Your teen asks to go out with friends, so naturally you mine for basic details to make sure you’re on the same page. Although, they tolerate your annoying need for seemingly unimportant information, they share what they know (along with a few eye rolls) just to escape the house.

That’s all good and well for the day-to-day comings and goings of your teen’s active social life. Then junior and senior years come along and the stakes get higher.

The bigger the event, the more you feel gripped by fear and launch into a million questions from your mental, multi-page check list to see if their plan fits your criterion of a safe and well-planned outing. 

For example:

  1. Exactly where are you going?
  2. Who will be there?
  3. What will you be doing?
  4. Will parents or other adults be there?
  5. What if there’s alcohol?
  6. What about weed or other drugs?
  7. Blah, blah, blah.

Questions and answers won’t keep your teen safe.

Asking questions is good to create understanding and flush out what your teen knows about the event. However, having the answers is a false sense of security for you and might even be a way for your teen to get you off their back.

Their plan is unfolding in the moment.

Teens are more fluid and the often only know the starting point, not the final who, what, when or where of the evening. They roll with it and turn on a dime when a better idea comes up. The plan is organic and unfolding in the moment, so when they don’t have answers for your questions, it doesn’t mean they’re being evasive. They literally don’t know yet.

If you’re following me so far and now think having your teen text you each time they pivot is reasonable, it’s not. Unless you want me to do that with you, don’t do it to your teen.

Let’s say you set a curfew and your teen comes home a few minutes before the deadline every time. That means they’re safe, right? NO! It means they understand your boundary or fear the consequence enough to show up on time, while being a high-risk factor with friends without the confidence or resilience to say no to poor choices and even instigate activities to feel cool.

Maybe your teen constantly blows through your stated curfew and even though you’ve used every consequence in the book, you’re stuck in a power struggle leading to lying and sneaking out. Does that mean they’re always up to no good? NO! Maybe your teen is the one telling friends they don’t have to drink or use drugs to have fun and knows exactly what to do to avoid or get out of sketchy situations.

I was the later. Even though I had a steep drinking phase in my teens, I knew when to get out and when to call for help. In my later highschool years, I was the DD so I could be with friends and get home safely. I loved to hang with friends at our neighbourhood elementary school in the early morning hours and talk, fascinated by the quiet of the world and how everything looked with the moon as the only source of light. 99% of those times I was completely sober.

Equip and empower your teen rather than control to protect.

You can’t be with your teen every moment and they aren’t your baby anymore. TRUTH – tighter controls and monitoring actually inhibits your teen’s brain from developing critical analysis, risk tolerance, independent decision making, self-advocacy and more. Do you really want your teen to start those things at college when they don’t live at home??

Be a part of their process, don’t circumvent it.

But what if they get it wrong? Oh they will, and that’s how they learn. Sure, there’s more at stake now than when you were younger. That makes this process even more important.

  • Be a mentor through frequent conversations about what might go wrong and let your teen create strategies to navigate through that
  • Encourage your teen to role play what they’d say if things feel sketchy (because speaking up and self-advocacy can be terrifying for teens)
  • Develop a text code that means you call ASAP and come up with an excuse why they have to go, letting your teen use you as the bad guy to save face and be safe
  • Encourage your teen’s friend group to have a signal or code when one person isn’t feeling safe and where they can go quickly as a back-up plan
  • Talk about never leaving your drink at parties and the date rape drug (you only have about 15-20 minutes to get out safely after you ingest it)
  • When should they call the police or another parent (because teens think they’ll get put in jail for calling for the ‘wrong’ reasons, legit)

NEVER, EVER, PUNISH OR CONSEQUENCE YOUR TEEN FOR FOLLOWING THROUGH WITH THE PLAN!!! Instead, listen to their experience and get the details, then adjust or reaffirm the plan, letting your teen know you love them.

Being prepared with a plan is the only real protection.

When you’re part of your teens plan, you build emotional safety and trust, and are far more likely to be privy to the details. These are conversations that equip and empower rather than lecture, instill fear, shame, or condemnation. Ask open-ended questions and bring up the topics, then listen as much as possible.

Keeping your teen safe feels harder than ever so these uncomfortable conversations are paramount starting around 13-14 (yes, earlier than you want!). If you’d like more personalized answers to support you and your teen, jump in my private parenting community on FB! It’s a guaranteed safe and supportive place free of judgement and criticism no matter what’s going on in your home, plus you get instant answers and resources from me!

Create an emergency plan now!

Aly Pain

Growing up, I was the smart, fun girl on the outside and a frantic, anxious mess on the inside. I spent years healing the pain of dysfunctional family relationships, including eating disorders and a suicide attempt, to break the cycle raising my own teen boys.

Today, I’ve been happily married to my husband for over 23 years, and we have 2 incredible teen boys. My passion is empowering parents to build healthy, respectful relationships with their teens without giving up or giving up, even if they've tried everything and are at their wits end.

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