Keeping Your Teen Safe

keep teens safe

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Giving your teen independence
As children enter the teenage years, they seek more and more independence and autonomy. Although children spend less time around their parents as they get older and become busy with school, friends, and activities, it is important that as a parent you know what your child is up to. Open communication is vital to a healthy parent-child relationship, and you should be actively involved in your child’s life. Through good communication with their parents, children can learn how to think for themselves and make wise choices. 

Within safe limits

Keep talking about safety. No matter how old your child is, you should continue to remind her to be aware of her surroundings and any people or situations that make her feel uncomfortable. With her newfound independence, she may not think twice when someone stops her to ask directions or make small talk. If she feels even remotely unsure or unsafe, she should call you or tell the closest responsible adult. In public places such as the mall or movies, encourage her to stay in well lit, public places with more people and go to the bathroom with a friend. Finally, talk about harassment and abuse, and remind her that gender and age do not matter when it comes to these things. 

Teens in public places. Especially in suburban areas, teens have been meeting at the mall or the movies on Friday and Saturday nights for years. However, many of these places are starting to require teens to be accompanied by adults because of concerns that teens are being loud and acting out. Find out what the rules are with regards to teens, whether at the mall, the movie theater, or some other place, and make sure your child is aware of them. Ask who he will be with, and how he will get there and back. If your child is seeing a movie, find out what it is about and what it is rated.

Teens and transportation. If you live in an area with public transportation, your child may beg you to let her start going places by herself or with friends. This is entirely your decision to make. If you feel comfortable that your child is mature enough and the area is safe, you can start letting your child do so as she enters her teen years. If you take your child to school using public transportation, this may be a good way to start. If your child wants to use public transportation to go places with or to meet friends, start with short distances during daylight hours. In either case, make sure she knows where her stops are both ends and if possible, ask her to let you know when she arrives. If you live in an area where driving is the only option, you may find that your child starts getting rides from peers. Know the rules in your state with regards to teen drivers, and make sure your child knows, too. Talk about drinking and driving and make an agreement that she will not ride in a car with someone who has been drinking but will call you for a ride.

Define appropriate behavior. 
Whether your child is going to a public place, school dance, or friend’s house, the same behaviors, etiquette, and activities that are expected of him at home apply wherever he is. If your teen does make a bad choice, keep in mind that everyone gets caught up in certain situations and makes a wrong decision every once in a while and these mistakes are lessons to learn from. Be there for your teen if he comes to you for help and support not matter what mistake he may have made. Let him know that if he calls you for help, you will be there first and ask questions later.

Set limits, rules and consequences. 
Remind your teen that you need to know where she is and who she is with at all times. You need to be able to trust her in order to give her the independence she wants. Although she may get upset about curfews or having to check in with you, it is your job to keep her safe. Involve your teen by giving her an active role in defining appropriate behavior, contributing to creating the rules, and establishing consequences. If a rule is broken, it is an acceptable punishment for your child to lose a privilege such as computer, phone, or TV time. 

Take an interest. Make it a point to know who your teen’s friends are and meet or talk to their parents. Talk to your teen when he returns from an outing with friends to keep the lines of communication open. He may just need to vent about a fight he had with a friend and being interested in his life will help him come to you and confide in you. Remember, your teen is slowly becoming an adult, and you will see that at times you can be his peer as well as his parent. 

This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.