How to Connect With Your Kids

Staying Involved With Your Teen

Remember when your parents drilled you with questions about your plans? As annoying as it is to teens, keeping tabs is one of the most important things we can do as parents. In fact, kids who don’t have an adult checking in are four times more likely to use drugs than those who do.1

1 Metzler, Rusby, and Biglan, Community Builders for Success: Monitoring After-School Activities

Find the balance between rules and freedom.

With teens, we’re between a rock and a hard place. We need to respect their growing independence, but they still need our warmth and support. We want to keep them safe, but they want us to mind our own business. The trick is to find a balance — to set clear rules and limits, but allow your teen some freedom, too.

Then, to keep things balanced over time, you adjust the limits, giving your teen more freedom as he earns more trust. To do that, you need to stay in touch with what’s going on in his life.

Make checking in part of your daily routine.

The goal is to know where your teen is (especially after school), who his friends are (by their names, faces and voices), and what his plans are. Here’s how to find out.

  • Share face time — without the TV or iPod — whenever you can: at meals, during a snack, while you’re in the car, or when he’s hanging around. (“Tons of homework tonight?” “What’s up for tomorrow?” “Who’s going to the movies this weekend?”)
  • Ask him about his day. (“Who’d you walk to school with today?” “Is your play rehearsal tonight?”)
  • When friends are over, pop in the room to meet them and check in. (“So who’s here?” “How’s it going?”)
  • Ask his teachers, his coach, and his boss how your teen is doing in school and at work.
  • Talk to his friends’ parents about your kid and theirs. If you don’t know the parents, meet them. Introduce yourself the next time you drop your teen off at their house, or they drop their teen at yours. Or call them to say hello. Whatever works for you.
  • Be part of his scene. Volunteer at school, drive his team to their away games, or organize an activity group (a book club, hiking group, etc.) that meets every week or so.

Your teen may suspect that you’re trying to control his life, but don’t back off. Tell him you want to know him better or keep track of him in case of emergency. Promise him that you’re involved because you love him — not because you don’t trust him.

If you think he’s in trouble, act on it.
If your teen simply refuses to talk about his life and you suspect something’s wrong, don’t wait to take some action:

  • Pay more attention at home. Before bed, check in with him to look for signs of drug or alcohol use. Keep an eye on sleepovers. (That’s when many teens first experiment with drugs and alcohol.) If you need to, search his room.
  • When he’s out, make sure he is where he said he’d be. Have him call to check in with you, call to check in with him, or take a drive and look for his car.
  • Set strict rules about parties. Find out where it is and whether there will be adults there. (If not, don’t let him to go.) Have him call halfway through the party. (He may not use if he’s worried you’ll hear a change in his voice.)
  • Tell his friends parents’ about your worries and ask them to call if they see any unusual behavior.
  • Keep him busy after school. Sign him up for an activity — a youth group, music program, sports team, whatever — that’s led by adults. Then follow up to make sure he goes.