“Teenagers” and “free-time”. For many parents, this is a terrifying combination of words. At a certain age, your kids become more independent than they probably should be — a dynamic that makes parents all over the world nervous. How can you monitor your teenager’s free time while also respecting their need for privacy and autonomy?
In this article, we look at how to establish an appropriate boundary between you and your teenager.
First, it’s important to decide what is appropriate. How much should a parent know about how their teenager spends their free time? The answer, of course, may be different from child to child. Teenagers with a propensity for troubling behavior require more oversight than those with milder interests. In any case, it’s a good idea to set a firm boundary and decide how much monitoring you think is right for your child. It can be hard to give teenagers a long leash but independence is an important component of development.
The average teenager spends significantly more time online than most experts agree is advisable. Research suggests that no one should get more than two hours of screen time during the course of the average day: a number that most school-aged children will far exceed before they even get home for the day.
What’s the big deal? A teenager scrolling through Snapchat isn’t getting into serious trouble, right? Well. Maybe not. But it remains true that excessive online activity has been linked to many adverse health effects on children: obesity, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more. While teenagers should have a degree of privacy when it comes to online activity — assuming, of course, that their behavior has indicated as much — parents should, at the very least, exercise a degree of oversight over how much time their children spend online.
Most computers, tablets, and phones have parental settings that will allow you to restrict certain types of online content, and set limitations on the amount of time your teenager spends in front of a screen. Depending on your teenager’s relationship with technology, you may also wish to establish certain areas of your home as “screen zones”— places where all online activity must take place. Your teen can still have a degree of privacy while still having an appropriate degree of oversight.
It used to be a pain for teenagers to check in with their parents when they were out with their friends. The proliferation of cell phones has changed this significantly. It’s now possible for your teen to quickly send text messages or phone calls to ensure that you know what they are up to while they are out. Embarrassing? Maybe. But it’s a small compromise in the grand scheme of things. It’s also worth noting that many applications make it easy to know exactly where your teenager is at all times by tracking the location of their smartphone. Though perhaps slightly uncomfortable, this can be a valuable asset when it comes to ensuring the safety of your child.
Establish Clear Rules
You also want to make sure that you and your teenager are clear on the rules that they are expected to follow. This includes everything from approved recreational activities, to curfews. Establishing clear boundaries makes it easier to monitor activity, and maintain a dialogue between you and your teenager.
Be Someone They Can Talk To
Perhaps more important than any rule is the attitude you assume toward your teenager. A fact of life is that most teenagers will do things their parents are uncomfortable with. Teens have the bodies of adults and the minds of children. They experiment with grownup behaviors, sex, alcohol, and tobacco, and they make mistakes, almost as a rule. You can’t prevent all of those mistakes. You can, however, be the sort of parent that your teenager is willing to talk to. At a certain point, parenting becomes less about enforcing rules, and more about
helping your teenager make decisions that are best for them.
You probably don’t want your sixteen-year-old to go out drinking on a Saturday night, but don’t you want to be the person they call if they aren’t in a condition to drive home?
It’s a fine line and most parents don’t really know how to negotiate it. Rules, boundaries, and oversight are all important elements of raising a teenager. However, when things fail — and in many cases, they will — you need a foundation that is built on communication and trust. Being able to talk to your teenager about difficult things is one of the best and most important ways to guide them through this stage of their lives.
This content is made possible by Andrew Deen.
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