above all, help build your teen’s self-esteem. The more confident they are in themselves, the better prepared they will be to navigate the tricky waters of peer pressure and temptation. Knowing how far they can safely go and when to stop, takes self-belief, guts and courage. Help them be strong by giving them the gift of self-respect in every interaction you have with them.
Be Prepared to Listen
Sure, we were all teenagers once, but the world has changed since then and your teen is not you. It’s vital to give your teen airspace to express themselves – many teens are unwilling to open up, so if they do it’s crucial you listen. The more you respect their views the more they will hopefully be prepared to listen to and respect yours – and that’s your chance to share your concerns and flag your grown-up knowledge and experience of the perils of risky behaviour to them.
Employ Grown-Up Logic
If your teen is reluctant to engage with you on issues such as drugs, alcohol and being sexually active, it can sometimes help to remind them of this key point: If you are old enough to be doing this stuff, or to be contemplating doing it, or even to just be around other people doing it … then you are old and mature enough to talk about it in an adult way. This logic is irrefutable. It may not deliver a blissfully adult dialogue, but it will make your teen stop and think. And often, that’s enough.
Make them Aware
Even if your teen doesn’t want to talk to you, it’s possible to increase their awareness of issues by talking to them. Most of this stuff will be interesting to them, although they are likely to feign indifference. Sharing your own experiences can help too, as it creates a bridge between your life and theirs (although they would never admit this).
As your children grow take opportunities to talk with them whenever they are receptive about the things that will become big in their teenage lives. Comment on drug or alcohol usage you see in films together. Ask them if they understand the short and long-term effects of different drugs and alcohol. And have the safe-sex talk, even if it pains you both. If you show them you are aware, then they know you have their backs. And whatever scowl they give you, knowing you care means more than anything to them.