In today’s world there are many things for parents to worry about regarding their children. Parents worry about drugs, alcohol, sexting, teenagers send naked photos of themselves and online predators just to name a few. Teenagers have also developed ways to engage in activities without their parents knowledge. They have developed a texting language and apps that look like a way to get help for homework when it is really a way to chat online just to name a couple. So what is a parent to do?
Many parents have resorted to installing software on their teenagers cellphones and laptops so they can monitor everything their teenager is doing online. Other parents insist they must be present if their teenager is going online. However, are these approaches effective? From my experience as a therapist working with teens, the answer is no. I have many teens who tell me they now their parents are spying on their cellphones and they simply use different apps or have learned how to deactivate the program without their parent knowing. As for their parent being present again teenagers tell me they have developed a text language that their parents don’t understand so they don’t care if parents are present.
Another tactic that parents are using is monitoring where there teenagers are all the time via their cellphones. In addition parents are questioning their teenager about everything and wanting to meet all their friends and their friends parents. This often causes a number of arguments. Teenagers tell me they feel smothered by their parents and they resent the lack of trust. The most common result is this pushes the teenager a way from their parents and damaging the parent-teen relationship.
One final example is that more parents are using their teenager’s school website. Parents are often checking weekly, some daily, what grades their teenager are getting in their classes and have they been doing and turning in their homework. Again, this creates a number of arguments. Teenagers feel like their parents don’t trust them and they feel like they are being treated like a ten year old. The result I usually see are angry teenagers who don’t want to talk to their parents due to the lack of trust.
When I speak with these parents, most parents are using these approaches out of fear. They hear about all the risks teenagers are exposed to these days and they don’t want their teenagers to get hurt. In the parents defense, I have many teenagers in therapy because they are in trouble at school and/or probation for doing something they didn’t think they could get in trouble for. The best example are pictures. If a teenager sends a naked picture of themselves to their boyfriend or girlfriend, they are guilty of transmitting child pornography. They are under 18 years old so they broke the law that they never were thinking about.
Since most parents are concerned about safety and not invading their teenagers privacy, I recommend a different approach to parents. We need to start discussing all of these issues with children in the third grade. Yes the third grade and it needs to be an on going conversation. Third graders are using computers and the research indicates this is usually the age when most children see porn for the first time.
Parents need to start discussing drugs, alcohol and sex too at a younger age. The research shows many kids try marijuana for the first time in the fifth grade. Also on middle school campuses many kids are selling Vicodin, Concerta etc. Furthermore, many middle schools provide condoms to sixth graders because research shows many children in middle school are sexually active.
The point is for parents to start having conversations early so your child is educated about risks and so they feel comfortable coming to you if there is a problem. Monitoring your child at this young age is appropriate. They still don’t understand everything yet and as a parent it is your job to educate your child and keep them safe while doing so.
If you do so, this should reduce arguments and help build an open, honest relationship with your child.
As for teenagers who are 16 and 17 years old. Parents need to start to take a step back. The spyware is inappropriate and checking their homework all the time is inappropriate in my opinion. Knowing where there are going and coming home is appropriate especially if they are using your car. You need to remember in a year, year and a half your teenager will be 18 years old. They are then a legal adult and are responsible for their behavior.
Yes if you step back they may make some mistakes, but that is one way we learn. Also if they are going to make a mistake, it is better if they make it at 16 versus 18 years old. I understand that it may be frightening to let go, but if we want them to act like an adult, we need to allow them the opportunity to act like an adult. If you have been discussing issues with them since they were nine years old they should be prepared. Additionally, this way strengthens your relationship and helps your teenager make appropriate decisions because they know they can ask for help by talking to you.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and teenagers especially high risk teenagers. For more information about his work with teenagers or his private practice visit his website at or his Facebook page at

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