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Monday, July 9, 2012

A Parent's Dilemma: Spy On Teens or Be an Ostrich?

Of course, most parents and teens do not see eye to eye on the topic of teen rights to privacy. If you don't believe that, just cast your memory back a few years (decades for some of us) and reconsider personal privacy issues with your own parents. This authoritarian phrase will surely ring a distant bell for many of you: “As long as you're in my house....”

Today "ostrich" parents succumb to the strategy of “sticking their heads in the sand.” These parents believe their teens have earned the right to privacy, and they honor their children's privacy unless they detect a problem warranting actions such as checking their rooms or monitoring their personal information online.

Ostrich parents believe they are “spying” on their teenagers if they take proactive measures to keep their children safe from others and safe from themselves. And, granted, “spying” conjures negative connotations of parental distrust and direct control. Yet, privacy is a privilege, not a right afforded every young person. Understand that teens are incapable of successfully handling complete independence despite their mature attitudes, experience, and adult looks. Boundaries are necessary.

Investigating teens may lead to further conflicts; however, it may save needless suffering. Would you rather your teens lose a little trust in you because you check on them or would you prefer they are not monitored and run the risk of losing their lives?

In simple terms, a teen does not have the right to keep secrets from you if it's something that endangers him or her and your family. The fact is it is your home. In addition, the cell phone is probably in your name, and the computer is probably in your name. But, even if not, you, as a parent, have every right to check them if you feel doing so prevents risky behaviors.

Loving, worried parents with reasonable suspicions must sometimes snoop because they prefer to be proactive. They have the right to respond to an angry teen who feels compromised and say, “Don't try to intimidate me. I'm not going to let you hurt yourself or your family. And, I will take all the steps necessary to see that it doesn't happen.”

Respecting certain rights to privacy is fundamental to being a good parent, but being an ostrich parent shows serious lack of regard for children. How many times do we hear of the value of “tough love,” especially in the formative adolescent years? And yes, it is always the deep responsibility of the person who administers "tough love" to assure that this is not a matter of vengefulness or spite. Tough love thus becomes the most fulfilling and honest example of a human value rather than the inhumanity of taking or winning at all costs.

Judge Judy's snarly words ring in my ears as I consider my own teenage “bending” and “shaping” of the facts when confronted by my parents. The judge uses this subjugating philosophy: “You know teenagers are lying when they open their mouths.” Think about the truth behind this over generalization when the chips are being placed down by young Johnny or Susie.
So What Can Parents Do?

* Parents should have “courageous conversations” with their children about the dangers and illegality of alcohol and drug use. And, if they think something is wrong, they should go with their instincts. I have heard counselors say parents' instincts are seldom wrong.

* Parents should network with other parents so everyone knows what their kids are doing and with whom they hang out. This is not to say parents should be automatically judgmental of their teens' friends. It does mean that parents must make committed, active efforts to befriend their children's choice of companions to better understand “who is really who.”

* Parents should know who’s driving their children and make sure their children know they be awake when the teens get home. Teens tell police that they’re less apt to use drugs or alcohol if they know they have to face their parents when they get home.

* Parents should not be afraid to be the authority figure at home. Police officers say they've talked with parents who won’t go into their children’s rooms because their kids claim they “have rights” and can call the cops. Nonsense! The police say,“You should be checking your kids’ rooms, absolutely. If you don’t check them, shame on you.”

* Parents should develop a face-saving plan, maybe even devising a code word, that their teens can use if they need to be rescued from a bad situation. Parents and teens can role-play about how their children can “say no” to an offer of drugs or to a drink when they don’t know where it came from.

* Parents should set appropriate boundaries and limits ahead of time and consistently enforce them. Rather than set rules on the spot, parents should agree upon rules with their teenagers ahead of time and let them know clearly what their expectations are. The less rules the better. When these rules are broken, parents should be firm. For instance, if Johnny comes home 30 minutes after his curfew, parents can lovingly remind him of the rule and the punishment previously agreed on. Then, they can take the keys for a week. Limits provide boundaries and guidelines for teenagers when they are clear and consistent. Hopefully, teenagers will learn to regulate themselves with consistent parental help.

*Parents should provide latitude by offering choices, not by offering free rein. Teens are seeking independence and autonomy, and parents can foster this growth by providing choices for them. When parents realize that something needs to change because Susie is spending too much time with her friends and not enough time on her homework, they can tell her their concerns, listen to what she has to say, and find a balance allowing her to make the decision while sticking to the rules that have already been put in place. Kind of like “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”? Teenagers do best when they are given the chance to make decisions with the loving help of their parents.

Many thanks to:

(Julie Rasicot, “Don't Be an Ostrich About Teen Drug and Alcohol Use,” Bethesda Magazine, May 18 2012)

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